It was the final Enduro Cup event of 2019 and the final endurance race to be held at this historic venue and, as always, the Sandown 500 did not fail to deliver excitement and plenty of controversy.
History was made at the United States Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton was crowned the 2019 Formula One world champion, and also became the second driver in the sport’s history to win six titles.
The 34-year old Briton now sits behind only the great Michael Schumacher in the pantheon of Formula One’s world champions, with now even the German’s record under threat of being equalled come the 2020 season.
The 2019 season marked Hamilton’s third consecutive title. The once baby-faced, clean-skinned boy from Stevenage made his debut for McLaren 13 years ago, and has at last stamped his greatness upon Formula One.
It could be argued that winning his third, fourth or fifth title should have cemented that legacy, though with the sixth championship now under his belt, there should be no questioning Hamilton’s status as a Formula One great.
Hamilton himself conceded that “this has been the hardest year that I can remember,” reflecting upon the road to the championship following his podium finish in Austin.
This may not be reflected through the incredible start to the season that he and his mighty Mercedes AMG team had, where Hamilton powered through to six wins in the first eight races, crushing a hapless Ferrari and even his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Although what stands out as far as adversity is concerned was how he and Mercedes overcame the devastating loss of their non-executive chairman and key team member Niki Lauda ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix, which Hamilton then emphatically won.
In the narrative that’ll recite the tale of Hamilton’s career, Lauda’s role will be significant. After all, it was Lauda himself who lured the then-raw Briton away from his home at McLaren to Mercedes, who were also at the time quite fresh.
From there, the story is known and success took both Hamilton and Mercedes to dizzying heights since the start of Formula One’s hybrid era. Although it hasn’t been without its challenges, culminating in the rivalry with former teammate Nico Rosberg and even fighting off Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari team in recent years.
“I miss Niki so much, I know today he would be taking his cap off,” said Hamilton of the late Austrian.
“Yesterday he would have been doing this (rubbing his fingers together) he was paying me too much, or I have to pay him, but today he would have taken his cap off.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have done this without Niki. He’s here with us in spirit.”
The 2019 season has been Hamilton’s best for sheer consistency. He has developed an ability to not succumb to the bad days or weekends, which in the past had been his downfall. Even in the three out of 19 races that he has not been on the podium, Hamilton has scored points inside the top ten.
With the fightback of Ferrari and the rise of their youngster Charles Leclerc in the second half of the season, as well as Max Verstappen’s constant threat throughout 2019, Hamilton has shown little sign of being overcome by Formula One’s next generation of champions – even if at times he has been negatively vocal over the team radio about Mercedes’ strategic decisions, seen at the Mexican Grand Prix.
This shows us the human side of Hamilton, in a sport that to the uninitiated is driven mostly by the machine. So do his activities away from Formula One, which often draw a lot of negative attention and feedback from the harshest of critics.
Regardless of how he is perceived, as far as his status and legacy in Formula One is concerned, Hamilton is now undoubtedly a great, and could still have many years ahead of him at the top of the sport. Yet there is still the feeling that his achievements may not be fully appreciated until he walks away from racing.
And with Schumacher’s seven championships and 91-race wins now within touching distance, what was once thought to be unachievable post-Michael suddenly has seen a driver as good – if not greater – come to eclipse those iconic numbers.