What is the mark of a true champion? Magnanimity. A true champion recognizes another winner when they see one. Sebastian Vettel, soon to be a former Ferrari driver and once a championship rival to Lewis Hamilton, was the first to congratulate the Mercedes driver after his record-equalling win at the Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday. “Witnessing you making history man. Awesome!” were the words from Vettel as he shook hands with Hamilton, who sat in his winning car’s cockpit -- head in his hands in disbelief. The feeling was still sinking in. The German driver, who will race for Aston Martin in 2021, knows this feeling pretty well. He is a four-time Formula One world champion after all. “I think he is the greatest of our era for sure,” Vettel said later.
At a drenched Intercity Istanbul Park circuit, Hamilton accomplished the unthinkable. The 35-year-old now stands on top of Formula One record books with 7 world championships to his name. He joins Michael Schumacher in sharing this amazing sporting achievement. What’s more? The Brit looks on course to better this record. He might not have been confirmed as a Mercedes driver for 2021 yet, but in 2020 Lewis Hamilton has, as F1 lead commentator David Croft said, “found his voice off the track, and on it, once again, he has found his groove.” It is perhaps a matter of when, and not if, before Hamilton bags a record-breaking eighth title.
What is the mark of a true champion? Respect and admiration not only from peers, but others of the same ilk. Twenty-two year old Williams driver George Russell, tipped for a bright future in the sport, congratulated Hamilton on his win and “setting the bar ridiculously high for us to chase”. Enjoy the moment, Russell said on Twitter. Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who retired after 52 laps in Turkey, tweeted that he never thought Schumacher’s record would be equalled. “Very impressive,” he said. Hamilton’s incredible achievement was recognized by everyone from former England striker Gary Lineker to Rio Ferdinand, who knows plenty about making and breaking records through his time at Manchester United. Both the former players admitted on social media that Hamilton was one of the greatest ever sportspeople the country had ever produced.
What is the mark of a true champion? Hunger and the will to make a difference, to inspire change. Just hours after winning the championship, Hamilton posted a message on social media that “there was another race to be won.” A dominant voice in the world of Formula One, Hamilton has also been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. “This year I’ve been driven not just by my desire to win on the track, but by a desire to help push our sport, and our world to become more diverse and inclusive,” Hamilton wrote in this message. “I promise you I am not going to stop fighting for change. We have a long way to go but I will continue to push for equality within our sport, and within the greater world we live in.” The sport’s only Black driver said he also expects to help both his team and Formula One in becoming more accountable and sustainable in the near future.
What is the mark of a true champion? Longevity. Look around in the world of sports and you see the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Zlatan Ibrahimović and Cristiano Ronaldo. Look at Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen, for that matter. Longevity. Federer is 39. Nadal, 34. Between the two, they share 40 Grand Slams. Ibrahimovic continues to defy footballing logic at the age of 39. Ronaldo will turn 36 next February, but has the 2022 World Cup firmly within his sights. Räikkönen, 41, the oldest driver in the current Formula One line-up, holds the record for most starts in F1 and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Hamilton has been racing since he was 8. Of course, the boy who started on karts, is now behind the wheel of a formidable racing machine. Yet, it’s remarkable how Hamilton continues to prove his doubters wrong and seems to be getting better with age -- he will turn 36 in January. On Sunday, he drove 51 laps, out of a total 58, on a single set of intermediate tyres. By the end of the race, these had become “slick”. The initially horrid rainy conditions were slowly receding but he didn’t risk a late pit stop to change his tyres. Memories of the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix, when he lost the championship in a pit lane debacle, still haunt him. On Sunday though, he managed his tyres with impeccable accuracy, as he has all season. He had started the race at 6th, but finished at the top of the pile. Luck played a huge part, but so did experience and determination.
Finally, what is the mark of a true champion? Wisdom and the ability to inspire. During a post-race interview with Martin Brundle, a visibly emotional Hamilton had a message for youngsters who were hopefully watching on from around the world. “Don’t listen to anybody who tells you you can’t achieve something. Dream the impossible and speak it into existence. And you’ve got to work for it, you’ve got to chase it. And you have got to never give up, and never doubt yourself.” In a year where the entire world has been riddled with the pandemic, moments of inspiration have been hard to come by. Lewis Hamilton’s win on Sunday was one such rare moment.