In The Driver's Seat

Lewis Hamilton becomes 3-time world F1 champ: A performance just like Senna at his greatest

Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the US Formula One Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the US Formula One Grand Prix. PHOTO: AFP

So Lewis Hamilton has achieved his long-avowed goal of matching his hero Ayrton Senna's tally of three world titles after a superb recovery drive in a crazy race in Texas.

In many ways, the manner in which he took his 10th victory of the season and the 43rd of his career on Sunday was reminiscent of Senna at his greatest. He was uncompromising in the first corner, then had to fight back from adversity and never stopped trying before his constant pressure caused team-mate Nico Rosberg to crack and run wide in Turn 12 on the 48th lap.

But what does a third crown mean for him and for the sport?

But if Hamilton is not quite yet one of the all-time greats in some eyes, he continues to stake valid claim to such status and will surely deserve it if his form continues next year.

Some say that it does not yet qualify him for status among its true greats - such as Jim Clark, Michael Schumacher or Juan Manuel Fangio - even though it brings him level with Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet.

Yet, he has already beaten Senna's tally of victories and will surely exceed Alain Prost's 51 by the end of 2016, which would make him statistically the second-most winning driver after Schumacher.

Stewart himself waited patiently for Sunday evening's lengthy press conference to finish, so that he could congratulate the man who had just matched his own tally of crowns, and the Scot called him a worthy three-time champion.

It is often difficult when history is in the act of being made to see it for what it is, for it is hindsight that is the most wonderful tool.

But if Hamilton is not quite yet one of the all-time greats in some eyes, he continues to stake valid claim to such status and will surely deserve it if his form continues next year.

He has, after all, shown his ability to win in all conditions and in all circumstances, be it from the front on a dry track, in appalling weather, in wheel-to-wheel combat or in gritty recovery from adversity, and on the greatest circuits on the calendar.

He has few weaknesses, and usually finds a way to turn even the smallest of them into strengths. And right now, his "work hard, play hard" lifestyle has enabled him to find the crucial harmonic balance hitherto missing in his dual lives.

Which, of course, gives rise to the question: Who is likely to challenge him in the future?

Of late a friendship between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel has been burgeoning. It's partly born of mutual respect and partly because both are aware that they are destined to fight each other in this era of hybrid F1.

With Fernando Alonso hamstrung by the lack of performance of his McLaren Honda, Hamilton and Vettel are the yardsticks. All season Vettel and Ferrari have been developing steadily, honing their act and keeping the pressure on Mercedes.

Sometimes they are there, as in Malaysia and Hungary, sometimes they have lacked a little pace, but they have never given up and Mercedes have never been able to relax. They know 2016 will be even closer.

Hamilton makes no secret of his wish to fight for his successes and has said several times this year that he welcomes the growing Ferrari challenge. He is a natural warrior, and the battle is all part of it.

That's why he loved his race on Sunday, simply because he did have to fight, because it wasn't an easy run from the front.

Vettel, in his own way, wants to demonstrate that his four title successes were not all down to the technical prowess of Red Bull cars created by the genius of Adrian Newey.

What all this means for the twice vanquished Rosberg, who failed to run Hamilton as close this year as he did last season, is uncertain. He risks being seen as a David Coulthard or a Mark Webber, too often the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Many times against Hamilton he has shown speed and the ability to win, but the simple fact is that he has not done so consistently enough.

How he deals with that, and whether he can summon sufficient killer instinct, will enliven next year's battle, but he has yet to show convincingly that he really does have world champion potential.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'A performance just like Senna at his greatest'. Print Edition | Subscribe