Lewis Hamilton has wrapped up his seventh world championship but there is no sense he is taking his foot off the accelerator. With this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix the first of the final three races of the season, the world champion appears determined to close it out with the relentless dominance that sealed his position as the most successful driver in Formula One history.
Hamilton took the title with a remarkable win at the last round in Turkey, matching Michael Schumacher’s record and ensuring Mercedes claimed a seventh consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championship double. A moment then to relax might be pardonable, indeed expected.
Hamilton, who has won 10 of the 14 races this season, said he wanted to finish in the same style that has left his rivals reeling. There was, he emphasised, no lack of motivation.
“It is in my DNA. It is how I’m wired. I love that challenge,” he said. “Coming to another race where the pressure is different and the focus is on getting the best out of this weekend.”
The 35-year-old has yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes for next year, and it appears he and the team have decided they will negotiate when the season is concluded. Hamilton said after taking the title that he had wanted to ensure he was in the strongest possible position when those talks began, and he will be more than aware that closing out with another three wins would secure an even stronger hand.
Yet there was an even more ominous suggestion in Bahrain as Hamilton said these dead rubbers were a chance for the team to take every advantage they can into next season. Mercedes ceased development of this year’s car some time ago to switch to the 2021 model, and Hamilton explained how these final meetings could further hone an already fearsomely strong ride.
“How can we extract more, learn more, use them as test races, so we can apply what we learned this year into next year’s car,” he said. “We have work to do, we have incremental improvements to work on. Every opportunity we get to be on track, we are still challenged and learning and developing.”
He and Mercedes have the titles sewn up but Max Verstappen can still challenge Valtteri Bottas for second in the drivers’ title, 27 points behind the Finn. His Red Bull team have second place in the constructors’ championship sealed but behind them what has been a fiercely competitive scrap looks likely to go the wire. Racing Point lead the pack on 154 points in front of McLaren, Renault and Ferrari who are all within 24 points.
Hamilton and Bottas led a Mercedes one-two in first practice which took place during the day, and in the much more representative evening session of FP2, Hamilton was once more quickest, with Verstappen three-tenths down in second and Bottas third. There was a severe blow for the British-Thai driver Alex Albon, who went wide, spun and crashed. Albon is driving for his place at Red Bull next season and under real pressure with Sergio Pérez in the frame to replace him. The misjudgment will not have helped his cause.