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Crofty Blog – Mexico 2017

And so, with two races to go, the Championships are all decided and the engraver can start to write Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton on the winner’s trophy once again. It’s funny how a title race that looked for so long like it would go down to the wire, has ended so suddenly and in the way that it did in Mexico City.

After their tangle on the opening lap (did Seb do it deliberately or was it just one of those racing incidents) the FIA were satisfied that the onboard video showed that Vettel had oversteer and couldn’t avoid the contact.  Lewis was last and Sebastian third from last. It certainly wasn’t the way we expected events to unfold, but it was clear from that moment that Ferrari’s 10 year wait for a Championship would have to carry on for another season at least.

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It wasn’t the way Lewis wanted to seal his 4th world title, but I’m sure that when the adrenaline and the post Miami Sunday night party hangover wears off, he won’t worry too much about that. He’s officially Britain’s most successful Formula 1 driver now and the record books won’t carry too much detail as to how this Championship was eventually sealed.

There seems amongst some quarters, however, a reluctance to call him the greatest British driver, or even to put him up there with some of the greatest drivers of all time. And I’m not sure why? Why shouldn’t he be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Senna, Clark, Fangio, Prost or Schumacher? He might not have won as many titles as some, but he hasn’t finished yet and despite dropping the odd comment that he’s looking at life beyond F1, he’ll be around for at least three more seasons I believe, if not more.

I didn’t put Sebastian Vettel’s name in that list either and maybe I should have done. After all, he’s won just as many titles as Lewis and it’s interesting to me that during the period when he was on top, he received similar criticisms that it was the car, not the driver that was the major influence. Ignoring, of course, the fact that he did have a teammate in the same car, whom he managed to beat more often than not.

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With Lewis though, I get the feeling that it’s his image and how he’s perceived out of the car, which clouds some people’s judgement. Often I’m told by fans that they don’t like him because he’s sulky, or rude, or always partying with rap stars. As one tweet stated on Sunday, ‘the title has been won by a rich kid in the best car’ which strictly speaking isn’t totally correct. Lewis may be rich, but at 32 he’s not a kid anymore and the Mercedes hasn’t always been the best car this season. He’s been the best driver, and of that I have no doubt, but often Mercedes have beaten Ferrari when the Scuderia has actually had the faster car.

I recall a British Grand Prix weekend a couple of years back and a quiz night at the Whittlebury Camp Site. During the evening, one of the people taking part said that he thought Lewis Hamilton was bad for Formula 1, an interesting comment to say the least. His view was that a driver who appeared to be spending more time in America hanging out with his celebrity mates, wasn’t the right sort of image for the sport. I mention this because at the time I couldn’t have disagreed more and I still do.  Take a look at the last couple of days, the images of Lewis celebrating his title win, have taken centre stage on the front and back pages. Hamilton doesn’t necessarily need to win a title to do that either. Because of his activity on social media, he’s brought his image and, by association, his sport to a great many people, some of whom may not have been F1 fans in the first place and may now be taking an active interest in what goes on in Formula 1.

One sponsor who has just renewed their deal with Mercedes said that Hamilton was their biggest and most popular global ambassador and that his social media reach stretched way beyond any of the top sport stars they work with. Quite simply then, without Hamilton, chances are they wouldn’t be in the sport, or certainly wouldn’t be committing to it for as long as they are.

Far from being bad for the sport, you could argue that Lewis is hugely important to Formula 1. Certainly, other drivers could take a leaf out of his book when it comes to engaging and interacting with the audience. You might not always like what Lewis has to say, and from time to time he doesn’t always get it right as his poem to Diana showed a couple of months ago, but with the freedom afforded to him by Mercedes to be his own person, he’s doing just that, whilst also going out and performing on the track. Valtteri Bottas said, after offering his congratulations on Sunday, that Hamilton’s work levels had surprised him this season. He didn’t expect to see him putting in the work that he does. Perception sometimes is vastly different to reality.

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Hamilton, for me, has reached a new level on the track in 2017. A season where, rejuvenated by the challenge from Ferrari and now Red Bull, he’s broken records and deservedly taken the title. He’s relishing the battle to come, not just with Vettel, but Verstappen and Riccardo, who I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see as his team mate one day.

In my opinion he’s always been the racing driver I want to see. Some of his pole position laps have been quite stunning over the years, some of his victories, simply spellbinding. We are lucky to have Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1.  Not only a global super star, but a bloody talented one too and British to boot. You don’t have to support him just because he’s British, but we should be proud that he is one of the great British sportsmen of his, and our generation, and at Silverstone every year I see way more people who take that view than don’t.

So congratulations Lewis Hamilton and with two more races to go let’s enjoy what’s to come in 2017 before looking forward to next year. Hamilton and Vettel, now with 4 titles each, which one gets to have the high ‘fives’ first?!

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