After Lewis Hamilton secured his fifth world title, our panel of F1 journalists — Maurice Hamilton, Nate Saunders, Kate Walker and Laurence Edmondson — review the main talking points from the Mexican Grand Prix.
Do you rate Lewis Hamilton as the greatest Formula One driver of all time?
MH: It’s impossible to compare eras that are so different, particularly Fangio’s heyday in the Fifties. But you can certainly say Lewis is ONE of the greatest of all time. You don’t get to win five titles by chance.
NS: Purely on driving talent it’s impossible to say, but as a superstar he has to be the G.O.A.T.. F1 has never had anyone like Lewis Hamilton — a man who won his fifth world title the same year he launched his first fashion range with Tommy Hilfiger. The fact he’s entered his name into the conversation as a driver before he has retired is incredibly special.
KW: No, because it’s impossible to judge across eras and equipment. I will say that we’re currently enjoying the greatest Lewis Hamilton of all time, and that he’s certainly earned his place among the legends of the sport. Five titles is an impressive feat in any era and car, against any set of rivals. But it’s not all about the numbers of points scored and races won — it’s about the level of performance we’ve seen. Every once in a while you see a race drive or pole lap that actually takes your breath away, it’s so stunning. We’ve had several of those moments from Lewis this year (not least Singapore Saturday), and it’s been a real privilege to see one of the sport’s best talents performing at his peak.
LE: He’s certainly in the running, but I think it’s still too early to say. He has two years left on his current contract and I can see him him continuing for at least two more after that. If he goes on to beat Michael Schumacher’s records then I think it’s going to be hard to argue against him.
Is Ferrari in need of minor tweaks or major changes to win the title next year?
MH: Judging by the SF71H, they’re obviously doing something right because it’s a very good car. Just the usual tweaks rather than major changes in that department. But the management and Sebastian Vettel’s driving have been very suspect at championship level. I’m not convinced by Maurizio Arrivabene’s capacity as the leader of a top F1 team. You need a racer who totally understands the fundamentals. Anyway, the arrival of Charles Leclerc will change the dynamic in this team — for the better.
NS: Major changes. The rumoured promotion of Mattia Binotto to team principal didn’t happen this year but would make a big difference to a team that clearly has deeper problems than Sebastian Vettel’s long list of mistakes.
KW: Very minor tweaks on the overall team side, if anything — to change the technical team now would be silly, in my view. Binotto and co designed the fastest car on the grid this season, and one that is far kinder to its tyres than the Merc. Where Ferrari lost points was in strategic mis-steps (don’t forget we’ve also pilloried everyone else on the grid for strategy issues; you just notice it more in a team fighting for the title) and in Sebastian Vettel making uncharacteristic mistakes and then letting the demons in his own head get the better of him. The cheeky suggestion would be to swap Seb…
LE: Maranello produced a car capable of winning the championship this year but for some reason the team fell short. You have to look at the reasons for that and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that they stemmed from Ferrari’s race operations and Sebastian Vettel’s mistakes. It’s easy to say that won’t happen again, but if Ferrari squanders another opportunity next year then those issues must be addressed head on.
Would Max Verstappen have won this year’s championship if he’d been driving a Ferrari or a Mercedes?
MH: I don’t think he would. That’s no disrespect to Max whatsoever. He’s enormously talented; a future champion, no question. But he’s perhaps not ready just yet to deal with the huge pressures and expectations that come with fighting for the championship. That’s a whole different world to turning up in the third best car, simply going for it and having fun.
NS: Against Lewis Hamilton? I don’t think so. Verstappen’s current form is impressive but his run of mistakes earlier this year showed he didn’t start 2018 with the mindset he needed to win a title. If you put Hamilton and Verstappen in a championship fight right now, Hamilton wins.
KW: No. In the early fly-aways we were talking about how Max should change his style to stop the run of screw-ups, with two retirements in the first four races. At the time Verstappen was bullish, telling the world he was happy with his driving style and had nothing to change; now he’s admitted he may have been overdriving a touch. Either way, when Max was in early season ‘feisty mode’, he lost the sort of points that cost titles, irrespective of the car you’re in. Would Max have had an error-free season in a different car? That’s one hypothetical too far!
LE: I think Max’s early season mistakes were borne out of the frustration of having a car that wasn’t up to the job. But while there’s little doubt he would have excelled in a better car, that level of immaturity would still have been there and a driver like Hamilton would have recognised it and exploited it. However, I do think the championship would be going down to the final round in Abu Dhabi and not ending two races early.
What would you say to Daniel Ricciardo to cheer him up?
MH: Tricky one, that, because we don’t know what’s going through his mind right now. Is he having second thoughts about the wisdom of moving to Renault? Or is he thinking it’s a good move now that Max has really cemented his relationship with Red Bull in the second half of the season? Is he wondering why the race day failures keep happening to him? Whatever it is, you can be sure he won’t need cheering up when he bounces into the paddock at Interlagos.
NS: It’s easy to second-guess Ricciardo’s move to Renualt at the moment, but he’s about to join a very exciting project. Despite Red Bull’s recent form, I still don’t think that team will win a title before the regulations revamp in 2021, the same one Renault is waiting for to return to the front end of the grid. I would remind him of that and the reasons he made the move in the future.
KW: Eight more days, Danny, eight more days.* That’s all you have to get through, and then you shall be free: your indentured servitude complete, your debts to the Red Bull empire repaid. Who knows what the future holds? But it’s your future, Daniel, yours to do with as you please! Also, you absolutely rocked it with that pole lap.
* Only counting GP weekends here as I dread to think of his sponsor and factory commitments…
LE: You’re paid a huge amount of money to drive an F1 car. Next year you’ll be paid a huge amount more.
Stoffel Vandoorne scored his first points in 14 races on Sunday. Was it too little too late or is F1 losing a top level driver?
MH: It was a timely boost for his morale if not his F1 future, which is already sealed. It just hasn’t happened for a number of reasons, not least being in the same team with Fernando Alonso and having to race a car that’s been rubbish. The moment has passed. That may not seem fair for a driver with such promise in the junior formula — but, unfortunately, that’s the way it is.
NS: Too little, too late, unfortunately, but the blame cannot all lie at the Belgian’s feet. He’s been utterly ruined by McLaren and its complete devotion to Fernando Alonso and I hope he can excel in Formula E. He clearly has the talent, it’s just the confidence that has been lacking for most of 2018.
KW: Too little, too late, too boring. Next!
LE: I can’t help but feel F1 is losing a very good driver. Sure he’s not performed this year, but I’m struggling to imagine a worse environment to start an F1 career than the one he’s faced. In his two years at McLaren, the team has fallen apart at the seams while his teammate Fernando Alonso has had its key players wrapped around his little finger. It’s unlikely any young driver would have done a huge amount better.