With the 2017 title under his belt, Lewis Hamilton is placing himself firmly in the company of the greatest Formula 1 drivers in history. That’s not to say he’s necessarily near the top of that list just yet, but he’s certainly part of a very elite club.
Formula 1 titles tend to come in batches. Hamilton has now won three of the past four seasons, before which Sebastian Vettel won four in a row. Michael Schumacher won five of his seven titles in an uninterrupted streak between 2000 and 2004, and the great Juan Manuel Fangio won four in a row in the ‘50s. The best men behind the wheel have always done their best work in spurts of four or five years. And because that’s about how long Hamilton and his Mercedes team have been dominating Formula 1, it’s not interesting to ask if anyone will be able to stop him next season.
While it’s true that champions have historically won in bunches, they’ve also often won a championship or two before or after their main streaks. And it’s a little bit hard to imagine that Sebastian Vettel, the German star who won four times between 2010 and 2013, is done. It’s true that he hasn’t been as much of a threat since moving to Ferrari from Red Bull – but Vettel, at the time of this writing, actually has as many podium finishes (12) as Hamilton on the year. He’s not particularly far behind, and he has personally warned Hamilton to expect different outcomes in 2018. These two may well be at the top of the standings again next season.
If one were to look at the current drivers in Formula 1 and point to who might be the next great champion, 20-year-old Max Verstappen would be near the top of the list. A preview of the Brazil Grand Prix recently looked ahead to 2018 and labeled him as one man who looks set to challenge Hamilton, and while that’s a little bit optimistic, it isn’t unfair. Verstappen was the youngest Grand Prix winner of all time in 2016, and has had multiple top-of-the-podium finishes this season (including two out of four races heading into Brazil). Verstappen will undoubtedly be looking to restore Red Bull to glory, if not in 2018 then soon thereafter.
Ricciardo is poised for a top-five finish in 2017, and is Verstappen’s senior on the Red Bull team. It could be that he’ll surprise us in 2018, hold off his up-and-coming teammate, and compete head-to-head against the likes of Hamilton and Vettel. However, it seems more likely that he’ll fade behind Verstappen – particularly given that he’s already contemplating his future, potentially beyond Red Bull. There doesn’t appear to be any bad blood between the parties just yet, but Ricciardo appears to be well aware that Verstappen will be the team’s top driver moving forward.
It would be foolish to label anyone but Hamilton as the 2018 favorite. But if anyone’s going to challenge his supremacy, it will probably be one of these three drivers.