By winning his fourth Formula 1 World Championship, Lewis Hamilton became the most successful British driver in history and surpassed the achievements of his childhood hero Ayrton Senna. It was one of the great sporting achievements of the year, writes Luke Barry.
This wasn’t just about the extraordinary feat of achieving a fourth Formula 1 World Championship; this was about Lewis Hamilton making another step into the sport’s hall of fame.
Looking back to the start of the season, it’s easy to forget that Hamilton wasn’t the defending champion. That accolade belonged to Nico Rosberg, but with the German driver absent from the grid it would be Finn Valtteri Bottas lining up in the second of two Mercedes.
However, unlike the tense inter-team battle that unfolded in 2016, it was Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari that quickly emerged as Hamilton’s closest challenger. Vettel got the jump in the pit stops and recorded the first win of the season in Australia, setting up a battle between two of the sport’s greatest champions that the fans had been craving for.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team had dominated F1 ever since new technical regulations were introduced in 2014, so it was a refreshing sight to see the Silver Arrows have a genuine fight on their hands. It caused them and Hamilton to up their game.
The tour headed to China for the second race with Hamilton taking the spoils, with Vettel responding to win in Bahrain before Bottas took his maiden win in Russia.
The Spanish Grand Prix was the first chance we got to see the two titans face off on the same piece of tarmac. And it was Hamilton that came out on top, with a decisive swoop up the inside of Turn 1. But from that high came an enormous low in Monaco. On a track notorious for its lack of overtaking, Vettel took a lights to flag victory from pole position while Hamilton languished after failing to qualify in the top 10.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the streets of Baku would prove the psychological edge was with Hamilton. Hamilton led from Vettel under the safety car, and what would follow would be one of the most bizarre moments ever in a Grand Prix.
Vettel’s Ferrari crashed into the back of Hamilton’s Mercedes, claiming he had been brake tested. In an outrage, he then pulled alongside his rival and deliberately steered his car right, slamming into the side pod of the Silver Arrow. An immense error of judgement that forced both drivers into an unnecessary pit stop. Vettel further extended his championship lead but this was proof that Hamilton was in his head.
The weeks following the summer break was where Hamilton really hammered home his advantage. He seemed relaxed, cool and driven, winning the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix to become the first back-to-back winner of the season.
This was followed by a series of terrible races for Vettel. First, he collided with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Singapore before he suffered an engine failure in Japan. Combined, it put the result beyond doubt.
Throughout the season, Hamilton really did become, if he wasn’t already, one of the true greats of Formula 1. Regardless of whether you approve of his off-track antics, what he does on the track has been truly remarkable ever since he stormed onto the scene with McLaren in 2007.
His name is near the top of nearly every record lists. Four world titles puts him level with Vettel and Alain Prost, with only Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Michael Schumacher (seven) holding more. His 62 race wins puts him second on the all-time list, while thanks to a magic lap around Spa Francorchamps, he now holds the record for Saturdays with 72 career pole positions and counting.
Speculation has been rife regarding Hamilton’s future in F1. It’s no secret that he has plans away from the sport, but he looks set to be here for another three seasons at least.
And that is a big gain for the sport. Hamilton is one of the most exciting drivers to watch, and is an exceptional talent that only continues to grow. When he looks back on his performance in 2017, he will feel incredibly proud of how he went about his business. Equalling and surpassing the great Ayrton Senna will mean more to him than words can ever describe, while beating a Ferrari that was arguably at times faster than his Mercedes proves that he is currently the best racing driver in the world, maybe even in history.