Lewis Hamilton: Mark Hughes appraises F1's six-time champion
Sky F1's Mark Hughes on how Hamilton, after a big transfer decision amid Vettel's dominance, has become F1's driving force
Last Updated: 30/12/19 5:36pm
Lewis Hamilton's sixth world title comes 11 years after his first, forming the longest arch of world championship victories in the sport's history.
It's a telling statistic and even more so when aligned with the two teams of his career, the McLaren years (2007-12) and those at Mercedes (2013-date).
Only one of his titles came in his six seasons at McLaren. The other five have been won in his seven Mercedes years.
There is no question that the technical advantages he has enjoyed at Mercedes in the hybrid era of F1 have been the cornerstone of his spectacular career statistics. By comparison, he enjoyed McLarens that ranged from good (2007-08) through poor (2009) to reasonably competitive but behind the cutting edge represented by Red Bull (2010-12).
Yet even in his McLaren years he was widely hailed as 'F1's fastest driver' even if there was a more split opinion on whether he was 'the best'. Those making the case that he was merely the fastest would usually cite Fernando Alonso as the most complete.
Yet it was Hamilton's startling speed as a rookie team-mate of Alonso's that played a key part in the breakdown of the Spaniard's relationship with McLaren first time around.
That breakdown was something that Alonso's career never fully recovered from. His ill-judged response to what he felt were broken promises of team priority made his career less great than it might have been, putting him in a sequence of wrong places at the wrong times.
Hamilton's astonishing form in his first F1 season thus played its part in diluting the challenge of perhaps his key rival through much of his career.
After clinching that last-gasp 2008 title (having narrowly missed out on becoming the first rookie champion in the sport's history the year before) and being thwarted by the initially hopeless 2009 McLaren, Hamilton's next four seasons were spent taking opportunistic advantage of the rare days that Sebastian Vettel wasn't in dominant form in Adrian Newey's Red Bulls.
During those four seasons (2010-13) of Red Bull domination, Hamilton won only as many races as he took in 2019 alone and it looked feasible that Hamilton's career stats never would quite match his accepted stature within the sport.
The statistically dominant driver of Hamilton's era looked set to be Vettel, a situation that Hamilton at times seemed almost resigned to.
But at the end of 2012 he made an off-track move arguably more spectacular even than those he was making on-track as he left McLaren for the hitherto unsuccessful Mercedes team, where he replaced Michael Schumacher whose comeback had fallen short of expectations.
Although Hamilton won only one race there in 2013, it was the new-for-2014 hybrid formula that was the big focus of the team and its massive investment - and has been the foundation of his blockbusting success since.
As the fastest driver in the fastest car, the sport has rather surrendered itself to him, only a couple of key mechanical problems in 2016 keeping him from a clean sweep of all the hybrid era titles.
He now comfortably leads Vettel in the official records of achievement and his challenges going forward look set to be coming from the new generation, as personified by Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, guys 12-13 years his junior.