Lewis Hamilton was hailed as the greatest driver of this generation on Sunday after securing a record-equalling seventh Formula One world title by winning the Turkish Grand Prix and it would take a brave human to argue with that point.
After a stunning drive from sixth on the grid in wet and treacherous conditions, the British star matched Michael Schumacher’s record with three races still to go in the pandemic-interrupted season.
The 35-year-old sealed his latest title 12 years after clinching his first in 2008 – only his second season – with a typically measured masterclass, handling the slippy early conditions. The 94th race win was widely declared as one of his finest triumphs and entirely appropriate on the day he drew alongside the German in the record books
Truth be told, even before his seventh title, that Hamilton is the greatest of the current era was never in doubt, as the Mercedes driver won his fourth straight title with teammate Valtteri Bottas being the only competition. No other constructor can come close to the Silver Arrows in the last few years when it comes to the technical aspects. Sebastian Vettel’s title with Red Bull in 2013 was the last time another car won.
But even in a formidable Mercedes, what Hamilton has achieved in the last few years is astonishingly extraordinary.
A look at at his numbers show his sheer dominance over the sport, more so since Nico Rosberg retired in 2016 shortly after beating him in the final race.
Hamilton's Championship history
|1||2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020|
|4||2010, 2012, 2013|
Lewis Hamilton factfile:
World championships: 7 - 2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
Teams: McLaren (2007-2012), Mercedes (since 2013)
Debut: Australia 2007 (3rd)
First win: Canada 2007
Last win: Turkey 2020
Victories: 94 (All-time record)
Wins with Mercedes: 73 (Record for wins with one constructor)
Podiums: 163 (All-time record)
Pole positions: 97 (All-time record)
Fastest laps: 53
Points scored: 3,738
The record-equalling seventh title seemed inevitable for a bit of course, and drew the inevitable comparisons to Schumacher again.
In the curtailed 2020 season, Hamilton has already surpassed two other Schumacher records - number of podiums (163 against 155) and victories (94 against 91).
Hamilton already holds most of the records in F1, leading the charts most wins with 94, most pole positions (97), most podium finishes (163) and most consecutive points finishes (47 and ongoing).
“We dreamed of this when I was young. I remember watching Michael win those world championships. To get one or two or even three is so hard. Seven is unimaginable,” he said.
But here he is at seven, three ahead of any other player and with a good chance to break the record and go ahead in the next year.
Most multiple F1 world championships
|No of F1 world titles||Racer (Years and team)|
|7||Michael Schumacher -- 1994 (Benetton-Ford), 1995 (Benetton-Renault), 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 (Ferrari)|
|7||Lewis Hamilton) -- 2008 (McLaren-Mercedes), 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 (Mercedes)|
|5||Juan Manuel Fangio (1911–1995) -- 1951 (Alfa Romeo), 1954 (Maserati/Mercedes-Benz), 1955 (Mercedes-Benz), 1956 (Ferrari), 1957 (Maserati)|
|4||Sebastian Vettel -- 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 (Red Bull-Renault)|
|4||Alain Prost -- 1985, 1986 (McLaren-Tag Porsche), 1989 (McLaren-Honda), 1993 (Williams-Renault)|
|3||Ayrton Senna -- 1988, 1990, 1991 (McLaren-Honda)|
|3||Nelson Piquet -- 1981 (Brabham-Ford), 1983 (Brabham-BMW), 1987 (Williams-Honda)|
|3||Niki Lauda -- 1975, 1977 (Ferrari), 1984 (McLaren-Tag Porsche)|
|3||Jackie Stewart -- 1969 (Matra-Ford), 1971, 1973 (Tyrrell-Ford)|
|3||Jack Brabham - 1959, 1960 (Cooper-Climax), 1966 (Brabham)|
But at seven titles each, what do the numbers say? Who is the greatest driver: The British star or the German legend?
Hamilton has raced for 14 seasons and has taken part in 264 Grands Prix since 2007 while Schumacher competed for 19 seasons with 307 races in two spells – 1991-2006 and 2010-2012. Of course, his second innings in the sport was not quite as successful.
In qualifying, Hamilton has the clear edge with 97 pole positions dwarfing Schumacher’s 68. Schumacher, however, has more fastest laps – 77 to 53.
Statistics can, however, be misleading.
The number of Grands Prix each year has increased over time. In the Schumacher era, there were an average of 16 every season. In Hamilton’s time there have been an average of 19. In the golden age of Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five world titles in the 1950s, there were just eight races in an average world championship.
But the number of titles, despite the number of races each year, tells a tale of consistency, technical superiority and personal dominance.
Since 2014, Hamilton has driven a Mercedes F1 car which has been a class above all others. This was also the case for Schumacher with Ferrari between 1999 and 2004.
Drivers in 2020 also have the benefit of even more sophisticated technical aids and technological improvements.
When it comes to pure speed on the track, Hamilton and Schumacher are in the slipstream of the late Ayrton Senna, the world champion on three occasions.
In a recent F1 study using artificial intelligence, it was concluded that Schumacher was 0.114sec slower than the Brazilian while Hamilton was 0.275sec behind.
Another aspect is that of the rivals each of them faced.
With three world champions (Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg) as teammates at McLaren and Mercedes, Hamilton has faced fierce internal competition. His current domination over Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, is not unlike that of Schumacher’s stranglehold over Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari.
“Michael may have had a little more competition than Lewis”, said French driver Romain Grosjean. “On the track, Michael had some dubious little clashes, with Damon Hill, with Jacques Villeneuve ... Lewis, he has always been class.”
Ultimately, as is the case across any sport, comparing greats across eras is an exercise fraught with subjectivity. What one can assert objectively is, however, these two racers will go down in the pantheon of legends not just in Formula One but in sport.
List of Formula One world champions
|1950||Guiseppe Farina||ITA||Alfa Romeo|
|1951||Juan Manuel Fangio||ARG||Alfa Romeo|
|1954||Juan Manuel Fangio||ARG||Maserati, Mercedes|
|1955||Juan Manuel Fangio||ARG||Mercedes|
|1956||Juan Manuel Fangio||ARG||Ferrari|
|1957||Juan Manuel Fangio||ARG||Maserati|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Red Bull|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Red Bull|
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Red Bull|
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Red Bull|
With AFP Inputs