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The greatest British sports star? There are plenty of contenders. Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome. Four-time Olympic champion distance runner Mo Farah.
Swimmer Adam Peaty, an Olympic champion, eight-time world champion and double world record holder. Gymnast Max Whitlock is a double Olympic champion and three-time world champion.
Snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan is a five-time world champion. Andy Murray is a three-time tennis Grand Slam winner and double Olympic champion.
There’s world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson. England rugby captain Owen Farrell – one of the best players in the world; Raheem Sterling is one of the best footballers. Golfer Rory McIlroy and many more.
And then there is Lewis Hamilton. Six-time Formula 1 world champion and winner of 83 grands prix, behind only Michael Schumacher on both, and 87 pole positions – an all-time record. The fastest racing driver in the world for 13 years and counting.
For some, Hamilton might not seem a fitting candidate for this particular accolade. But those achievements demand his consideration.
Few British sports stars made such an instant impact or have performed so consistently for such a long time as Hamilton.
Novice F1 drivers aren’t supposed to be able to fight for world titles or compete consistently against world champions. And yet that’s exactly what Hamilton did from the moment he made his debut in 2007, for McLaren, with two-time champion Fernando Alonso as his team-mate.
Hamilton was competitive from the very start of his debut season. He won his sixth race – and very nearly the title.
It was the greatest debut season in F1 history, and Hamilton has gone on to produce consistently masterful performances, occasionally touching genius, for the subsequent decade and more. He is the only driver in history to win a race in every season in which he has competed.
James Allison, technical director at Hamilton’s Mercedes team, is in a unique position to judge his qualities. Allison has worked closely with not only Hamilton but also Schumacher, Alonso and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
“If they all had to be in a super-team fighting it out every year,” Allison says, “my guess is that Lewis would end up on top. Maybe not every season, but if they kept coming back every year to do battle in some sort of Valhalla-type confrontation, more often than not it would be Lewis wearing the crown at the end of the year.
“Of that cluster, I think he is the quickest, at his best, and he shows us his best extremely frequently. It’s not by accident that he is the all-time pole record holder. He just has a better turn of speed than the others.”
Hamilton’s lifestyle outside F1 – the fashion line, the constant trips to the US, the backing vocals on R&B singles, the Hollywood friends – gives some the impression that he does not work that hard. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mercedes’ record-breaking run of six drivers’ and constructors’ championship doubles is founded on a relentless quest for better, and constant, reinvention. Hamilton is at the heart of it.
Back in August, Hamilton ended the first part of the season with possibly his best win of the year, a brilliant fightback to pass Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
It was Hamilton’s eighth win in 12 races and it gave him a 62-point championship lead. The sixth title was in effect already in the bag. But in the post-race debrief with his engineers, Hamilton
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