It may have been ugly, but Lewis Hamilton’s success in claiming his fourth world championship on Sunday has moved him within range of becoming the most successful racing driver of all time.
His ninth place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix was not the way in which he had hoped to seal his triumphant season, but his racing peers and most paddock observers believed that mattered little.
Not only did the 32-year-old Briton deserve this year’s championship, but, many have suggested, he proved he is capable of scaling even greater heights.
His age, the consistency of his Mercedes team and the maturing of his extraordinary raw talent for speed have combined to give him a unique platform for more record-breaking achievements.
Mercedes resisted a spirited challenge from a revived Ferrari to dominate the 2017 season and reel off a fourth consecutive constructors’ world championship.
That level of performance coupled with Hamilton’s talents and experience means Hamilton has good reason to believe he can go on to win not only a fifth title, to equal the record of Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, but rise beyond it to match German Michael Schumacher’s seven championship wins.
“Michael is still the greatest when you look at the outright results, but if Lewis stays and if Mercedes stay as competitive, you could see him getting close to winning seven,” said his former McLaren team-mate and fellow-Briton Jenson Button.
Schumacher’s records of seven titles and 91 career victories remain unchallenged, but Hamilton, on 62 wins, has already passed his pole positions record – with 72 poles — and, at 32, is the same age as the German when he won his fourth title.
And, since 2104, he has won 40 races with Mercedes, at an average 10 per season – a good enough return to justify belief in his potential to deliver more titles.
“He has made big decisions, including leaving McLaren, which was a surprise to a lot of people, including me,” said Jackie Stewart, the man he has surpassed as Britain’s most successful F1 driver.
“It was a big decision and the right one. He has learned so much there and has learned a lot, too, from Niki Lauda, including managing his emotions.
“I think the best is yet to come from Lewis.
“For me, the halcyon years for a driver are in your mid-thirties. You have maturity, you still have strength and you are still learning.
“But you have collected a lot of knowledge and you are still vibrant and hungry.”
Austrian Lauda, a three-time champion who is the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team, said: “Lewis has driven like a god this season. He has proved he is the best on the grid and deserves his success.
“He is possibly the best ever – he is certainly up there with the best we’ve ever seen.”
Hamilton himself was quick to dismiss any idea that he was considering following his erstwhile team-mate 2016 champion Nico Rosberg into a prompt retirement.
“Four is a great number, but I want number five now!” he said during Mercedes’ post-race paddock celebrations.
“I want to go out at the top. I could do the easy thing, like Nico, but I think there’s more in me.
“There’s more to come, more of a challenge… There’s harder times ahead — and I love that. That’s challenging and it would be so boring without it.”