Yesterday I made my way through the cream of this year’s crop of drivers, which was a lot more difficult than I had initially envisaged it would be. Trying to compare drivers from various categories on different rungs of the racing career ladder was no easy task. So if you haven’t already, go have a quick look to see who occupies numbers 20 through to two in my opinion this year.
Without further ado, time to announce who has been crowned my numero uno driver this year.
1. Lewis Hamilton – 5th in Formula 1
Has there been a more sensational rookie in the history of Formula 1? He almost won the world championship in his debut year in 2007, before going one step further and clinching the title with McLaren in ’08.
Yet I have a small admission to make. In a sport where the car is still very much the defining factor in relation to success, Lewis Hamilton always seemed to me to be on a magic carpet ride during those first two years. It wasn’t until this season, in the face of adversity both on and off-track, that his fighting spirit shone through and won my recognition.
Here was a driver who, with his title chances wrecked by early car troubles, consistently extracted as much as he possibly could from his dog of a McLaren and regularly pushed it into places it didn’t deserve to be.
Limited by the car’s hopeless qualifying-speed in its early season-form, Hamilton still managed to somehow drag it up to fourth in Melbourne and Bahrain with two faultless drives.
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that around this period his sporting integrity took a knock, after being led astray by McLaren’s sporting director Dave Ryan. Yet what followed has to have been one of the most frank and open admission of guilt and regret we have ever seen in this sport.
In hindsight, the damage to his reputation wasn’t as long lasting as most thought it would be. Formula 1’s ability to constantly shoot itself in the foot this season meant that Hamilton’s lies to the stewards quickly became tomorrow’s chip paper.
Back on-track, once McLaren were able to give him a car that was almost there, Hamilton was able to do the rest. Despite numerous upgrades introduced to the MP4-24 throughout the course of its life this season, it still lacked overall downforce and trailed massively behind Red Bull and Brawn on the aero efficiency front.
Yet with the car’s performance window steadily widening, Hamilton was able to score two impressive race wins in Hungary and Singapore and was well on course to win a third at Abu Dhabi, were it not for a brake material problem resulting in a rare mechanic retirement for the Briton.
This year was a defining one for Hamilton who is now coming of age and seems to be producing far fewer mistakes than he did in his first two years. Monza showed he is still capable of them, but it also demonstrated that he’s not prepared to rest on his laurels and will continue to push until he crosses the finishing line.
Consistent and always on the limit. God only knows just how successful he will be in the next decade.