Melbourne’s Albert Park grand prix, the traditional Formula One curtain raiser, has been pushed back to April 10 in a record-breaking 23-event calendar for 2022.
Lewis Hamilton formalised a fifth World Championship at Mexico on Sunday, becoming just the third driver to do so.
On the back of arguably his most clinical campaign to date, there’s no indication that he’s slowing down, bringing him within sight of the overall victory and title hauls.
The Briton draws level with Juan Manuel Fangio, now trailing only Michael Schumacher’s seven crowns, and having committed to Mercedes for a further two seasons, has every chance of standing alongside the German by 2020.
The 21 victories Hamilton requires to surpass Schumacher’s record ninety one is also a realistic proposition within this timeframe, which his 49 in the past five seasons speaks to.
He could comfortably continue beyond his next contract by which time he’ll still only be 35, which would almost guarantee that he rewrites the history books. Although nothing is certain in Formula One, his form this season demonstrates that he remains hungry as ever and capable of overcoming any challenges.
It’d be easy to say that Ferrari’s implosion for a second successive year handed Hamilton the championship on a plate, though from several junctions where he and Mercedes appeared as vulnerable as they’ve been at any time in the hybrid era – even more so than twelve months earlier, he’s claimed the title with multiple races in hand – again.
The Briton’s ruthless consistency – encompassing fifteen podiums, afforded absolutely no margin for Sebastian Vettel’s errors, allied with Ferrari’s midseason developmental misstep, its subsequent reluctance to immediately acknowledge the shortcomings was the decisive point of no return.
Just as Singapore was the symbolic conclusion of Vettel and Ferrari’s fight last year, the German’s self-enforced retirement whilst leading in front of his compatriots at Hockenheim provided this season’s sliding doors moment, a microcosm of the narrative that defined the campaign.
Vettel held the whip following his British GP victory – which had left Hamilton flustered, and following the Briton’s qualifying failure which consigned him to fourteenth on the grid, the former only had to stay on the track for a regulation victory and extend his points lead in the process.
As occurred so frequently in the middle portion of the season, the heavens intervened, causing the German and Ferrari to panic, whilst Hamilton relished the turmoil to gain positions even as the red cars remained out of sight.
Despite Vettel enjoying protection from his charge by team-mate, Kimi Räikkönen, an earlier strategic blunder which kept Vettel behind the Finn following an early stop facilitated an unnecessary pressure to which he succumbed when he fell off the track with sixteen laps remaining.
Hamilton did his rain dance as the downpour intensified to secure the unlikeliest of victories, and instead of trailing Vettel by fifteen to twenty points, reassumed the initiative and a lead he wouldn’t surrender.
He required no invitation to dominate a rain affected final qualifying session at Hungary as Ferrari, having set the pace in the first two segments and the entire weekend until that point, sent its cars out at the wrong time. Despite both cars finishing on the podium, it was another likely victory conceded as Hamilton eased home thanks largely to Valtteri Bottas’ race being sacrificed.
The same affliction was on display at Japan in final qualifying when Ferrari sent Vettel out on the wrong compound in intermittent rain, and in the intervening minutes both realised and switched, the rain had intensified, and Hamilton had already set a benchmark which wouldn’t be beaten.
Lining up ninth, Vettel spun following contact with Max Verstappen, just as he had after brushing Hamilton at Italy, and later with Daniel Ricciardo at Austin, all moments of desperation borne from fighting with one hand tied by strategic deficiencies. However, they were unforgivable errors if you’re attempting to win the championship against a machine as well-oiled as the Hamilton-Mercedes juggernaut.
These are the fifty-fifty moments which the Briton and Mercedes continue to execute so peerlessly, and it’s ironic that Hamilton secured his title following a scrappy race at Mexico in similar circumstances to 2017, with the dissatisfaction expressed by driver and team at the individual result despite claiming the ultimate prize testament to their desire for perfection.
This attitude demonstrates that the partnership, which has consolidated itself as one of the greatest of all time with the latest achievement, aren’t content to rest on their laurels and are always seeking to evolve. For this reason, it’s difficult to envisage Hamilton winding down when records which once seemed so distant now lie tantalisingly close.