Is Lewis Hamilton The Greatest British Sportsman Ever?

Philip Boeckman Lewis Hamilton

Should everything go to plan this weekend, Lewis Hamilton will stand atop the US Grand Prix podium in the setting sunshine in Austin, Texas, with an eleventh victory of the season in the bag and, more triumphantly, a fourth World Title in his hands.

Sure, Vettel will need to finish 5th or lower - given his recent horrors in his Ferrari, nobody would be surprised if he did - but it seems inevitable at this stage that Hamilton will be crowned champion this season. He has an almost unassailable lead at the the top and will need the collapse of all collapses for Vettel to steal the title this year.

Only a handful of drivers have won four or more World Championship titles in the glorious history of Formula One. Four men, to be precise. One of them is Hamilton's career rival, Vettel. The other three are a who's who of the greatest drivers to ever grace the sport: Alain Prost (4), Juan Manuel Fangio (5) and the great Michael Schumacher (7).

For Hamilton to be close to joining this hall of greats, it speaks volumes of his ability, both his god-given talent to hurl a machine down straights and corners at 200mph, but also his mentality. 

Usually in Britain, elite athletes are revered within households. Few receive the adulation and recognition in Blighty more than our sporting heroes, particularly those with a stake to be the greatest ever within their sport. 

Sir Steve Redgrave, Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, George Best, Andy Murray and Sir Jackie Stewart are such examples. There are several others, but those aforementioned listed enjoy legendary status within British homes. And rightfully so; all have set alight their sport and are held in the greatest sporting regard.

With Lewis Hamilton, it's slightly different. For some reason, he has often lacked recognition for his achievements from those outside the sport. Sure, it might be that he's too contemporary to be listed amongst this country's greatest, but that doesn't explain why Andy Murray, Sir Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins have gained such a status despite being active within the past half-decade.

There's more than meets the eye here. Even the most ardent of Hamilton fans will admit the Briton has a very testing personality - you either love him or loathe him. He's enjoyed his fair share of controversy during the past decade, from a very public split with his father to questioning whether his sport is inherently racist. The breakdown of his relationship with Nico Rosberg, once his closest pal in F1, didn't do him any favours and painted him as a ruthless, narcissistic athlete. 

Had Hamilton possessed the grace and humbleness of Jenson Button, a gentleman sportsman if ever there's been one, we may well have a very different opinion of the Mercedes driver.

Like all sporting winners, there's an almost overbearing arrogance to Lewis Hamilton. He's the greatest driver of his generation and he knows it. Yet, we loved that about Muhammed Ali (admittedly he wasn't British).

He has pushed his talent to the limit and wrenched every drop of potential and ability from his body and mind. That should be respected, but this is a nation where we cherish sporting tearaways - George Best and Paul Gascogine to name a couple. 

He has set a path to superstardom for being a black man in a historically white man's sport. Not only was Hamilton the first, and only, black driver to take to the grid, he's still the only black race winner and world champion. This blog isn't suggesting F1 is racist - although the incident in Barcelona where fans heckled Hamilton for his skin colour was horrifying. We're merely stating that Hamilton has opened up an otherwise closed sport to the masses. His humble background and the superhuman efforts by his father, Anthony, to ensure Hamilton reached the heights he has belongs in any sporting fairytale. 

He'll soon be a four-time world champion, but his achievements won't stop there. He'll likely be a five time world champion, with a sixth title not out of the question. If Mercedes can stay the dominant team on the grid, who's going to stop him?

Perhaps that's why he's not quite regarded as Britain's greatest: the ignorant belief that F1 is all machine and that the best driver is only ever the one in the fastest car. Yes, that's a benefit of any world champion, Formula One is a complicated sport and a team's success comes down to its mechanical composition, its aerodynamic strength and the wider team,  but to say the driver has no input in the success of a car or a team in Formula One is quite frankly silly.

If that were the case, why not dismiss Sir Alex Ferguson's and Jose Mourinho's input into simply managing their all-winning football clubs? Or to make a better point, let's ignore AP McCoy's astonishing achievements in horse racing, because he simply sat atop countless champions horses. 

Hamilton has seen off countless challengers during his ten years on the grid. Never have there been more world champions on a starting grid in F1 than we had when Hamilton was competing for his opening two titles. Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikonnen have all competed during Hamilton's career. Only Vettel has gone toe-to-toe with Hamilton for more than a season or two. 

Perhaps Hamilton needs to retire and allow the years to pass before he'll be named in the same breath as Britain's greats. Either way, he'll go down as a true legend of Formula One. Those in the future will watch with awe videos of Hamilton at his best, just like we do when we re-watch Ayrton Senna's, Jackie Stewart's or Fangio's greatest drives. 

Philip Boeckman

Huge fan of @F1 and Motor Racing in general. I blog about anything and everything from the world of Formula 1