Istanbul: Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team will face ferocious renewed determination from their rivals next season when he begins his pursuit of a record eighth world title powered by his passions for human rights and global welfare.
After a dismal season that has seen them fail to register a win, Formula One’s most famous team, Ferrari, will invest heavily in bouncing back while Red Bull, who have been closest to matching Mercedes, seek more consistency and speed to close the gap.
For the newly crowned seven-time champion, it will mean another virile challenge for his crown from the “new generation” of drivers led by Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc as they bid to match his relentless excellence and speed.
On Sunday, both younger men fell prey to their relative youth and made mistakes while Hamilton, making full use of his experience and maturity, produced a flawless drive to a remarkable triumph that had seemed unlikely beforehand.
Hamilton’s old rival and friend, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, may also emerge as a threat with his new team, Aston Martin, if the potential shown this year by the former Racing Point outfit can be realised. Sergio Perez, who is due to relinquish his seat to Vettel next month, finished second ahead of his Ferrari on Sunday.
The most likely scenario, however, is a repeat of the Briton’s supremacy with Mercedes on top and teammate Valtteri Bottas mounting another bid for the title.
Their rivals may run them hard and close, but with a package of new regulations due in 2022, next season is unlikely to offer the same opportunity for a reset.
Mercedes will also have one eye on the future when the racing restarts in Melbourne in March and they may be vulnerable, but in Hamilton, as the Turkish Grand Prix proved again, they have the ace in the F1 pack, regardless of age.
Since he recovered from losing the 2016 title to then-teammate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton has reeled off four consecutive title triumphs to become the sport’s greatest champion.
‘Just getting started’
His win in treacherous conditions from sixth on the grid at Istanbul was one of his very best and brought him another record formerly held by Michael Schumacher: most wins by a driver with the same team — 73.
The German won 72 times with Ferrari, but Hamilton passed that mark on the same day he equalled his titles total and did so in 26 fewer races. He also holds records for most wins, poles, podiums and points finishes.
Verstappen, hailed as the sport’s next mega-star, acknowledged that weight of evidence in a tribute to the Englishman after his own error-strewn weekend confirmed he remains a work in progress.
On Sunday, however, Hamilton warned that he felt like he “is only just getting started”, explaining that the Black Lives Matter movement has given him energy and purpose.
At 35, as his sport’s first and only black champion, he has become the face, voice and conscience of F1 and is using that platform to support the issues that have ushered in promises of change this year.
“I’ve been driven not just by my desire to win on the track, but by a desire to help push our sport and our world to become more diverse and inclusive,” he said on social media.
“I promise you I am not going to stop fighting for change. We have a long way to go, but I will continue to push for equality within our sport and within the greater world we live in.”
His former teammate at McLaren, the 2009 champion Jenson Button, believes Hamilton will also be fuelled by a sporting desire to carry on winning and breaking records.
“He wants to win more world championships than anyone else before and I’m sure he would love that,” he told Sky Sports. “Drivers always say ‘we don’t look at numbers, we don’t compare’, but you’re always going to compare yourself to Michael Schumacher when you have the same world titles.
“Those two are extraordinary individuals, very different in their personalities and the way they go racing, but equally as talented. Lewis is in the right place to beat Michael’s record and I really think he will next year.”