In The Driver's Seat

Great Briton most dangerous when defying adversity

In this business, most of us remember the great heroes of our childhood. We were brought up on their derring-do and accepted the judgment of others as the facts on which we generated our passion and began, in our professional lives, to measure greatness in others.

But the danger is that you can get too close, observe too much of a sportsman's success without according them their rightful place in the firmament. Every so often, you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Lewis Hamilton is a case in point. And the facts tell an indisputable story. Sixty-two wins, a record number of pole positions, 72 of them. Status as the first quadruple British world champion.

Greatness...

What exactly do we mean when we talk of such a concept? It's hard to quantify, of course, because you can win a lot without necessarily being great in all senses of the word.

Hamilton was fast right from the moment he stepped into a Formula One car, and confident. Remember that pass on McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso on the first corner of his first racing lap in F1?

Yet he is also clean. As Nico Rosberg will tell you, he is tough, but fair. He deploys none of the dirty moves that Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher occasionally pulled.

He is also clean. As Nico Rosberg will tell you, he is tough, but fair. He deploys none of the dirty moves that Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher occasionally pulled. He's intelligent, determined, and he never gives up.

He's intelligent, determined, and he never gives up. He sets great store by the Maya Angelou poem, Still I Rise, and assuredly he is at his most dangerous when he is defying adversity. Just look at the way in which he has bounced back from it time and again.

Last year, he clawed back a record 62-point deficit from Rosberg, only to lose the title when his engine blew up in Malaysia. This year, he has battled back in the fight with Vettel and Ferrari, never accepting defeat, always regaining ground almost immediately after a difficult race. Think Monaco and Canada. Azerbaijan and Austria, then Britain, Hungary and Belgium.

He has a life outside F1, and it helps to re-energise him between races. He is that rarity, a star who transcends his sport.

One would expect his team bosses Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda to speak well of him, and that in no way diminishes their comments. They, after all, get the closest view of an ethical and honourable man and are privy to all of his moods.

"He is a fantastic ambassador for motor racing and he deserves the title," double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi believes. "He is reaching a much wider audience, with his style of life. I first met him at an F3 race in Germany, when we had dinner, and he is a great guy. He is a super champion, and one of the greats, for sure. England should be very proud of him."

And fellow champion Damon Hill, a man not given to hyperbole, says: "I think he's been fantastic in 2017. He's been measured and he's got to that point in his career when he knows when to play each card. Also, fate has been on his side, when you see how Ferrari have tripped over themselves. But I think he's been owed something, after a couple of titles slipped through his fingers.

"He's got patience, intelligence and incredible, easy speed. He's not fighting the car. And some of his laps have been close to perfection.

"He's an incredible and special talent and a unique individual in the sport's history. He's redefined the way to go about being a Grand Prix driver, and he's broken all the rules. That's what defines a great, he's a man who puts his own stamp on his career.

"Ayrton was always fighting something in his, but F1 isn't everything in Lewis' life. He uses the other things he has to get himself in the right place when he's racing. I think that's really admirable and impressive. I'm pleased for him. He's had a tough time, doing all his growing up in public. It's not easy managing your own life in such a highly volatile environment."

As he joins luminaries Alain Prost and Vettel as a four-time champion, only Juan Manuel Fangio with five and Schumacher with seven remain ahead of him numerically. Of course, Hamilton is a great. He's 29 victories behind the German, and is contracted to Mercedes until the end of 2019. Say there are another 43 races to come in that period. At his current strike rate, he could reduce that deficit significantly, and he's not likely to stop racing when his current contract expires.

This is a great who has yet to reach his peak. Still he rises.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Great Briton most dangerous when defying adversity'. Print Edition | Subscribe