Hamilton my No.1 ahead of Schumacher in the list of F1 greats

By Lance Whittaker April 17, 2020
Lewis Hamilton Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton is revered in Formula One (F1) racing as much for his massive achievements as for tearing down race walls.

He is F1’s first and only black driver and only the brilliant German Michael Schumacher compares statistically with the 35-year-old Briton, whose grandfather is from Grenada.

Schumacher is the all-time leading seven-time World Championship winner but Hamilton is just one shy with his six triumphs and also not far off in overall F1 victories at 84, seven behind Schumacher’s 91.

Some aspects of Hamilton’s numbers are already superior, setting up my view that he can already claim the best-of-all-time label.

Hamilton’s winning strike rate in F1 is 33.6% from his 250 starts while Schumacher is at 29.7% from his 306 races. Hamilton is also at 60.4% in podium finishes to Schumacher’s 50.6%.

Hamilton’s debut season in 2007 was record-breaking and it was clear then to the F1 world, the 22-year-old was not normal talent. After collecting an unparalleled nine consecutive podium finishes to start an F1 career, Hamilton edged two-time defending World Champion and McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso for second spot while losing the championship by a single point to Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton also established other firsts during a rookie season, collecting the most points ever (109) plus joint-most wins at four for a driver on F1 debut, speeding to victories in Canada, the USA, Hungary and Japan.

Schumacher’s first full season in 1992 was far inferior, placing third with 53 points behind champions Nigel Mansell (108 points) and runner-up Riccardo Patrese (56). 

A study of the quality opposition they toppled for World Championship wins is also instructive.

With the exception of 2019 when he topped Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen, Hamilton beat World Champions in all of his previous five triumphs.

He bested Felipe Massa and defending champion Raikkonen for his first title in 2008 before back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015 when his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was runner-up. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third in 2015. Vettel was runner-up to Hamilton in 2017 and 2018 and Raikkonen had to settle for third in the 2018 championship.

Schumacher also had world champions behind him – like Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill and Raikkonen -- in his title-winning years, but it is widely accepted there has been more pedigree in those conquered by Hamilton.

Both January Capricorns, Hamilton, born the 7th and Schumacher, the 3rd, the two are also the same height at 5’ 8-1/2” but completely opposite in temperament as world-class drivers.

Schumacher’s many assets included a fearless and ruthless manner, playing dirty if he needs to because his was an approach of winning at all costs.

But if Schumacher was the fierce and rugged Mike Tyson, then Hamilton has been the silky smooth, composed under pressure Muhammad Ali.

Hamilton is also fearless but floats through his F1 assignments with an uncanny efficiency, resulting in tough victories made to look easy amid the often frenzied atmosphere of an F1 event.

Experts are also amazed by Hamilton’s dexterity in saving his tyres, an obvious knack that sets him apart from his rivals.

Schumacher towers over Hamilton with the number of victories he landed without being on pole. Hamilton – with his 84 lifetime wins -- has secured a world record 88 pole positions while the aggressive Schumacher’s world-leading 91 triumphs have come on the back of “only” 68 pole positions attained.

As the world’s best of their generation and comfortably hovering over the pantheon of excellent drivers since F1 started in 1950, Schumacher and Hamilton have had the best machines to work with.

Six of Schumacher’s seven titles -- one with Benetton and five with Ferrari -- delivered Constructors’ titles. For Hamilton’s first title with McLaren in 2008, Ferrari were the champions, but the Brit switched to Mercedes in 2013 and they have been Constructors’ World Champions every year since 2014.

It is no secret that Schumacher’s merciless approach always ensured he was his team’s designated No.1 driver, unlike Hamilton’s arrangement at Mercedes. There was always a clause in Schumacher’s team contracts that ensured his partners were resigned to playing second-fiddle to him.

Hamilton, with Rosberg previously and now Bottas, are pretty much on even terms at Mercedes. Indeed, Hamilton lost the 2016 title by five points to teammate Rosberg, the only blemish in Hamilton’s run since 2014 and Bottas, the Briton’s current teammate is given every chance by Mercedes to do well. There is an annual rotation policy of mechanics and engineers in the Mercedes team, which means the group that worked with Hamilton in his 2019 championship win are assigned to Bottas in 2020. 

Schumacher and Hamilton are from the most dominant countries in F1 history, Hamilton’s UK the leaders with 19 World Championship titles and Schumacher’s Germany with 12.

No other country has double-digit wins, Brazil are next best with eight, propelled by triple champions Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna.

Fellow Brits Nigel Mansell and Graham Hill won World Championships at almost 40 years old and if Hamilton displays their longevity, it’s reasonable to think he will soon erase Schumacher’s world-leading marks making it patently obvious he is the best ever.

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