Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton has an incredible seven world titles, but it could have been nine

The Formula One legend's greatest hits and misses in the build-up to Yas

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Lewis Hamilton's record-breaking 2020 is drawing to a close. And while he hopes a positive coronavirus result will not end his campaign before Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, there have been many reasons for the Briton to celebrate.

Hamilton sealed his seventh world title in Turkey to equal the all-time record of Michael Schumacher. The British driver has won 11 races this season. He has now become the sport's most successful driver of all time, with a record 95 wins and 98 pole positions.

But it could have been more. Here we take a look at Hamilton's best performances, and some heart-breaking misses over the years.

The hits: 2008 – Second year, first championship in a Brazilian classic

British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton waves his national flag to celebrate after winning the F-1 World Championship on November 2, 2008, at Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Hamilton was crowned Formula One champion after finishing fifth in the Brazil Grand Prix.   AFP PHOTO / ANTONIO SCORZA (Photo by ANTONIO SCORZA / AFP)

They don’t come any better than this. No-one who was there on that day in Sao Paulo of tears, tension and drama will forget this epic sporting finale. With a seven-point lead Hamilton only needed fifth, even if title-rival Felipe Massa won, to become the sport’s youngest champion.

As fortunes ebbed and flowed in treacherous conditions he slipped through the field and appeared to be losing out as the Brazilian charged to victory. With Hamilton way down the field the Ferrari garage, including Massa’s father, erupted in celebration.

Brazilian glory at the Brazilian race. Or so they thought. Thirty eight seconds later Timo Glock, barely visible, came sploshed through the hanging spray holding the fifth place Hamilton needed. Suddenly there was the McLaren. Hamilton swept past imperiously in the final 400 yards to take the result he needed.

2014 – Six year wait for No 2

Hamilton never looked anything other than a driver who could win multiple titles but fallow years with McLaren followed the glory of 2008 and people began to wonder if it would ever happen.

An inspired switch to uncompetitive Mercedes in 2013 just as they became the kings of the new hybrid, high-tech, KERS era changed all that. No decision since, in a race or out of it, has been as important for his career. He took Michael Schumacher’s seat as Mercedes found the winning habit. Four wins at the start and end of 2014, 11 in all, dished out a terrible mauling to teammate Nico Rosberg. An increasingly acrimonious rivalry saw the teammates clash time and again, most notably in Belgium.

2015 – Equalling his hero with No 3

Hamilton v Rosberg, the sequel, was marked by increased animosity. But Hamilton clinched the title with three races to go after winning a wheel-to-wheel battle with Rosberg in Texas. This time it was as much a championship won as a personal quest fulfilled when he equalled the championship tally of his boyhood idol Ayrton Senna

2017 – New challenges, same result

This was a whole new ball game. Teammate Nico Rosberg had quit after winning the title the year before and handed the reins to Valtteri Bottas. But the Finn’s challenge never got going. After a promising start it was four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari who was to prove Hamilton’s biggest rival.

The German was battling not only for victory but his position as the predominant driver of his age. Eleven poles and nine wins allied to a lack of a challenge from his teammate meant Hamilton finally equalled Vettel’s four titles. Along the way Hamilton also broke the record for pole starts.

2018 – Fight for Five

Billed as the Fight for Five between two quadruple champions. Vettel’s Ferrari was faster for the first half of the season until a disastrous mid-season home race in Germany proved the watershed of a declining challenge. Haunted by costly errors in Singapore and Monza, Vettel saw Hamilton go on to make it five by a cavernous 88 points and equal F1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio. Bottas’ worst season by far. Hamilton won 10 times but Bottas failed to chalk up even one.

2019 – Fangio in his wing mirrors

Bottas won the opening round but after that it was all Hamilton. The champion went on a decisive run winning six of the next seven. So by mid-season he was 36 points clear and well in control. Ferrari’s pre-season testing superiority vanished and they simply imploded as the season continued. Vettel’s blunder in Canada while leading was a sign of the times. For Hamilton it paved the way to title No 6 so he could finally put Fangio in his rear view mirrors.

2020 – Super seven in unusual times

Hamilton finally had a rival he could not outrun as a global pandemic silenced world sport. But once it did get going he was more devastating than ever. Bottas enjoyed another false dawn at the opening round in a year that was to turn into one of the most devastating defeats of a championship contender in the same car.

In Turkey, Hamilton lapped Bottas and took the points difference to 110 as he stormed to title seven and stand equal with the only man who had been there before: Michael Schumacher. He now holds over 35 different F1 records including most titles, wins and poles. The high notes – including an anti-racism campaign – were overshadowed when he caught coronavirus and missed the penultimate round in Bahrain.

The misses

After such a record-breaking career packed with incident and glory it’s difficult to believe there could be more. But for a handful more points, Hamilton could easily have been a nine-time champion already. Here are the ones that got away:

2007 – Hamilton v Alonso

Arguably the greatest season of his career apart from his 2008 campaign. As an unknown rookie, Hamilton led the world championship for most of the year and gave as good as he got in a bitter rivalry with double world champion teammate Fernando Alonso. The season ended 109 points apiece with Hamilton awarded second in the championship on countback, because they both had four wins but he had five second places to Alonso’s four. It was that close. Had McLaren favoured either he would have been champion, instead Kimi Raikkonen grabbed the title by a point at the last race.

2016 – Hamilton v Rosberg

Hamilton beat his teenage karting rival Nico Rosberg to successive F1 championships before the underrated champion’s son upped his game and, despite occasionally dubious tactics on both sides, the German finally came out on top in 2016. Hamilton never got the chance for revenge as Rosberg quit the sport only hours after his moment of glory in Abu Dhabi where he took the title by five points.