After becoming the most successful driver in Formula 1 history in terms of race wins with his 92nd victory, it’s time to pick out the ones that are among Lewis Hamilton’s finest moments. I could have made life a lot easier for myself by making the list a top 10, but that would have meant including more than 10% of his wins, and left you with less to disagree with.
So, in ascending order, here’s what I’ve ranked as Hamilton’s five greatest victories in F1:
5. INDIANAPOLIS 2007
There are plenty of honorable mentions that could easily have traded places with Indianapolis, but I’m giving Hamilton’s second grand prix victory — yes, 90 race wins ago now — top-five billing.
It all comes down to the context. He had walked into a race-winning car but not expected to be a championship contender. He’d had an extremely impressive start to the season, and picked up plenty of podiums, but until Formula 1 headed to North America he was yet to stand on the top step.
The win in Canada was a big moment, and perhaps played a big part in the performance that followed at Indianapolis. Hamilton looked every bit a future world champion, but it was almost expected that teammate (and the man who had won the last two world championships, don’t forget) Fernando Alonso would find his feet with his new McLaren team and pull away to take the 2007 title.
Even after Canada, Hamilton’s lack of experience was an understandable asterisk against his chances. But then came Indy, where he duly continued his momentum by sticking the car on pole position alongside Alonso, just as he had in Canada. On that occasion, Alonso damaged his nose running wide at Turn 1 and wasn’t a major threat, but in the U.S., Alonso put the pressure on during the opening lap and stayed right within striking distance for much of the race.
Backmarkers bunched the pair up at the midway point and allowed Alonso a run at Hamilton towards the first corner — the two McLarens inches apart at over 200mph — but the rookie held firm and edged away again. Alonso was always ready for another chance, but Hamilton didn’t give him one. In just the seventh race of his F1 career, the Briton withstood the pressure like a veteran and showed he had all the tools required to beat the best.
4. COTA 2012
No, I’m not being biased just because this is a U.S.-based website, but we’re staying in the States for the next Hamilton win, and although it was at a different circuit it does carry similarities to Indianapolis five years earlier.
On that occasion, lapping traffic forced Hamilton to have to fight wheel-to-wheel for victory and almost cost him the lead, on this one it afforded him the one chance he needed to again beat a double world champion (at the time).
The 2012 championship was being fought out between Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in an epic tussle. Hamilton was used to mixing it with both, but at this stage it was a straight fight between the Spaniard and German for the championship. And at a new venue, championship leader Vettel hit the ground running with the fastest time in all three practice sessions and pole position.
But Hamilton was closing the gap all weekend and was just 0.1s adrift of Vettel in qualifying, yet looked set for a frustrating afternoon when he was hampered by starting on the dirty side of the grid and dropped to third behind Mark Webber.
With two fast Red Bulls ahead, Hamilton’s chances looked slim, but he quickly dispatched Webber — at the second time of asking — into Turn 12 and set off after Vettel.
The leader appeared to have things in hand, with Hamilton sometimes gaining with DRS but dropping too far back to attack through the flowing first sector. Then a backmarker — Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT — balked Vettel slightly and left him exposed, giving Hamilton the one chance he needed. Using DRS he swept by to lead with 14 laps remaining, but Vettel stayed right on his gearbox, setting the fastest lap but finishing just 0.6s adrift as Hamilton wrestled away victory in a race that looked to be Red Bull’s to control.
3. CHINA 2011
The first two on this list might not have been the sort of thrilling comeback drive that has you on the edge of your seat but China in 2011 certainly was. Sebastian Vettel came into the race with a 100% record at the start of what would be a dominant championship season, leading the standings by nearly a race win already and adding a comfortable pole position in Shanghai.
Things couldn’t have looked much worse for Hamilton half an hour before the race, when a fuel system issue meant he was stuck in the garage and only just made it out of the pit lane in time to take up his third place on the gird. Starting behind teammate Jenson Button, he was unlikely to have the best choice of strategy, but then it all started to come together.