In Texas on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton captured his third World Championship – something only nine drivers have done before him.
Hamilton secured his place in F1 history with three races to spare – in stark contrast to his first two titles. In 2008, it was only in the in the final few corners of the final lap of the final Grand Prix of the season that he claimed the fifth place he needed to win his first championship by a single point from Felipe Massa. Last year, he secured his second title only after a close season-long battle with teammate Nico Rosberg that went all the way to round 19 of 19.
So why has 2015 been (at least slightly) more comfortable for Hamilton? How has he built an 80-point lead over Rosberg, compared to the 17-point lead he held at the same point last year?
One reason is luck, both in terms of the number of technical problems and when they struck. In 2014, Hamilton suffered three retirements, all in races he could well have won. He was also hit by technical problems in qualifying in Germany and Hungary that forced him to start from the back – both times he finished third. Rosberg retired twice – once from the lead, once from second – before the problem that dropped him out of the points in the final race, so over the season the pair’s luck roughly balanced out. In 2015, there can be no doubt that the luck has gone Hamilton’s way. He’s had just one retirement – from fourth in Singapore – to Rosberg’s two – from third in Italy and from the lead in Russia.
The second is qualifying. Given that half of all Grands Prix are won from pole (including 58 per cent of Hamilton’s wins), being fastest on the Saturday is crucial. In 2014, Rosberg out-qualified Hamilton 12-7. In 2015, so far, it’s 12-4 to Hamilton.
Some of that is luck again: Hamilton hasn’t been hit by any car failures in qualifying this year, compared to the two that prevented him from making the top-ten shoot-out in 2014. He’s also avoided making mistakes like the ones that cost him a chance of pole in Austria and Britain last year. But even accounting for those, Hamilton has got the better of Rosberg in qualifying more often this year. And it’s not so much that he’s improved his raw pace relative to his teammate, but more that he’s become really good at realising it in the pole position shoot-out and producing a mighty lap when it matters most.
Witness Monaco, when Rosberg beat Hamilton in final practice and the first two parts of qualifying, only for Hamilton to set pole position with a time 0.8s quicker than anything he’d done all weekend and 0.3s quicker than Rosberg. Or Austria, where Rosberg was 0.4s faster in Q2 but Hamilton improved by 0.6s in Q3 to take pole by 0.2s. Or Belgium, where Rosberg matched Hamilton in Q1 and edged him in Q2, only to be blown away by 0.5s in Q3.
That’s just not something Rosberg’s been able to do to Hamilton at all this season. Nor is it something Hamilton was able to do to Rosberg last year, with the exception of Singapore. On average, Hamilton’s dry Q3 laps in 2015 have been 0.5s quicker than his previous best of the weekend, whereas Rosberg has improved by 0.3s. In 2014, they both improved by about 0.4s on average.
So we can put Hamilton’s earlier wrapping up of his third World Championship down to better fortune and more really impressive Q3 performances.
And to Lewis being one of the greatest drivers ever.
- Jonathan Jones, Political Researcher and Motorsport Fan