What is there left for a man who has accomplished it all? After becoming the joint-second most successful Formula One driver ever, Lewis Hamilton has etched his name in the history books alongside some of the sport’s all-time greats.
There is only one milestone left for the 33-year-old to strive for following his fifth world title in Mexico last weekend, and that is to emulate the record seven world championships held by Michael Schumacher.
The German claimed the majority of them at the turn of the century as he and team principle Ross Brawn formed a formidable duo at Ferrari and ushered in an era of dominance.
Hamilton has been able to achieve a similar feat, winning four of the last five titles, with only former team-mate Nico Rosberg able to stop him from a clean sweep in 2016.
His latest triumph put him level with the “godfather” of the sport, Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five titles in the 1950s despite the much higher levels of danger – 30 fellow drivers died during the Argentine’s eight-year career and he even missed a season after breaking his neck.
“People are mentioning Fangio. It’s very, very humbling because Fangio is the godfather and always will be, from a driver’s perspective,” Hamilton said this week. “To do what he did at that time when everything was so dangerous, my respect is so high for him. I feel very honoured to have my name alongside his.”
But the Brit is far from done. He still has two years left on his contract with Mercedes and is showing no signs of slowing down; there is no reason why he cannot go on to equal, or even best, Schumacher’s record.
Following Kimi Raikkonen’s win in the United States two weeks ago, Hamilton said the Finn has shown him it’s possible to compete for many years to come, even if he would like to retire before the soon-to-be Sauber driver’s age of 39.
“I’m really happy for Kimi – he gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I won’t go to his age, [although] he doesn’t look any different since he started.”
That suggested timeframe gives the 33-year-old plenty of opportunity break Schumacher’s existing records, which along with seven drivers’ titles, also includes an astonishing 91 race wins.
Hamilton is currently 20 behind the German in terms of victories, but does already hold the record for the most pole positions with 81, ahead of both Schumacher and one of his icons, Ayrton Senna.
Take a quick glance around next year’s field – which is not yet complete – and you will not see any glaringly obvious new threats to Hamilton as he prepares for a sixth title charge.
Valtteri Bottas will line up alongside the Brit at Mercedes for one more season at least, and although the pair will begin the season as equals on paper, you feel Hamilton will still be holding all the cards.
Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari remains the clearest opposition next season, as the only other former world champion in a fast-enough car to compete following Raikkonen’s departure for Sauber.
The Finn will be replaced by Charles Leclerc who moves in the opposite direction, but at 21 and in only his second season there will be question marks over whether he has the experience or maturity to go the distance.
A serious emerging threat is undoubtedly Max Verstappen, who rained on Hamilton’s parade last weekend by winning the Mexico Grand Prix.
The Dutchman will certainly be competing for world championships throughout his career, but next season could come too soon for the 21-year-old, especially with Red Bull changing their engine supplier to Honda – a manufacturer who have caused McLaren a great deal of grief in recent history.
If retiring two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is to be believed, the influx of new blood into Formula One is harming its competitiveness and making it easier for Hamilton.
“I’m not upset,” Alonso insisted after being forced to retire from the US Grand Prix earlier this month following a collision with Lance Stroll. “I’m disappointed because I’m here [for] nine days in the US to do a race and I do 600 meters and they push you off. There are more amateurs here than in other series – the level is lower.”
With no major overhaul of the engine regulations due until 2021 to also consider, Hamilton looks set to continue driving in the fastest car on the grid.
Overall the odds appear to be stacked in Hamilton’s favour for the forthcoming seasons. But for now he is focused on the final two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi and bringing home the constructors’ title for his Mercedes team.
“In my mind, we’ve still got a team championship to win,” he said after his title success on Sunday. “And today we lost some points to Ferrari, so I’ve still got two races to win.”
Such is the nature of a man who cares only about winning. With that sort of attitude those records are certainly within his grasp.