Lewis Hamilton has all the best qualities of a true champion
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Cape Town - To qoute South Africa’s director of rugby and 2019 World Cup-winning coach, the term “Sir” has little relevance in South Africa.
Rassie Erasmus was dismissing criticism – of himself – from the 2003 England World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward. The former England coach is now a Sir, having been knighted.
Earlier this week, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton was knighted. To the English, and by that I mean those in the UK, Hamilton’s acknowledgement should have come a long time ago. There is irony in the fact that it came the week after he was finally dethroned as the F1 King of the World.
Hamilton, pre last Sunday’s final race, had won seven World Championships, the equal of Germany’s Michael Schumacher. Yet there was no knighthood, and equally there was no universal appreciation or acknowledgement of Hamilton’s driving skills.
It was all down to the car, said many, as Mercedes has dominated ever since Hamilton joined the team. Previously, Hamilton had won just one world title. Again, Schumacher was the man who came out of retirement to help construct the Mercedes car that ultimately would take Hamilton to the top of F1’s championship ladder, alongside Schumacher. Perhaps then, there is a universal judgement that the two should never be separated, but always spoken of in the plural.
Hamilton’s driving skills this season have been sensational. Yes, he and F1’s new champion, Max Verstappen, have been extraordinary in how they have won and challenged each other throughout the season. Hamilton in the Mercedes, Verstappen in the Red Bull; it has been sporting theatre.
A month ago, the title was Verstappen’s to lose. He had to lose every one of the last four races to Hamilton to lose the Championship, and leading into the season’s finale, he was on track to do just that.
Most pertinently, Hamilton had started 10th (because of car penalties) in the Brazil Grand Prix, and finished first. It was a victory most in the industry rated his finest in 100-plus F1 wins.
Schumacher had 91 wins, but on his return from retirement, spent a few crucial years building a car more than winning a race. Hamilton has beaten Schumacher's F1 wins by 10. Wow.
That is huge, but it doesn’t end there for Hamilton, and his greatness now should not be judged on titles or on pole positions or on podium finishes. Hamilton is among the greatest drivers to be put behind the wheel of an F1 car. His persona, beyond driving, is also among the greatest. His charities, his beliefs and his fight for those beliefs are well documented.
For those who follow F1, the chaos and drama that ensued throughout the final race, is well documented. For the lay individual, divorced of F1 interest or knowledge, Hamilton was cruising to a win in the final race and a record-breaking eighth title.
A bizarre rule change, because of a back-of-the-field collision with Hamilton holding a 10-second lead over Verstappen, took the finale into a one-lap race, with both racers now starting on an equal footing, resulting in Verstappen winning.
But they weren’t really on equal footing because of an earlier Verstappen tyre change. Hamilton lost under the most extraordinary circumstances; equally Verstappen won. The world was outraged and polarised in opinion.
Hamilton’s response was to applaud the quality of Verstappen’s season. Hamilton’s father was among the first to go to Verstappen post-race and congratulate him. Verstappen, possibly exhausted while still sitting in his car, could not summon enough energy to get out of his car to accept the older Hamilton’s acknowledgement by way of a handshake. He stayed sitting in the car. All week I have followed the news, and all I have read is Hamilton’s acceptance of the situation and his applause for Verstappen. I haven’t read much about Verstappen paying tribute to Hamilton.
Personally, I was always a Schumi kind of guy, but in the last year I totally became a Lewis kind of guy, and it went beyond why they both could drive F1 like few ever have or ever will.
Arise, Sir Lewis Hamilton.
*Mark Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media Sport