You’d never have guessed from Lewis Hamilton’s typically cool demeanour when he arrived in Istanbul that he was standing on the threshold of greatness, but as he took the chequered flag to win the Turkish Grand Prix and a record-equalling seventh championship the weight of history finally hit him.
“I didn’t want the visor to come up and for people to see tears flowing and all of that stuff,” Hamilton said afterwards.
“I had always said that I would never let you see me cry… but it was too much.”
He took some time to recover his composure before climbing from his car and removing his helmet, but the moment will take a while longer still to fully sink in.
“We dreamed of this when we were young, when we were watching the grands prix,” he said, emotion still coursing through his voice. “This is way, way beyond our dreams.”
Already setting benchmarks for most pole positions, most podiums and most victories, he’d breached Michael Schumacher’s once seemingly unimpregnable seven-title record.
Hamilton’s position at the table of the greats is confirmed, and he’ll start 2021 as favourite for an outright eighth.
But there’s more to Hamilton that just numbers, and critics who claim his records belong mostly to his dominant machinery – as if Schumacher and other multi-championship winners hadn’t enjoyed class-leading cars – desperately undersell the Briton’s ability.
Look no further than the Turkish Grand Prix, where he sealed his place in the very highest of the sport’s echelons with one of his greatest drives.
The Istanbul Park circuit proved the most devious of the season’s challenges. Freshly resurfaced, it was absurdly slippery for the bitumen still seeping to the top, and the cold temperatures meant the tyres, already sliding over the oil, struggled to hold temperature.
And then it rained, turning the track treacherous.
The Mercedes car couldn’t comprehend the triple challenge of the conditions. From first practice both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled, qualifying sixth and ninth respectively.
Bottas fared even worse in the race, spinning six times and damaging his car to finish 14th.
Lewis Hamilton won the thing.
And he didn’t simply win; he won by half a minute. And he won by half a minute after trailing by 25 seconds with a third of the race already run.
That sort of form turnaround doesn’t happen over the course of an entire weekend, let alone two-thirds of a grand prix distance.
It was all down to Hamilton’s sublime but underrated feel for the car and tyres. When the rest of the field was overdriving and spinning themselves out of contention, he deployed patience. Slowly he brought all the variables of the lottery-like conditions under his control, only then unleashing his abundant natural speed to devastating effect.
He trusted his gut that the time he would lose calculating and strategising early would be repaid double, and his reward was the largest win since in Formula One 2016 and his largest win after his seminal 68-second victory at the 2008 British Grand Prix.
It was a champion’s drive.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, once pegged as the most likely to emulate the feats of his hero Schumacher but vanquished by the Briton in 2017–18, was the first to congratulate Hamilton in person post-race.
“I told him it’s very special for us because we can witness history being made today,” he said. “It wasn’t his race to win and he still won it.
“I think he is greatest of our era for sure.”
Surely now none could disagree.