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Lewis Hamilton – the definition of a champion

• Posted in Misc. • By JoeBaker

It’s one of the notable, and perhaps more puzzling, features of the British sporting psyche that we can sometimes be quick to criticise but slow to praise. Throughout his career to date, Lewis Hamilton has divided opinion. The media has at times been fast to cite issues on or off the track, whilst on the flip side it has, with increasing vehemence in recent years, been argued that his achievements have not received the recognition they deserve.

Yet now, as a 5-time Formula 1 World Champion, after being the first to break the 400-point barrier in a season, Hamilton is almost universally regarded as one of our finest ever sportsmen. He stands behind only the great Michael Schumacher in number of title wins.

From humble beginnings, where his father could barely pull enough money together to allow his son to compete in go-karting, to being an icon of F1 and someone surely set to break Schumacher’s record 91 race wins, it is insightful to understand what exactly it is that has enabled the 33-year-old to become the Champion and ultimate winning machine that he is.

Eyes on the prize

The story of Lewis Hamilton’s rise from Stevenage to stardom is well documented. From telling McLaren owner Ron Dennis at a charity even aged 10 that he was going to drive for his team, to that astonishing breakthrough year in 2007, Hamilton’s focus on getting to the top of his sport has been relentless. His talent as a driver is undoubted but it is the small margins that can separate the good from the great; the drivers capable every now and again of showcasing immense skill behind the wheel and those who are able to do it again and again. His current boss at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, has spoken of Hamilton’s complex character and the need to create the right environment for him to thrive at the highest level. Yet the experienced Austrian has also been glowing about the unremitting obsession Hamilton has with being, and believing, he is the best. It is this focus that allows him to overcome any disappointments. Talent alone can’t get a sportsman or woman to the top – focus and belief is crucial.

Pressure. What pressure?

One of the most underrated features of Hamilton’s armoury is his composure under pressure. His debut season ended with one of the most exciting ever finishes with three drivers, including Hamilton, with a chance of the title. Yet he blew it on the first lap. Since then he has matured greatly behind the wheel and, like all the world’s top sporting stars, is utterly immense when the pressure is turned up to his highest. Unexpected rain? An early collision forcing him to the back of the grid? Holding off an opponent when his car is underperforming? Needing to pass a rival with only a few laps to go? How about leading from the front for the whole race without making a single error? It’s all no problem for Hamilton. As the intensity and significance increases, so does his performance. You only have to look at some of Sebastian Vettel’s mistakes at key points last season to understand how hard it is. It is what marks Hamilton out as one of the finest ever drivers to take to the track.

Up for the fight

The very best don’t shy away from challenges, they rise to them. There’s no doubting that Hamilton has the better car, with its consistency outdoing the slightly quicker Ferraris. Yet during his supreme period of dominance, in which he has won four out of the last five titles, he has seen off several high-quality rivals in similarly dangerous cars. In almost any other era, Nico Rosberg would have ended up with more than just the one title, when he finally got one over Hamilton in 2016 before retiring. The two seasons previously were defined by what was at times a bitter, and often entertaining, rivalry between the teammates, where Hamilton frequently came out on top.

We’ve seen the same over the last two seasons, seeing off the threat of Vettel. The way he sneaked his maiden title on the final bend of the final race, snatching it from a celebrating Felipe Massa, was an early sign of his ability to still deliver even with all the odds stacked against him. Think back a year further to the way he showed no fear in ruffling the feathers of his teammate and double World Champion Fernando Alonso for another example. Confidence, skill and deadly instinct – in sport all the best have this combination in abundance.

Risk taker

Go through the annals of sporting history and you’ll see that the very best are calculated risk takers. If an opportunity arises and the door is left slightly ajar, more often than not they will back themselves to get through it. How often has Hamilton been in a wheel to wheel fight and come out on top? As a serial winner he almost senses weaknesses and opportunities to strike. Part of why Hamilton is a magnificent driver, and example to other aspiring sportspeople, is how he can judge in a split second when to make his move. His recent Championships has been a highlights reel of this skill – a triple overtake in Bahrain and a race-winning move on Kimi Raikkonen in Italy being the best examples.

Desire for improvement

A lot of professional athletes are happy with their lot. They may achieve a certain amount and feel content to continue as they are. The very best though have a constant urge for more, no matter how much they’ve achieved. It’s what still drives Roger Federer and Serena Williams deep into their 30s, or why Tiger Woods couldn’t resist coming back despite his body having been torn apart by injury. Hamilton has it in abundance. After every win he is talking about the next race and doing it all again. After every session in the car he is intent on analysing the data, figuring out where he can do to go that bit faster. In a sport of such fine margins these tiny details have huge implications. It’s what drove him to make the huge decision in leaving McLaren for Mercedes ahead of the 2013 season. He had the foresight to see where the team was going and that it was the best seat for him. And how did that turn out?

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