Hamilton's meteoric rise in F1 ranks continues at Indy

The comparisons to Michael Schumacher are inevitable. Could rookie Lewis Hamilton be the most talented driver ever to sit in an F1 cockpit? After his victory Sunday at Indy, he just may be, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: June 18, 2007, 10:23 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's no longer crazy to suggest that Lewis Hamilton could be the most talented driver ever to sit in a Formula One cockpit.

Such a bold statement was virtually sacrilege a few weeks ago. After all, how can a 22-year-old rookie deserve comparisons to legends like Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Juan Manuel Fangio?

But this kid is that good.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso
Clive Mason/Getty ImagesFernando Alonso, left, provided Lewis Hamilton his only real competition on Sunday.

Hamilton continues to make F1 history; the rookie won his second consecutive race on Sunday at Indianapolis. He also made a little American history in the U.S. Grand Prix, becoming the first black driver to win an event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"What a dream," Hamilton said. "I never thought in a million years I would be here today doing this against these drivers and winning both races in North America. It's a great leap in my career and my life."

Hamilton is getting better every race, a truly scary thought for every other competitor in F1.

He outraced his only real competition Sunday, McLaren-Mercedes teammate Fernando Alonso. Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonnen never were factors, finishing more than 12 seconds back in third and fourth, respectively.

Alonso was the only challenger, but the two-time F1 champion finished 1.5 seconds behind Hamilton.

This isn't what Alonso bargained for when he left Renault to join McLaren this year. Looking at the Hamilton's rear wing has the Spaniard frustrated.

It's not often the defending world champion has to play second fiddle to a rookie, but that's how this season is shaping up.

Hamilton, however, is a rookie in name only. He has raced under the McLaren banner for nine years, perfecting his craft at various levels along the way to earn his shot in F1.

And his time has come

"It's just insane," Hamilton said of his season. "I find it very hard to come to terms with everything that's happening to me. I'm just trying to enjoy it, but I don't think anyone expected me to do as well as I'm doing."

Hamilton is one of those rare athletes who can change a sport forever. He often is compared to Tiger Woods. In response to such juxtapositions Hamilton says, "I'm not Tiger. I'm just Lewis."

Just Lewis is Michelangelo behind the wheel of a race car. He had an answer every time Alonso tried to rattle him Sunday.

Alonso wanted to beat Hamilton to the first turn of the first lap, believing the opening moments actually was his best chance to win the race.

"That was the key point," Alonso said. "I thought whoever was second after that would finish second in the race."

Hamilton, who started on the pole, pushed hard and held off Alonso's outside charge on the opening lap. It wasn't the last time he had to fight off his teammate.

With 35 laps to go, Alonso pulled side-by-side with Hamilton heading down the frontstretch, but then Hamilton managed to out-break Alonso at the turn and keep the lead.

It's just insane. I find it very hard to come to terms with everything that's happening to me. I'm just trying to enjoy it, but I don't think anyone expected me to do as well as I'm doing.

Lewis Hamilton

Last month at Monaco, the situation was reversed. Hamilton was trying to get by Alonso when McLaren boss Ron Dennis told his rookie sensation to back off.

Dennis said it was team orders. He just wanted to keep his drivers from wrecking each other. Maybe, but Dennis clearly didn't tell Alonso to back off from challenging Hamilton.

Alonso has complained that the young Brit is getting preferential treatment from the British team, so maybe this was Dennis' way of proving Alonso wrong.

It didn't matter. Hamilton had a little extra whenever he needed it Sunday.

He built a 1.2-second lead with 26 laps to go when Alonso made a critical error, locking the brakes and putting a tire in the grass on Turn 8.

That mistake later helped Hamilton stay in front of Alonso when he exited the pits for the final time.

Hamilton was better at every key moment of the race. He now leads the F1 standings by 10 points over Alonso, making a bid to become the first rookie champion.

So what is it that makes him so good? Williams driver Alex Wurz says its Hamilton's smooth and calculating manner of wheeling the car.

"I think the new tires fit Lewis' driving style," he said. "They don't fit Alonso or Raikkonen. Both of them are very aggressive, but you can't race that way on these tires."

Bridgestone has new tires this season, one of which is much harder with less grip. It means more driver skill comes into play because the tires don't stick to the track.

That was especially true on a sweltering day at Indy, where temperatures were in the mid-90s.

"The tires get overheated and slippery," said Wurz, who finished 10th. "You have to be disciplined or you will lose control of the car."

Hamilton has the discipline and skill to control the car when others can't. Yes, he happens to race for the best team, but he's still the best of the best.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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