Lewis Hamilton still in a league of his own as new wave of F1 talent waits in the wings

Lewis Hamilton's 'natural ability is fantastic' says Button

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Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly the most successful Formula One driver in history. This is not an argument anymore, this is a pure fact. Yet with the presence of such greatness in the sport, is it the case that some drivers have fallen short of what they could’ve achieved, with Hamilton claiming the top spot for almost a decade?

There’s no doubt that Hamilton is a huge talent, one we almost take for granted in current years, with some even suggesting ‘It’s not the driver, it’s all about the car’ which is frankly an argument for another day.

This season, Mercedes have had to put up their toughest fight yet in the championship against Red Bull and Max Verstappen. This wasn’t much helped by a torrid weekend in Monaco that saw Red Bull Racing overtake Mercedes in the standings for the first time in the hybrid era, and Verstappen toppled Hamilton off the top.

It was a fresh new bushy-tailed and bright-eyed podium, which happened to be the second youngest in F1 history, with Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jnr and Lando Norris sharing the spotlight in Monte Carlo.

In the aftermath, F1 Chief Ross Brawn wrote in his column: “With Max, Carlos and Lando on the podium, we were seeing the next generation of Formula 1 world champions.”

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And he’s not wrong. Eventually Hamilton will have to pass on the baton.

The grid isn’t short of talent. George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo – all drivers that could feasibly be world champions.

Not forgetting Hamilton’s current team-mate Valtteri Bottas. With another driver alongside him in the overperforming Mercedes, there’s no doubt it’s a case of wrong time wrong place for Bottas, with the clock counting down until his time is up at the top team.

But there begs the question. If Bottas was good enough, he would beat Hamilton. If Verstappen is good enough, he will beat Hamilton. Is Hamilton just in a league of his own?

Hamilton has made no concrete suggestions that he will retire any time soon, and seems incapable of slowing down.

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The Briton now has the most pole positions in Formula One, recently becoming the only driver to make it into triple figures, he holds the record for the most wins in the championship with 98 to date, and this year he could become the first driver ever to claim eight world titles.

He’s frankly running out of records to break in Formula One.

So, let’s break it down in terms of championships. Hamilton won his maiden title back in 2008, but it was his move over to Mercedes that saw his dominance start in F1, enjoying six consecutive titles from 2014-2021, with one break for Nico Rosberg to spoil the stat in 2016.

Seven years Mercedes have sat on the top step. Seven years other drivers and teams coming through have been denied their chance.

Of course you can’t blame Mercedes or Hamilton for that, and there’s no suggestion that’s the case, but seven years is a long time in any sport to hold your nerve at the top.

Eventually Hamilton won’t be the reigning world champion, eventually he will have to stop racing and we will see the next Michael Schumacher emerge, or the next Sebastian Vettel, or Ayrton Senna or Nelson Piquet.

But what about the drivers who would have already missed out? Will Hamilton’s reluctance to retire keep holding others back from fulfilling their destiny as champions?

You could say it was never in their stars with Hamilton there anyway, but it does make you wonder if the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc or Max Verstappen could’ve been closer to a title by now.

The answer is probably no, as Hamilton’s team-mates have consistently been behind the Briton in the standings with Mercedes, however it does leave you wondering what if.

Now, with Hamilton entering his 15th year in the championship and with a hugely talented grid waiting hot on his heels, it’s anyone’s guess as to when he feels the need to hang up his helmet.

In recent years we’ve seen Schumacher pass the baton to Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel pass it to Hamilton. Now it’s Hamilton’s turn.

It’s a funny thing, because the relay can’t continue if the baton is dropped, yet you can rest assured the threat of Verstappen this season may have made Hamilton hold on to it for just that little bit longer.

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