F1 Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton joined the late Michael Schumacher as a seven-time winner of the world championship Saturday night, a landmark for the British driver just one day before he is set to tie the German’s record with his seventh title.
It was a teary-eyed moment for Hamilton, following two seasons dominated by a fight to reclaim his title against Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, who had an unprecedented seven titles by the time he retired.
“I can’t quite believe this is happening and Michael (Schumacher) is celebrating another championship,” Hamilton said. “It’s very special.”
Even if his personal body language indicated otherwise. Hamilton has put on quite a show this season, dominating to win the title in Texas on Sunday. He’s improved steadily over the last few seasons and finished stronger than in his early years.
In that regard, he’s surpassed himself, winning nine races in his first season and 12 in his second before increasing the number to 14 this year.
“I can be a better driver, a better person,” Hamilton said. “You always want to improve. I have always taken constructive criticism. I am a sponge.”
But winning is by no means a sole responsibility for Hamilton. For most of his entire career, he’s been overshadowed by the enigmatic Vettel. And lately, he has been overshadowed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen had a breakout season, emerging as one of the most exciting young talents in the sport. Of the championship contenders, he’s the only one not to win the last two races. On Sunday, Verstappen won the U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.
However, it was a near-flawless title defense for Hamilton, with each victory coming on the 3.4-mile road circuit in Austin. It was the eighth pole of his career and his third in a row.
Vettel of Ferrari said Hamilton deserved his title, which came thanks to a teammate who is behind the leader. “It’s a strange one because someone else won it,” Vettel said.
Hamilton, who currently sits at No. 2 in the all-time championship standings, trailed Vettel by 77 points going into the final two races. He got a huge boost from his victory at Russia in September to kick off the year, before the Ferrari swept the next two races.
Vettel finished fifth in Austin and said he thought Ferrari’s car was “no match” for Hamilton. But he added: “We don’t live in a bubble, so the eyes of the sport are quite close.”