Hamilton is on track for greatness as he bids for an eighth title win

Lewis Hamilton is on track for greatness in Abu Dhabi as he bids for a place among the pantheon of legends with an eighth title win… the Mercedes driver has momentum over rival Max Verstappen and is hungrier than ever

  • Fifteen years on from Lewis Hamilton’s F1 debut, he has a shot at immortality  
  • All the shots have been played as Hamilton faces off with rival Max Verstappen 
  • Everything points to the Mercedes star making history with an eighth title win
  • He has the momentum, better guile and is the cleaner racer out of the two 

At times like this, the mind trawls back. Well, to Monaco in 2007 when I suggested that watching the young Lewis Hamilton might elicit the order of excitement that accompanied the first wicket falling and Bradman coming out to bat.

Or the bell sounding and Ali walking off the ropes. As a wiser old hand told me at the time: ‘Nice preview, pal, but go easy on the Ali references.’

It was a fair point, the weight of high achievement over the long careers of Bradman and Ali outscoring my belief that the callow 22-year-old Lewis should ever be talked about in the same conversation as men whose legends are so immense that first names are redundant. 

Lewis Hamilton has come a long way since he was introduced into the sport back in 2006

Well, here in the heat of Abu Dhabi, Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton has his shot at immortality to demand access among the company of giants. 

It was suffocating here on Friday, not owing to the 30°C temperatures but because all those feelings you sense on rare days like this, when the championship is at stake, resurfaced.

That knot in the stomach was there on the unforgettable weekend in Sao Paulo 15 years ago when Michael Schumacher tried in vain to accomplish the feat Hamilton seeks this weekend — the elusive to the point of so-far unattainable eighth world title.

Schumacher suffered a problem in qualifying, started 10th, fell to 19th with a puncture and roared up to fourth, a brilliant act of defiance from the old superhero but not enough to prevent Fernando Alonso from winning his second and last title.

The great German went into retirement. He came back with Mercedes and then suffered the awful skiing accident that has kept him hidden from the world from that day nearly eight years ago to now.

Practically everything has been said, all the shots been played, and now it is down to the two protagonists, Hamilton and Verstappen, to decide it. 

The British star is seeking to surpass Michael Schumacher with a record eighth title victory 

All the shots have been played between Hamilton and Verstappen as they look to decide the Championship in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

There is no name-calling and even their bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner shook hands — burying animosity not through friendship, but as the unavoidable eve-of-final tension renders mouths drier than usual.

I asked maybe two dozen people here who they thought would win. One reply came back — Lewis.

Momentum is his. The Briton has won the last three races and has a fantastic Mercedes car around him at this remoulded track. He is also the cleaner racer of the two, with part of Verstappen’s glory residing not only in his dazzling speed but also his pugnacity. He operates off a short fuse and would rather slit his throat than walk out of a fight.

Hamilton, at 36 compared to Verstappen’s 24, has added guile to his repertoire of skills over the years he has accumulated his 103 wins — an unmatched record, naturally. He is the calmer player of percentages and it may be crucial.

The question all week here by the harbour has centred on whether Verstappen will stoop low by ramming Hamilton off track. The theory is that Verstappen’s lead on countback — nine race victories to eight — affords him the latitude to indulge his more base instincts. 

Hamilton has the momentum with him and is the calmer and cleaner driver of the two

There are fears that Verstappen could race Hamilton off the track, but the Championship could be decided in the court room if there is foul play

Two things to say to that. 

First, the race director Michael Masi has underlined the provision in the International Sporting Code that allows drivers to be docked points for an unsportsmanlike move. That raises the possibility of the championship being decided in the court room.

Second, it need not be Verstappen who makes the mendacious thrust. What about his team-mate Sergio Perez doing the dirty deed? It has happened before. 

Take 1964 and Mexico City. Lorenzo Bandini punted Graham Hill off the road and later waved through his Ferrari partner John Surtees to take the title in that deciding race. So watch out for this or, indeed, Valtteri Bottas intervening on Hamilton’s behalf.

Neither Perez nor Bottas is a dirty driver and they may not be open to this type of persuasion, but stranger things have happened in this mad, desperate world.

Hamilton is experienced but totally undimmed in his relentless pursuit of the next victory

A word of perspective on Hamilton. You can say Verstappen is devoted to winning but he is a relative kid, albeit one in his seventh season in the top echelon.

Hamilton, by contrast, is experienced but totally undimmed in relentless pursuit of the next win. He started out in 2007 in Melbourne with a flash into the first corner and announced himself like a thunderclap on the consciousness of the world.

If he ever relaxed in a couple of bleak years at McLaren, he has essentially kept himself keener than Colman’s through a long haul.

This season, in particular, has been trying. A record 22 races, with Covid restrictions making everything, not least global travel, a whole heap harder. Still, Hamilton is as voracious as ever, raising his game during the crescendo as he has since his first title in 2008. 

That, along with a super-fast Mercedes, is what has delivered him three wins in succession. To think that prior to Mexico he was trailing 9-5 on wins, as well as by 19 points, having been 32 adrift at Silverstone in July. This recent renaissance is some turnaround.

It is now almost unimaginable how out of sorts he seemed at the beginning of the year. His contract negotiations dragged on into January. It was as if time might be wagging a reproving finger.

He was annoyed that his pay demands had been scaled down, not least with George Russell having impressed so conclusively while standing in for him in Bahrain last year.

It’s not that he was about to quit out of pique or anything silly like that, but there was a bit of repair work to be done in the Hamilton-Mercedes relationship.

Everything points to Hamilton triumphing after setting the fastest time in the second practice

That rancour seems a lifetime ago now and on Friday he set the fastest time in the second, more indicative, evening practice session. 

His margin over Verstappen, in fourth having set the pace earlier in the day, was 0.641sec, or what we might call comfortable.

This all reinforces my belief that Hamilton will win his eighth title here on Sunday to enter a new level of sporting fame.

I predicted as much even through the barren spell, notably after the summer break where his wins ran out, and I stick with that now.

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