Now admittedly, it is highly unlikely that any of us will end up being Formula 1 drivers. Let alone a three time World Champion, a feat Lewis Hamilton has just achieved, confirming his status as one of the greatest drivers to have ever got into the cock-pit. Yet whilst it would be relatively pointless discussing how he is able to drive so superlatively at break-neck speeds around a race track, there are many things that young, aspiring sportsmen and women can learn from Hamilton. Not through his driving skills but through the innate characteristics and impulses that make him the supreme master of his craft and one of the defining champions of the modern sporting landscape.
One may accuse Hamilton of a degree of arrogance. They wouldn’t be wrong. Yet self-assurance, confidence and belief that you are the best and that you need to prove it time and again drives all top athletes. On its own it causes complacency and a lack of talent-fulfilment. Success is never a given. However, understanding that it must be combined with the right attitude and focus is a tonic for success; be it for reaching and then maintaining high standards or for picking yourself off the floor when things have gone wrong. Hamilton’s belief and stubbornness that he has to be number one fuels him. It is what enabled him to have such an astonishing debut season in 2007 before then winning the 2008 title in what was ultimately the final corner of a long and challenging season.
This 2015 win means Hamilton has become the first Britain to retain the World title. He has made this history because of his desire to improve. He has thus been able to go from a talented driver to an indisputably great one. For him one success, be it a race or a whole title, is not enough. The fear of failure, of dropping high standards, of giving up previously hard earnt ground to challengers and not building on past successes motivates him. It is a relentless quest for that feeling of glory; gained not just through natural skill but by an astounding commitment and work ethic to be constantly pushing himself that little bit more each time he takes to the track. Getting to the top of the podium is one thing; staying there and maintaining that level in order to fend of rivals and keep the wins and trophies coming is something else altogether and an ability that few in any sport have the ability to achieve. It is why he went to another level this year with a new amount of intensity, adding race craft and a nouse to stay out of trouble to his thrilling, attacking racing instincts. He has cruised towards another coronation when others may have drifted towards complacency.
Do not let his recent success leave you thinking that it has all been plane sailing for Hamilton. At times, between his dominance with Mercedes and his first world title in 2008, he was regularly let down by reliability problems despite his brilliant driving, leaving an immensely talented and motivated man aware of his potential but unable to do anything but watch Sebastian Vettel race away from him. Even during the last two title seasons there have been moments of difficulty. There have been the two heartbreaks in Monaco - one where Rosberg potentially deliberately went off in qualifying to deny Hamilton a crucial pole, the other where a victory was snatched away by a strategic error from his Mercedes team. Or at Spa in 2014 when his teammate, at the most intense point in their battle for the title, took him out of the race on the first lap. Such instances would have taken down lesser characters; for Hamilton they merely momentarily knocked him off his stride. Like a great champion he took such times of disappointment or misfortune on the chin, re-focused and came back even harder.
It is easy to lose sight of the quality of a serial winner when you come become used to their dominance. The consistency of true winners in sport is easy to neglect but should be admired. Hamilton’s certainly should be. Yes he has a superior car but so does his teammate – and Hamilton has still comfortably taken the title. The win that sealed the Championship was incredibly his 10th from 16 races. That stat, along with the 11 poles he acquired from the first 12 rounds, says it all. At the Italian Grand Prix he was top of every practice session, got pole, won the race and even had the fastest lap for good measure. He shot to the front of the points table after race one and stayed there throughout the season; from Australia to Austin he was utterly dominant. His other two titles were decided at the last race of the season, marked by a number of plot twists and drama. That his third did not was ultimately down to the way he time and again matched quality with that necessary consistency.
Hamilton has been able to join Sir Jackie Stewart as Britain’s most successful driver because of a rare talent that enables him to both know when to take risks and how to seize even the slightest opportunity when it presents itself. At times this backfires and looks like recklessness. Yet more often than not it pays off – not simply because of his driving skills but his expert judgement; an uncanny knack of knowing when to make the right decisions in often the most difficult and pressurised of situations. It is an awareness that you will find in every supreme champion across sport. To use a recent example, at the title-clinching race in the USA he went straight onto the attack from second on the grid, powering past Rosberg at the first corner before striking the significant blow later in the race when the German left the door ajar. Like all serial winners he is able time and time again to deliver and produce the goods when it matters the most. His career, in particular his 3 championship-winning seasons, have been defined by such moments of exceptional skill, judgement and most of all guts.
You may not aspire to be a Formula 1 driver. You may not even like Formula 1. Nonetheless, understanding and admiring what makes Lewis Hamilton tick on and off the track is a superb way of comprehending what it takes to be the very best. Take note of him next season – he’ll probably be even better.