The United States Grand Prix saw three-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton record a landmark 50th Grand Prix win. This remarkable achievement puts him just one race win behind the great Alain Prost in the all-time rankings, but still some way off Michael Schumacher’s extraordinary 91 Grand Prix wins. Hamilton is continuing to set new records, something he has been consistently doing since he was equipped with the Fearsome Mercedes hybrid F1 car back in 2014. His status amongst the all-time greats is undisputed, but where does Britain’s most successful Formula One driver rank amongst his peers? And where could he end up by the end of his career, which is expected to conclude by the end of the decade?
Hamilton is the only F1 driver in history to have achieved a race win and a pole position in every single season he has competed in. He achieved 21 race wins in six years with McLaren, and to date has 29 with Mercedes in fewer than four years. He had 26 poles with McLaren, and has 32 with Mercedes. In fact, he is closing in on second in the all-time list – his hero Ayrton Senna, in terms of pole positions as well.
Hamilton set records almost instantly in Formula One, and his debut season has gone down as the most successful since the inaugural World Championship season back in 1950. Hamilton raised eyebrows instantly by overtaking his double World Champion team mate Fernando Alonso in his very first race, but the results he brought were also impressive. He set the outright record for most consecutive podiums from debut at nine races, he equalled the record for most wins in a debut season (four – tied with Jacques Villeneuve in 1996), he set the record for most poles in a debut season with six and he equalled the record for the highest finishing position in the championship for a rookie with second (again tied with Villeneuve in 1996).
The second season in Hamilton’s career produced two key records for him: becoming the youngest (at the time) World Champion yet, and winning the championship in the fewest seasons (1950 omitted, shared with Juan Manuel Fangio and Villeneuve). A string of cars which were not as strong as the Brawn and later the Red Bull hampered Hamilton over the next few seasons, despite having the fastest car in 2012. However he continued to pick up wins and pole positions and his final win for the team at the 2012 United States Grand Prix saw him become McLaren’s third most successful driver in terms of race wins behind only Senna (35 wins) and Prost (30 wins). Between 2010 and 2012, Hamilton was paired with Jenson Button, and that marked the first time that a team housed two World Champions since McLaren in 1989 with Prost and Senna.
By leaving McLaren for Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton returned the record for most starts with a single team having only driven for one team back to the late Jim Clark, who raced solely for Lotus in the 1960s, which was succeeded by Valtteri Bottas with Williams in 2016. It did not take Hamilton long to find his way to the podium with the Silver Arrow – achieving third place in his second race (albeit in controversial circumstances) and becoming the first Briton to do so for Mercedes since Stirling Moss’ maiden win in 1955. 2013 turned out to strangely be Hamilton’s least successful season in terms of race wins with just one – at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
At the end of 2013 it looked as if Sebastian Vettel was to be the man who would surpass Schumacher in almost every respect. But major rule changes for the 2014 season benefitted Mercedes more than anybody by quite some margin and they were able to produce some of the most revered machines in the history of the sport – time and time again. Equipped with this arsenal, Hamilton broke personal, British and overall records left, right and centre.
Firstly Clark’s British record of 33 poles fell, and so did Nigel Mansell’s British record of 31 race wins. Hamilton also became the first British driver to win at least ten races in a season, and the second to win a World Championship with two different chassis manufacturers along with Jackie Stewart. Hamilton also exceeded his longest win streak to five races, which stands to this day. That too, is a joint British record with Clark and Mansell. 2014 also saw Hamilton’s only victory from outside of the top five on the grid as he inherited the British Grand Prix after his team mate’s gearbox failed.
Hamilton became the first British driver to successfully defend his World Championship in 2015. He also became the first driver ever to secure at least ten race victories in back-to-back campaigns. Hamilton also took seven pole positions in a row, just one shy of the outright record held by Senna, and became the most successful active driver in terms of both poles and wins. His third World Championship levelled him with Stewart in terms of British World Championship success.
Hamilton ended 2015 on 43 wins – two more than his hero Senna. 2016 didn’t start well due to slow starts, reliability problems and collisions but his second victory at the Monaco Grand Prix made it the 44th win for the driver who races with 44 as his number. At the Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton set the outright record for most pole positions at different Grand Prix and surpassed Vettel in terms of the most points scored in F1 (without adjusting all points to the modern system).
Hamilton has achieved much of his success with unbelievably strong machinery, but the same could be said of all of the vastly successful drivers in the past. However at the end of the day, the best drivers end up with the best cars and that is why they are so successful.