Lewis Hamilton pushed even closer to greatness by Max Verstappen in F1 title race - Nick Westby
Victory over Max Verstappen in this most thrilling of Formula 1 title races will take him beyond Michael Schumacher onto eight drivers’ world championships and end as a statistical discussion the question of who is the greatest driver of all time.
Hamilton already has more grands prix wins than anybody else, more pole positions.
But even if the flying, if a little unhinged, Dutchman beats him to the chequered flag at the Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton’s status as the greatest F1 driver of all time has already been sealed.
For true sporting greatness you need rivalries; some you win, some you lose. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe wouldn’t be the same without the other pushing them on from across the net.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, Serena and Venus Williams, and to bring it back to F1, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
Schumacher’s titles, particularly in the Ferrari, marked a dour time in the history of F1. Competition was sparse.
It is easy in the modern-day obsession of over-playing the present to suggest that Hamilton versus Verstappen in 2021 is the best the sport has had it since Prost v Senna in 1989 and 1990, two nerve-jangling seasons that ended with one man taking the other out.
But that would ignore Hamilton versus Rosberg in 2016, the German who before Verstappen is the only driver to come anywhere near to beating the Briton in his Mercedes.
Furthermore, Hamilton’s first two seasons in the sport, in ’07 and ’08, went right down to the wire.
Then a McLaren driver, Hamilton was one of three drivers along with team-mate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who could win the world title going into the final race in Brazil.
The Briton didn’t, Raikkonen did, but a year later came an even more dramatic denoument when Hamilton went into the finale in Brazil needing to finish fifth to become world champion for the first time.
Felipe Massa needed to win the race in front of his home crowd, and did, just as Sebastian Vettel passed Hamilton to drop him into sixth. As he crossed the line Massa was world champion, but Hamilton regained fifth to pinch the title.
For all the history books will remember processions to the title in each of his six wins in the Silver Arrows, there have been plenty of dramatic moments, plenty of drivers that have pushed Hamilton to become even better.
Verstappen has pushed him this year, no question.
With every accolade the sport has to offer already his, Hamilton could have relented under such pressure, but cowering in a corner is not in the nature of this phenomenal competitor.
From his early days at Manor Motorsport in Formula Renault, Hamilton has forged a reputation for combining natural talent with a fierce work ethic.
That has not waned as the years have gone by, as the success has been achieved. If anything, he works harder than ever.
In scything his way through the field in Brazil recently he proved once again he is the most talented. Title fights like the one he is embroiled in now, bring out the best in him. Win or lose, Hamilton is the greatest.