With his sixth Formula 1 world title wrapped up in Austin last weekend, Lewis Hamilton is now just one championship shy of Michael Schumacher’s record tally.

The GOAT debate has been in full flow from the moment Hamilton crossed the line at the Circuit of The Americas. Statistically, Hamilton still has a little way to go if he wants to overhaul Schumacher. Putting numbers aside, his status among the greats varies drastically depending on who you talk to.

Comparing generations and eras may be difficult, but one thing that is certain is that Hamilton is set apart from his peers currently racing in F1. Five of his six titles have been won since 2014, making him the undisputed king of the V6 hybrid era.

And by Hamilton’s own account, he has been better than ever in 2019. Despite battling “demons” off-track and coping with the loss of Niki Lauda, a significant figure in his life and career, Hamilton hit new heights. He’s in double-digits for wins for the fifth time in six years, and has been off the podium just three times all season. A 27-point haul from the final two races will statistically make this his best season ever.

Hamilton very rarely has ‘bad days’. Think how many there have been in the past three seasons. Hockenheim this year? Yes. Canada 2018? Perhaps. Maybe a couple of times in 2017? But there have been few glaring moments where Hamilton was seen to have really dropped the ball.

It is that kind of remarkable consistency that his rivals were quick to identify as being what made Hamilton stand out in the aftermath of his title victory in Austin last Sunday.

“I think Lewis is very good in always being consistent and always getting the results, even if that’s third or second, whatever,” said Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. “Of course, the whole team have been strong for many years now, and it’s an incredible achievement for all of them, and of course for Lewis as well for winning a sixth title.”

Even on ‘off days’ for Mercedes, Hamilton has time and time again been able to still come home with a decent haul of points under his belt, ensuring there are no massive points or momentum swings away.

As Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes, and soon to become his second-longest serving teammate, Valtteri Bottas arguably knows the workings of the six-time champion better than any other driver. The same word came out of his mouth: consistency.

“He’s obviously very consistent throughout the season. He’s got no real weaknesses on any of the tracks,” Bottas said.

“He’s always able to find the performance in whatever the conditions and circumstances. And he’s been doing maybe less mistakes overall than me this year. He’s been there always, so that has made the difference.”

Running the same car as Hamilton, Bottas was best-placed to take the fight to him for the title this year, and he has only scored one fewer podium.

But there were too many weekends where he paid the price for big errors. Take Germany, where he frittered away a surefire podium, running fourth with Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll ahead that would have easily been picked off. Or Hungary, where incidents in the early stages left him with damage and turned his race into an extended test session, leaving him to claw back to a lowly eighth. Races like those have made the difference in the title fight.

One of Hamilton’s greatest assets – and perhaps his most understated – is his composure. While many of the greats were known for their tendency to break the rules or have the ‘red mist’ descend (something Schumacher, Senna and Prost were all guilty of), Hamilton has always remained remarkably fair and clean. Tough? Yes. Vocal on radio? Maybe. But always, always clean and composed.

Hungary was a clear show of Hamilton’s composure. Mercedes rolled the dice on strategy and gave him a mighty task to try and bridge the gap to race leader Verstappen, but it is one that he seized with aplomb. At no point did he make a mistake, pushing beyond the limits and squandering the opportunity completely. He got the job done.

Not only is it Hamilton’s ability to stay so composed while fighting at the very front of the pack, but also while managing the pressures of the F1 circus – that with his jet-setting, celebrity lifestyle, are greater than they are for most.

“He can drive a car fast, that’s the basics, which he’s had since he was I guess four or five years old,” said Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.

“But the composure, I think to do six… people would say great car, great team yes, but to still hold that level and to be there week in, week out, there’s so much more to go in with this sport.

“It’s not just about driving. It’s about managing the whole circus. He also has a lot of extra-curricular things he does in his life with his fashion and everything. I think to still come here prepared for the races, we have to respect that.

“We’re all competitors. I want to beat him as much as anyone else, but on a day like today, on his sixth title, you can show nothing but respect and tip your hat to him.”

The other stand-out driver of the 2010s, Sebastian Vettel, implored the F1 world to show nothing but adulation for Hamilton’s achievements.

“I think now is the time for you to write as many good things as you can,” Vettel said.

“I think if somebody wins the title six times, then he deserves all of it. That’s what I told him as well.

“Obviously I’m happy for him, I’m not happy that we’re not in contention this year, that we were so far back. But I think you need to respect what he achieved the last years and also this year, and together with his team how strong they have been.”

Until he does manage to reach eight world titles and 92 race victories, Hamilton will always be on the back foot to Schumacher in the greatest of all-time debate.

But that should not prevent us from recognising what sets Hamilton apart in his current generation – so we can savour as much of it as possible while he is still on the grid.

Additional reporting by Julianne Cerasoli.

 

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