THIS is the best Lewis Hamilton — both on and off the track — that I have worked with.” — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, the leader of F1’s current superpower.
Here are Some critical moments that have inspired Hamilton to new heights in 2017 …
THE DEPARTURE OF NICO ROSBERG
So just how bad had Hamilton’s relationship with friend-turned-foe Rosberg become prior to Nico’s unexpected retirement? The more we hear about it, the worse it sounds. “Ultimately nobody knows what happened within the team apart from the people that are in the team who would be able to tell you how the dynamic was,” Hamilton said last month. “For sure it was uncomfortable”.
By the end, it seems, the Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry had descended into outright animosity. “It affected Lewis mainly,” admitted Mercedes chief Niki Lauda. Wolff, meanwhile, famously described Rosberg as “the vicious one” in April when he reflected on the new-found harmony within Mercedes — and the impact on his lead driver.
The arrival of Valtteri Bottas, with an altogether more placid personality than Rosberg’s, changed the dynamic within Mercedes and transformed Hamilton. “Lewis developed in a very impressive way as a personality over the winter,” reflected Wolff. “He came back a different person.”
BEATING VETTEL IN SPAIN
Remarkably, despite the pair cumulatively winning seven of the previous nine titles, 2017 marked the first occasion when Vettel and Hamilton were pitched into direct championship-contending conflict. Vettel won two of the first three races and, after Bottas prevailed in Russia, the wheel-to-wheel battle between Vettel and Hamilton the F1 world had been craving finally arrived at round five in Spain.
After being forced off track by his rival when he first attempted to overtake for the race’s lead, Hamilton wasn’t to be deterred, sweeping past Vettel’s Ferrari for a critical victory that set the tone for the season and scored a huge psychological advantage. Vettel would never be able to wrestle it back.
WINNING IN DEFEAT IN MALAYSIA
Sometimes in sport it’s possible to win even in defeat. So it was at Sepang when Hamilton lost out to Max Verstappen but still won round 15 of the title battle as he edged further ahead of Vettel in the standings.
Perhaps Vettel’s own disastrous ‘squeeze’ on Verstappen two weeks previously in Singapore was on Hamilton’s mind as the Mercedes driver, lacking pace all weekend, offered no defence against the charging Red Bull. But perhaps it was also a smarter, mature Hamilton at work, mindful that not every battle has to be won to win the war.
“I could have closed that door — but I didn’t want to risk anything,” Hamilton later reflected. “I had everything to lose”.
WINNING AGAINST THE ODDS IN SINGAPORE
Ferrari ought to have won in Singapore. The track favoured their car. Pole position was secured from the lead Mercedes by over half a second. It was in the bag. Except that a race win is never, ever in the bag until it is won and Ferrari had lost Singapore by the second corner.
Hamilton was the grateful beneficiary, claiming his unlikeliest win of the season with a triumph that amounted to a 40-point swing in the title race. He never looked back — and Vettel has never really had a look-in since.