Lewis Hamilton secured a record-equalling seventh Formula One world title on Sunday after winning the Turkish Grand Prix and then warned pretenders to his crown “I’m only just getting started!”
After a momentous drive from sixth on the grid in wet and treacherous conditions, the Briton matched Michael Schumacher’s haul of drivers’ crowns with three races of the season remaining.
The 35-year-old sealed his latest title 12 years after his first with a typically measured masterclass, handling the slippy early conditions to claim his 94th career win.
It was widely declared as one of his finest triumphs and entirely appropriate on the day he drew alongside the German in the record books.
“That’s for all the kids out there that believe in the impossible,” said an emotional Hamilton on Mercedes’ team radio. “You can do it.”
Later he claimed he still had the hunger for more titles and paid tribute to his team and fans after a season in which he led his sport in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I feel like I’m only just getting started. Physically, I’m in great shape. And mentally this year has been really hard for millions of people and it’s no different for us athletes,” he said.
“This has been a challenge that I didn’t know how to get through, but with the help of Team LH I managed to get through.”
Hamilton, who sealed his first title in 2008, added to his unprecedented roster of records — most wins with 94, most pole positions (97), most podium finishes (163) and most consecutive points finishes (47).
He added: “We dreamed of this when I was young.
“I remember watching Michael win those world championships. To get one or two or even three is so hard.
“Seven is unimaginable. There is no end to what we can do together, me and this team.”
– Blew away rivals –
He lapped his team-mate and only remaining title rival Valtteri Bottas, who finished 14th after a desultory outing, to claim his 10th victory in 14 races of a season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamilton came home over half a minute clear of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez. Both chose to make only one pit-stop and spent most of the race on a single set of intermediate tyres as their rivals pitted several times to cope with the slippery conditions.
Hamilton’s old rival, four-time former champion Sebastian Vettel, finished third ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz of McLaren and, after a wild and impulsive afternoon, Max Verstappen in the leading Red Bull.
Alex Albon came home seventh in the second Red Bull ahead of Lando Norris in the second McLaren, Lance Stroll, who had started from his maiden pole position for Racing Point, and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault.
This latest triumph gave Hamilton an unassailable lead over 31-year-old Bottas, with two races in Bahrain and the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to come.
Vettel, who grabbed a podium finish on the final lap, was the first man to congratulate Hamilton in the pits, leaning into the Englishman’s cockpit to tell him he had made history.
Bottas said: “He deserves it fully – he is the best of all of us this year and he really deserves it so it’s great for him.
“So I will have to try to beat him next year.”
Tributes flooded in from his fellow drivers and motorsport’s president Jean Todt, and from beyond the F1 family.
“Game recognises game. From all of the Barça family, congratulations @LewisHamilton on your 7th @F1 World Championship!” tweeted La Liga giants Barcelona.
Kenya’s world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge added his congratulations, telling Hamilton: “Longevity is equal to experience, this is what inspires the world!”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that the team’s success had been even more significant coming in a time of the global coronavirus health emergency.
“This year has been very, very special, in difficult circumstances for everyone around the world.
“I hope that we’ve entertained and that’s why coming on top after such a year in such a tough race, it’s exceptional.”