Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton's historic dominance of F1 truly unprecedented
Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton's historic dominance of F1 truly unprecedented

Published May. 6, 2022 1:22 p.m. ET

By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer

Lewis Hamilton has been winning races and winning championships in this one-percenter sport called Formula 1 for 15 years.

Hamilton has been so good, from the moment he entered the sport until now, that he is enigmatically incomparable. That's true even in a year that includes his worst start to an F1 season since 2009 and even coming off his worst finish in a race just last month, when he was lapped at Imola by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, his greatest challenger over the past half-decade.

Heading into the first of two 2022 U.S. Grand Prix races this weekend in Miami, with Hamilton looking up for the first time in a long time at a drivers' championship he isn't likely to win, it’s important to bear in mind that his curriculum vitae is utterly and nearly unflinchingly astonishing.


Despite a down season in 2022, Lewis Hamilton remains Formula 1's ultimate winner. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

This might be the first season since 2013 in which Hamilton fails to win either the World Drivers' Championship (most points in a season by a single driver) or the World Constructor’s Championship (most points in a season by a team). Since joining Mercedes in '13, he has lost the drivers' championship just once — to his teammate Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton won his first world title in 2008, becoming the youngest driver in the sport’s history to accomplish the feat, which he did at 23 years, 9 months, 26 days old. He secured the ‘08 title on the final lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix, with a dramatic overtake for fifth place in the home race of a motorsport icon and his personal hero, Ayrton Senna. 

Over the next 13 years, Hamilton has redefined what it means to dominate the sport, becoming the first driver to win 100 F1 races and take 100 poles. Heading into the 2021 season, there was every reason to believe that Hamilton — driving the most dominant machine of the previous era, marked by F1’s switch to V6 hybrid engines — would win a record eighth consecutive drivers' championship. That would have put him ahead of not just Michael Schumacher but also the greats in most major sports in the modern era.

In the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi, tied in points with Verstappen, Hamilton lost the world title on the final lap in a race that ended in controversy. A safety car restart on that last lap gave Verstappen a crucial advantage. So it goes. That’s racing. 

Then, just weeks after that season ended, he was knighted. He recently said that his niece and nephew now call him "Sir Uncle."

Just before Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom last March, Hamilton spoke of changing his name to reflect his mother’s, in recognition of what she means to him. 

"None of you might know that my mum’s name is Larbalestier, and I am just about to put that in my name," he said. "Because I don’t fully understand the idea that when people get married, the woman loses their name. And my mum, I really want her name to continue on [along] with the Hamilton name."

What I love most about this super on-brand comment from Hamilton is that his gushing love for his mother came in response to a question about what it would mean to him to become the first F1 driver to win eight drivers' championships. 

Hamilton has thrived in a sport in which the odds were strongly stacked against him. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Hamilton is affable, even when he's completely flappable.

In the cockpit of a fighter jet on four wheels, you can hear him talking to his race engineer, Peter Bonnington. Speaking to "Bono," Hamilton can sound flustered, tired, dejected, on edge, and yet somehow he makes the flight in the fight-or-flight impulse feel genuine, the human condition at 202 miles per hour. 

In post-race media conferences, especially in defeat, he's gracious, kind and measured.

He’s not the man your son or daughter might bring home, but he's the one every parent would pick for their child — a worldly, Black millionaire who not only made good but also basks in his own curiosity and affinity for the world around him. 

He's someone who will catwalk at a Tommy Hilfiger event in Shanghai two days after taking second in the Singapore Grand Prix. He's as likely to have H.A.M. on his helmet, referring to the Kanye West and Jay-Z song, "let these people know who I am," as he is to wear a T-shirt at the Tuscan Grand Prix demanding justice for Breonna Taylor — and then go win the race en route to driver world title No. 7.

In both cases, he had something to lose: his seat, his reputation, his tremendous public standing and platform. In both cases, he chose to be human, to be one of us, in a sport that mythologizes the man beneath the visor.

Who Michael Jordan is to so many basketball fans, Lewis Hamilton is to me. 

Who Reggie Bush is to many college football fans, Lewis Hamilton is to me.

Who Ayrton Senna is to Lewis Hamilton, Lewis Hamilton is to me.

And for many, all Hamilton does is drive — but it's how he has driven and remains driven that makes him singular, a nova lighting up the sky when the sky is darkest.

Having finished on the podium 183 times, Hamilton has won 103 races. (Photo by Alejandro Garcia/Pool via Getty Images)

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If F1 championships are like rings in the NFL, Hamilton has 15 — eight more than Tom Brady owns. 

If F1 championships are like rings in the NBA, he owns four more than Bill Russell (11), who won titles in his last seven years before the NBA merged with the ABA to create what would become the modern NBA.

If we’re comparing Hamilton to Schumacher, Hamilton has won two more world titles, 15 to 13.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team has won the World Constructor's Championship — F1’s team title — a record eight times in a row. By that measure, there's an argument to be made that he is the best teammate in a sport that turns your teammate into your fiercest rival on the track. 

It must be said: Racing cars is not a team sport, yet Mercedes is the best team in the sport. If we're split on whether team titles matter as much as individual ones, then Hamilton is the greatest driver not just in the world but also of all time. 

Only 20 people have the skill, talent and money-backing to drive an F1 car. Sometimes, they don’t even have the skill or talent — just the money.

Hamilton has been one of those 20 every year since 2007 — a year before Schumacher retired the first time. What’s more, Hamilton was paired with the driver who broke Schumacher’s stranglehold on F1, Fernando Alonso, and not only proceeded to beat Alonso, but was so good that Alonso threatened to out his own team for stealing intellectual property from Ferrari.

Driving with the might of the Mercedes team behind him, Hamilton is accustomed to taking the checkered flag. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Put another way, Hamilton was so good that the reigning world champion threatened to blackmail his own team if it didn’t force Hamilton to slow down.

Hamilton has since equaled Schumacher with the most F1 driver championships (seven) by one person in the 72-year history of the sport.

Heading into the 2022 season, Hamilton had more grand prix wins (103), finishes on the podium (183) and poles taken (103) than Schumacher — and Hamilton did all that in 290 starts, 16 fewer than Schumacher. Hamilton also replaced Schumacher at Mercedes in 2013.

While it's impossible to replace the legend of Schumacher, Hamilton has built his own — and it’s one that won't be seen again because the circumstances around Hamilton are just as unique as he is.

Since he entered the sport, he has rewritten the record book, with 50 more victories than four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Speaking to his longevity, Hamilton holds or shares 21 records in the sport, including most consecutive starts (265) in a piece of equipment that reaches more than 200 mph and is conservatively worth several million dollars. Schumacher’s 2001 F1 Ferrari sold at public auction for more than $7.5 million 20 years ago.

Senna is believed by purists to be the best driver the sport has ever seen, and his legend has only grown since his fatal accident in 1994 at Imola. Most who remember him will tell you that there will never be another Senna, just as there will never be another Pelé. But there is a Serena Williams, a Leo Messi, a Katie Ledecky, a Cristiano Ronaldo, a Michael Jordan.

*** *** ***

Hamilton has been focused on Formula 1 success since his youth. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

No other Black person has been the first to enter their sport — a pioneer — and immediately bent the sport to their will, eclipsing a mark set by the best to ever do it while remaining the only Black competitor in the sport. 

Add to this the fact that Hamilton races on five continents, nine months per year, in a sport measured not in seconds but in tenths of a second.

His sport demands prodigious reflexes, precise decision-making and an unblinking gaze into pressure. One of the hallmarks of Hamilton’s ability as a driver is that he is willing to stay on the throttle just a touch longer than the other 19 drivers on the grid, risking his life, to gain just a bit more speed going into and coming off the apex of a corner more than a dozen times per lap over the course of as many as 70 laps.

In 2015, at Monza, Italy, the legendary home track of vaunted Ferrari, Hamilton drove his Mercedes 192 miles in 78 minutes, averaging 147 mph. He has recorded the fastest laps ever on eight grand prix circuits, as well as the fastest lap in the 72-year history of F1 when he took the pole at Monza in 2020 with an average speed of 164 mph. He did this in a car that goes from zero to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds, 60 to 120 mph in two seconds and 200 mph to zero in 3.5 seconds. 

Cornering, he feels four times the force of gravity. Breaking, he feels at least five times the force of gravity. At top speed, his car generates 2.5 tons of downforce — pushing Hamilton and the car closer to the ground to reduce drag — and the force of gravity just by lifting his foot off the gas, a deceleration so fierce that former F1 Williams Racing team principal Adam Parr compared it to a "Porsche 911 driver doing the emergency brake" in his book with Ross Brawn called "Total Competition."

Perhaps it’s understood that an F1 car does not have an automatic transmission. But where many manual transmissions come with six gears pushing the car forward, an F1 car is built with eight and has the capacity to change gears in 40 milliseconds.

The 20 F1 drivers on the grid have reached the pinnacle of the sport. The machines they drive are more akin to fighter jets than cars, as they are in wheel-to-wheel combat for 90 minutes to two hours nearly two dozen times. And the drivers are recruited and developed much the same way jet pilots are.

F1 drivers have uncannily quick reflexes and rarely have poor vision. The rest is decided by just how good the car they're driving is. An F1 car wins a championship, but an F1 driver can lose one. This is, yet again, where Hamilton is unique.

Hamilton's No. 44 Mercedes can go from zero to 60 in 2.4 seconds. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)


In a sport in which it seems that every driver’s father either drove in F1 or is a millionaire or billionaire, the odds of a young, Black Brit who grew up racing remote control cars until his father could afford to put him in a go-kart eventually driving F1 are long enough. 

Surviving F1 is yet another challenge, as the sport has claimed the lives of more heroes than we'd wish to acknowledge.

But Hamilton’s talents and achievements so dwarf the sport that we have stretched to trying to find an athlete with whom to compare him. 

Michael Jordan? He is the greatest basketball player ever, yet he could look around and see other Black men in his sport. 

Tiger Woods? He competes in a sport almost as inaccessible to young Black men as F1. At the 2018 PGA Championship, Woods was the only Black golfer among 156.

But Woods is still three major championships short of equaling Jack Nicklaus for the most all time. He was not the first Black golfer on the tour, and we have seen Black golfers since Woods first captivated us in 1997.  Woods was also raised by a father who was familiar with the sport and was handing it down as much as he was building Woods up. 

Because of the travel demands of Formula 1, Hamilton estimates that he spends fewer than 80 days a year at home. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The tour travels, too, but not like F1. In his autobiography, "My Story," Hamilton said he spends just 80 days per year at home. His sport takes place on five continents, and F1 CEO Stefan Domenicali would like F1 to return to (South) Africa for the first time since 1993 — when Hamilton was 8 and the F1 Williams team was what Mercedes is today. 

Hamilton’s father, Anthony, the son of a Grenadian immigrant, is an IT professional who became a contractor to support his son’s go-karting across Europe. But only after Anthony watched Lewis first enjoy driving a go-kart on a carnival track while on vacation in Ibiza and beating adults while racing his remote-control car. 

From a show called "Blue Peter," one segment about a 7-year-old Hamilton has become legend. It features him racing his 1/8th around a grass circuit, and it's noteworthy, in part, because it’s such an inauspicious start for a future F1 driver, let alone the greatest F1 driver ever. Longtime fans of Hamilton will notice that he doesn't blink in this 30-year-old clip, and he doesn’t blink when driving around corners now.

He was barely karting then. He was years away from meeting Ron Dennis at a motorsport awards event where he told the McLaren boss that he'd like to drive Formula 1 for him. Dennis gave Hamilton his phone number and told him to call him in a few years.

But that's what it takes, and that might be the only thing Black boys in other predominantly male sports have in common with Hamilton. A white person had to deliberately push open the garage door for him, back him with sponsorship and belief. Then Hamilton had to be the most exceptional athlete on Earth.

Hamilton was the first through the door, and he hasn’t stopped winning in his sport, winning at a rate that has pushed the limits of what we once thought possible, especially when considering that most F1 aficionados agree that Hamilton has benefited from Mercedes engineers and aerodynamicists creating the best car in the sport since 2014.

What mostly goes unsaid is how good he is — not just at getting the most out of that car but also at driving it with a steely focus that doesn't give in.


University of Sheffield professor Dr. Andrew Bell wanted to determine the greatest F1 driver of all time, and the difficulty of finding an answer was good enough reason to devote considerable resources to it.

"The question ‘Who is the greatest F1 driver of all time?’ is a difficult one to answer because we don’t know the extent to which drivers do well because of their talent or because they are driving a good car," Bell said. "The question has fascinated fans for years and, I’m sure, will continue to do so. Our statistical model allows us to find a ranking and assess the relative importance of team and driver effects, and there are some surprising results."

At age 37, Hamilton still has his sights set on an eighth F1 drivers' championship. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The study, first published in the "Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports," found a few determining factors when evaluating drivers. Teams are six times as valuable as individual drivers, mostly remain consistent in performance and matter less as the circuit gets smaller, such as street circuits. 

Just over five years ago, Bell determined that Juan Manuel Fangio — who set the standard for greatness in the sport in the 1950s, with five drivers' championships with four different teams — is the greatest driver of all time. Bell even went so far as to say that contemporary driver Alonso (with his two world titles) ranks higher than both Vettel and Hamilton. Schumacher ranked ninth. Hamilton was 10th.

When I look at this study, though, I don’t see the elements that have made Hamilton such an influential figure in my life.

This study makes no mention of race or class as I understand those two factors. Specifically, that I, a young Black man from Tulsa, when I was just 20 years old, had done what most in the U.S. had in pursuit of my dream: I took out loans to attend college.

When those loans were quickly devoured by the University of Tulsa, the small private school I attended, I found myself walking into the school library and clicking around on the web to find a way to further fund my education through scholarships, more loans and, importantly, a job that I could use to supplement my partial scholarship cheerleading and continue to participate on the track team as a walk-on.

Over an hour into my search, I stumbled across a headline. Another young Black man, just two years older than me, was doing what no other Black man in his sport had done. His name is Lewis Hamilton, and he was going to make his Formula 1 debut for his boyhood dream team, McLaren.

This Brit from Stevenage, the grandchild of a Grenadian citizen and a white woman had come from a working-class family to achieve what many only can if their fathers are enthusiasts (like Schumacher’s father, who ran a go-kart track), rich (millionaires and billionaires like Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi and Lando Norris’ fathers) — or were former F1 drivers themselves like Verstappen’s father, a kind of nepotism at play. Hamilton’s father was none of those things, nor was his mother. 

His parents divorced early in his life, but they’d both noticed Hamilton’s knack for racing cars. However, when most kids got their first go-kart, he got a remote-controlled car. 

The go-kart would come later, and only by steadily winning would he eventually get to meet the boss at McLaren, Ron Dennis, to whom, with some encouragement from his father, Hamilton introduced himself in December 1995.

"'Hello, I’m Lewis Hamilton,'" he would later write in his autobiography. "'One day, I’d like to be a racing driver, and I’d like to race for McLaren.' Ron sat down and spoke to me for what seemed like ages, 10 minutes or so, although I’m sure it was really just a minute or two. I remember looking in his eyes — and I never lost contact with him. 

"He said, ‘You have got to work hard at school. You have got to keep that spirit and keep going.’ So I got him to sign my autograph book, and I said, ‘Can you also put down your number and address please?’ and he said ‘OK.’ He wrote down his address and said, ‘I tell you what — phone me in nine years, and I will sort you out a deal.’"

Hamilton wore a shirt in tribute to Breonna Taylor at the Tuscan Grand Prix in 2020. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

And so it was that Dennis kept his word, even while dropping Hamilton from their program at one point, and made a way for Hamilton to make history. 

I devoured this story, Hamilton’s story, and have held it closely, next to my heart, as I have continued through my life over the last decade-and-a-half.

Not long after leaving the school library, I was hired as a tire-installer at a Pep Boys about five minutes from TU, where I followed the exploits of Hamilton and reigning world champion Alonso at McLaren, where they not only thrived, but competed for championships. 

Shortly after Hamilton won his first grand prix in Canada, I was promoted to mechanic, specializing in brake and suspension repair.

As my interest and passion lent itself to sports and Black history, I became even more enthralled with Hamilton. I knew what Hamilton was doing had never been done and might never be done again. Hamilton, a trailblazer, had not only established himself as a living legend, but ascended a cut above the likes of Tiger, MJ, Jackie and Ali. 

After all, there have been Black ballplayers, golfers, and boxers before, cutting a path, no matter how small, toward what a Black man might achieve in sport in a country where Black folks’ origin story begins with slavery. But there had never been a Black forerunner who so immediately overwhelmed a sport the way Hamilton has F1. 

Throughout my life, I’ve seen the man I affectionately call "Sir Lew Carl" — his middle name is Carl Davidson — watched him drive fast, race smart, and, when the moment comes, stand up for people who looked and felt as he does. I cherish the life Hamilton lives, am grateful to grow up a member of his generation at a time when I have needed him most, am buoyed by Hamilton’s accomplishments and those of so many others like him. 

He is one who helped spur me forward in my quest to achieve respectability in my vocation all because I happened upon Hamilton on his precipice of greatness and have been so proud to know he exists. 

Lewis Hamilton is, without measure, in a sport — a life — defined by similarities. I love him for that. I love him for being. 

I love him because he is proof that I, just two years his junior, Black and proud, am not as alone as I sometimes feel; that I still have more left to do, to accomplish; that I deserve to give myself every chance to be extraordinary, to live my life with passion and drive, drive, drive.

At 37, in the last act of his racing career, we might see five more years of Hamilton in an F1 car before his reflexes and eyesight deteriorate to make him uncompetitive. But like MJ and Tiger, I saw him at the peak of his power, his prime. 

Now, all that’s left for him is to go get world driver’s championship No. 8. 

I’m childishly optimistic for my hero, perhaps not this year, but in the years to come, he will do just that. Because he is the incomparable Lewis Hamilton.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.


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