Alexander the Great is supposed to have wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. But as Lewis Hamilton woke after winning a record 92nd race his eyes turned, as they always do, towards fresh plunder.
Feeling as sunny as the Algarve dawn, the cramp he felt in his right leg towards the close of the Portuguese Grand Prix having vanished, he had no reason to fear his successes would end any time soon.
This belief was underlined on the night of the crushing triumph that lifted him one victory beyond Michael Schumacher, when Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff joked he would flog factories to bankroll a new contract to keep his star driver at the team beyond the end of the season.
Lewis Hamilton won a record 92nd race but his attention has turned to fresh plunder
Really, whatever Hamilton and Wolff claim publicly, negotiations are advanced or finalised, and a new deal, probably for three years and an eye-watering £120million, will be announced shortly.
The continuation of this partnership — the most successful in Formula One history — is a near-guarantee that Hamilton, after matching Schumacher’s seven titles in the next few weeks, will have the best chance of taking the sport’s records to a new level.
He already has the most pole positions to his name, with 97. Five rounds remain this season so he will almost certainly reach his century before Christmas.
Hamilton celebrated winning the Portuguese Grand Prix at Portimao after dominating the field
Hamilton’s 92nd victory saw him break the legend Michael Schumacher’s race wins record
With the current regulations in place for next year, after the introduction of new rules was delayed for 12 months by coronavirus, Mercedes can expect another campaign of utter dominance. So that should carry him to 100-plus victories and an eighth title at some stage in 2021.
Barring the unforeseen, only his own boredom, a withering of his desire, can possibly prevent all these things happening.
HOW MANY MORE WILL HE WIN?
My guess, just for fun, is this: four more wins this year to take him to 96 and seven world titles, 10 more wins and another title in 2021.
The incoming regulations, and possibly a new team-mate, make it harder to call, but I guess five more wins in each of 2022 and 2023 to take him to 116 wins in total, with possibly a ninth world championship.
And then a season at Ferrari…?
And that blunting of his ambition is the one consideration we can rule out before all others. As James Allison, Mercedes’ technical director and one of the shrewdest judges of the Hamilton psyche, told me: ‘In addition to Lewis’s sublime talent for handling a car is a personality that leaves him just as unquenchably keen on winning races and championships now as when he was a boy.
‘When we look at people like him who have clearly shown the entire world that they are better at doing what they do than anyone else, it is difficult to understand what compels them to come back to do it over and over again.
‘He has a profound need to show himself, first and foremost, and others, very much second, that he can drive a car like nobody else.
‘He’s not someone who spends much time reflecting on his achievements. He is only ever worrying about the next race and winning it so he can string enough victories together to win the championship.
‘The brief time he is at one with the world is when he is spraying champagne having just clinched a victory.
‘As soon as that is over, he’s focused on the next race with a mixture of excitement, anxiety and self-doubt — probably a surprising amount of self-doubt for someone who has achieved everything he has. It is one of his strengths because it whips him to do it all over again.’
Hamilton’s hunger was displayed after his win in Hungary in 2009. McLaren were struggling all year and previously without a victory to their name, so all the bosses were simply delighted that the result had eased some of the pressure they were under. Only Hamilton saw it differently, asking how many points were left in the season and whether he could mathematically win the title. Jenson Button took the championship — but the fact Hamilton even considered he had a chance offers a window into his mindset.
James Allison Mercedes’ technical director says Hamilton’s personality will see him win more
Former British Grand Prix winner John Watson said: ‘Lewis has so much in reserve it is unreal’
His weapons-grade need to win and the pace of his car are important factors, but they will count for little if age blunts the sharpness of his reflexes or the clarity of his thinking. How long can we expect him to remain at something like his peak?
His very best driving came in 2018, when he combined faultlessness with his most searing one-lap pace. If he has lost any edge at all over the last two years, the difference has been nearly imperceptible. Indeed, he has not needed to stretch himself.
As former British Grand Prix winner John Watson said: ‘Lewis has so much in reserve it is unreal.’ Schumacher was growing tired by the time of his first retirement from Ferrari in 2006. Hamilton, in contrast, seems as fresh as a daisy. The sands of time will catch up with him at some point. But, for now, he remains out ahead with only Max Verstappen showing a similar turn of speed and ingenuity.
‘I hope when Lewis does stop,’ said Allison, ‘that for the first time in his life he has the pleasure of looking back on what he has achieved, rather than casting forwards, and thinks, “Bloody hell, it was quite a thing.”’