Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 7:34 AM

Hamilton Clinches Title as Greatest F1 Driver of His Generation

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Lewis Hamilton is not as popular in the United States as LeBron James, Tom Brady, Bryce Harper, or even Alexander Ovechkin … yet. But he is more popular in nearly every other country than all of them. Keep this perspective in mind whenever you hear his name.

Meanwhile, thanks to Hamilton’s charismatic dominance, Formula One racing is beginning to rival the popularity of other car-racing sports like NASCAR and IndyCar. If that seems farfetched, try to recall how popular Golf was before Tiger Woods’s charismatic dominance made it must-see TV.

As it happened, I predicted a decade ago that Lewis would become the Tiger of his sport. And nobody can deny that he vindicated my prediction on Sunday.

Hamilton went into Sunday’s [Mexican Grand Prix] needing just five points (in other words, a seventh-place or better finish) to clinch the title.

Hamilton joins very elite company of [just two] five-time winners — Juan Manuel Fangio (1951, ‘54, ‘55, ‘56, and ‘57) and Michael Schumacher, who has seven, (1994, ‘95, 2000, ‘01, ‘02, ‘03, and ‘04).

(SBNation, October 28, 2018)

But I was still disappointed that he backed into this fifth championship – much as he backed into his first, namely by earning enough points to clinch the title but failing to win this race outright.

It’s bad enough that his fourth place on Sunday left him off the podium. But he blew a golden opportunity to clinch the week before in the United States. He would have done so if he had won that race and his nearest rival, Sebastian Vettel, had finished no better than second. Vettel obliged; he finished fourth. Hamilton failed; he finished third.

The point is that I wish he had clinched the title in dominant fashion in the United States. Because the boost to his and Formula One’s popularity here would have been immeasurable.

Beyond this, imagine how disappointed you would be if you watched your team score 35 points in the first three quarters of the Super Bowl, and then spend the fourth quarter allowing the other team to score 21 unanswered points—only to back into victory 35-28.

That said, I don’t want to rain too much (more) on Hamilton’s parade. In fact, I can think of no better tribute than to reprise a little of what I wrote after he won his first championship, when F1 was as popular in the United States as Curling.

It is from “Hamilton Becomes the Youngest Ever and First Black F1 Champion,” November 3, 2008.

____________________

I am proud (and relieved) that Lewis Hamilton, a 23-year-old Briton of Caribbean (Grenadian) heritage, redeemed himself yesterday by clinching this year’s Formula One championship in the final race of the season at Interlagos in Brazil.  This means that he has now fulfilled the incredible promise of becoming not only the youngest but also the first black world champion in F1 history. …

Incidentally, if you don’t know Formula One from Formula 409, please take note:

F1 car racing is a sport that requires the steady hands of a surgeon, the daring skill of a jet fighter, and the physical stamina of a marathon runner. Moreover, no sport can match the sustained thrill and nail-biting suspense one gets from watching those drivers navigate the zigs, zags, and hairpin-turns of a Grand-Prix racetrack as they jockey for position at speeds exceeding 200 mph! …

Naturally, given the uncanny similarities in racial background and precocious talent between Hamilton and Tiger Woods, the barons of Hamilton’s sport are banking he’ll do for F1 what Woods has done for Golf.

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Congratulations, Lewis!

Hamilton now faces the daunting challenge of winning 3 more F1 titles to surpass Schumacher’s record-setting 7. But his (hedonistic and often reckless) lifestyle gives one pause to wonder if it will cause him to fail – just as Tiger’s appears to have caused him to fail his equally daunting challenge of winning 4 more Golf majors to surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record-setting 18.

Woods was 33 when he won his 14th major in 2008. I would have bet my life savings back then that he would surpass Nicklaus by 2018. Yet he remains stuck at 14.

Hamilton is 33. And, given the way he won 5 championships over the past 10 years, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to win 3 more over the next 6-10.

Still, the Woods precedent prevents me from vesting anything more than cynical hope in Hamilton winning this ultimate race. I wish him well.

Related commentaries:
Hamilton’s first
Hamilton’s fourth
Tiger Woods

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