JONATHAN McEVOY: Lewis Hamilton MUST join Ferrari. Him v Charles Leclerc in the red corner, with Max Verstappen at Mercedes, would breathe new life into Formula One and seal great Brit’s legend
- Lewis Hamilton won the F1 drivers’ championship for the sixth time this season
- His and Mercedes’ dominance is extraordinary, but he can claim greater glory
- After matching Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles next season, Hamilton should move to Ferrari and chase a new high-water mark
- That would open up a mouthwatering battle between him and two young stars
This was not the season of a lifetime for us observers. Yes, there were some fine races, especially after the summer break, but Lewis Hamilton cast his championship die too early for us to sit long right on the edge of our seats.
Hats off to the six-time champion and his chariot-makers, Mercedes. They are rewriting the record books with their insatiable thirst for success. But as the season drew to a close in Abu Dhabi with fireworks lighting up the night sky, if not the grand prix itself, I wondered what is needed to breathe new life into the sport.
I don’t grope for the suggestion in a spirit of despondency. Formula One is not in need of life-support. I am, however, aware that the Hamilton years have brought with them a sense of deja vu. For the third successive season, he wrapped up the prize with two rounds to spare.
Yes, so to what needs to happen: Hamilton joining Ferrari for the 2021 season.
Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen (left) and Charles Leclerc (right) toast the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – and a future title battle between the three is something we can all drink to
That would sweep away all the old certainties. It would probably produce Hamilton v Charles Leclerc in the red corner. It might usher Max Verstappen to Mercedes. Either way, it would be the most exciting single thing that could happen to grand prix racing.
That much is obvious, but I also contend that it is exactly what Hamilton needs.
First, is he not in need of a new challenge after seven seasons of near-unbroken success? He has broadly worked with the same people, in the same way, all those years. If he is not getting a touch stale yet, they might be by the time his next contract expires.
Hamilton and Mercedes are utterly dominant, and he won the title with races to spare again
The British superstar has his eyes on becoming the sport’s all-time most successful driver
Secondly, Ferrari could secure him the last piece of his legend. Think what a move there offers when, as seems likely, he has won a seventh title next season. He would then have the opportunity to win a championship with a third team – the only remaining frontier to conquer and a final seal of greatness. In doing so, he would have the distinction of eclipsing Michael Schumacher in the same scarlet cars.
If I were to add a third point: what has he got to lose with all those millions in the bank and, by then, more race wins and poles than anyone else in history?
Well, he could get smashed by Leclerc with the Monegasque well-established by 2021. His talent may wane, for he would be 36 by the time of his Scuderia debut. The Italians might gang up on him, as Bernie Ecclestone recently pointed out.
There are risks but, of course, that is part of the attraction.
Only Michael Schumacher, with seven, now has more than Hamilton’s six world championships
If Hamilton won a title with Ferrari it would be his crowning glory and F1 would thrive
He was not at his pyrotechnical best over one lap. Perhaps at 34, we should not expect so many qualifying performances that defy physics. But he mostly drove well within himself to notch his sixth title with two races to spare in a car that was often second best.
He is harnessing his experience across every facet of his driving, which is how he can sustain his brilliance into the Indian summer of his career. Max Verstappen was exceptional but revealed a couple too many moments of impetuosity.
Now 34, Lewis Hamilton remains an incredible driver after winning a sixth title
RACE OF THE YEAR: GERMAN GRAND PRIX
High marks to Brazil. Lowest marks to Le Castellet in France, which is being redesigned to make it a half-interesting track. But for drama and comedy, the winner is Hockenheim.
Even Hamilton spun off twice in the wet and asked to retire. Valtteri Bottas crashed out, prompting Mercedes boss Toto Wolff to slam his fists on the table. Others slid into the gravel. The most farcical moment was Hamilton’s pit stop. The boys were not ready. Cue Laurel and Hardy scenes. Tyres were ferried in an out. One chap hurt his back. Hamilton was in there for 50 seconds. Oh dear.
There were farcical scenes throughout the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim
MOMENT OF THE YEAR: ANTHOINE HUBERT’S DEATH
On a sad note, Hubert died in the F2 race at Spa. Few crashes stop you in your tracks the moment you see them the way this one did. The most heart-rending sight was the 22-year-old’s mother, Nathalie, holding his crash helmet among the mourning circle of bowed heads on the grid. She hid her eyes behind dark glasses.
After the death F2 driver Anthoine Hubert, his mother Nathalie held his helmet at a memorial
RIVALRY OF THE YEAR: VETTEL v LECLERC
Who is No 1 at Ferrari? That is the question Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc have pulled apart like a Christmas cracker. The answer is Leclerc, with more wins, more poles, more points — and victory at Monza. One problem is Vettel, paid £36million a year, won’t lie down. Another is that the leadership at the team appears weak. They will, it seems, endure another year of squabbling.
Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc (L) and Sebastian Vettel (R) both want to be the team’s main driver
BEST NEW BRIT – GEORGE RUSSELL
It is hard to tell exactly how well Russell has driven in a Williams as slow as a milk float but he just wins my vote ahead of Lando Norris. Both have acquitted themselves well. However, the way Russell has taken on the leadership of the team, has impressed. At 21, he is two years older than Norris and it shows.
Russell’s figures are impressive by the only available metric, against his team-mate Robert Kubica. Qualifying: 21-0.
Williams driver George Russell has shown exceptional leadership at the age of just 21
MOST IMPROVED TEAM: McLAREN
What a turnaround for McLaren: fourth in the championship, their highest finish since 2012. This halts a decline dating back more than a decade. It started with them losing their engine partners, headline sponsors and star driver — Mercedes, Vodafone and Hamilton. Last year they cleared out some deadwood after this paper’s Freddo-gate revelations. Andreas Seidl, a focused German, was drafted in to bring much-needed grip. A podium for Carlos Sainz in Brazil was the reward. But there is still a long way to go to the top, which was once McLaren’s first and only interest.
FAREWELL OF THE YEAR: ROBERT KUBICA
Kubica thankfully took his leave of Williams yesterday. He had tried to prove he was as good as he had been when he had full use of his two arms, prior to a terrible rally accident in 2011. It was always unlikely. That he got back into Formula One after was a giant achievement in itself but it was not nice to see him — a contemporary Hamilton rated very seriously indeed — as a shadow of his old, remarkable self.
Veteran Williams driver Robert Kubica has finally decided to retire from Formula One
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: NIKI LAUDA
Lauda died aged 70 after a lifetime’s defiance. Finally, he succumbed to the toxic gases he inhaled when he almost burned to death at the Nurburgring in 1976.
‘He was a super driver but far above that he was a special man,’ said Bernie Ecclestone. ‘A bit of me wishes Niki could have lived a peaceful life but that would not have suited him. He was a fighter.’
Charlie Whiting, the race director, died suddenly in Melbourne, respected by all.
Legendary driver and former world champion Niki Lauda died this season aged 70
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