Lewis Hamilton 'comes of age' to join F1 greats

Story highlights

  • Hamilton clinched fourth world title in Mexico
  • Now most successful British driver ever

(CNN)When Lewis Hamilton was growing up he always dreamed of emulating his hero Ayrton Senna -- on Sunday, he surpassed the great Brazilian.

In winning the 2017 Formula One world championship, Hamilton has now joined an elite band of drivers who have won four titles.
In all the sport's 68-year history only Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and now Hamilton have achieved such high status.
    For Hamilton, the moment had added historical significance, as he overtook racing legend Jackie Stewart to become the most successful British driver of all time.
    "This year I think Lewis has come of age," Stewart, who won the world title in 1969, 1971 and 1973, told CNN.
    "In the second part of the season he has shown a considerable maturity which was not particularly obvious on some occasions before and he's driven extremely well -- he should be very proud of himself," Stewart told CNN.
    Lewis Hamilton celebrates at the Mexican Grand Prix after winning a fourth F1 drivers' title.

    'At ease within his own skin'

    Stewart and many others around the F1 paddock had quietly questioned whether Hamilton ever would cultivate a more measured demeanor after raising eyebrows with some of his antics off track.
    Last year's Japanese Grand Prix highlighted those reservations when Hamilton, who was involved in a bitter title battle with then teammate Nico Rosberg, played around on his phone during the pre-race press conference and then refused to speak to the media two days later.
    "His head was all over the place and you thought: is he ever going to learn?" veteran F1 journalist and author Maurice Hamilton told CNN.
    "Is he going to brilliant one minute and do something stupid the next? That's what he was prone to do. What we've seen this year is that he is so at ease within his own skin, finally. That's the impression you get.
    "If we'd had this conversation a year ago I would have said you can't compare him, he's not there yet. He's won three championships which is great -- hats off, respect -- but he's not quite the full deal, But now he is.
    "He's definitely worthy of being up in the top five," Hamilton said. "I'm not going to choose who's better but you are talking about the Stewart, Jim Clark, Prost, Senna and Schumacher. He's now on that level."
    Hamilton (left) plays with his phone during a pre-race press conference at the 2016 Japanese GP
    The question now is how many more titles can Hamilton win?
    Fangio's haul of five could be equaled next season, and given Mercedes recent dominance -- the German manufacturer has now won four consecutive constructors' titles -- it's conceivable that Hamilton, who will turn 33 in January, could reach Michael Schumacher's all-time record of seven.
    Stewart believes Hamilton's driving style, once defined by an aggressive streak borne of watching Senna on his TV as a boy, has become more refined as he's got older.
    "The great drivers of the world like Fangio have always been smooth, clean and unspectacular," Stewart said.
    "I was driving at the same time as (two-time world champion) Clark -- he is my No. 2 of all time -- and he drove in such a smooth and effortless style ... Alain Prost is up there too and Lewis now is not over driving and Vettel doesn't over drive either."
    Vettel was the first driver to offer his congratulations on Sunday, pulling up alongside Hamilton on the in lap at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and the stage is already set for what should be an even closer title fight next season.
    For now, Hamilton can afford take his foot off the gas, safe in the knowledge that his status as one of the all-time F1 greats is guaranteed.
    Next stop is the Brazilian Grand Prix in two weeks time where he can enjoy some unofficial victory laps around Interlagos -- the home circuit of Senna, the man who inspired him to start his journey to greatness.