It’s such a subjective question that you can only look at statistics to find proof, but we will delve into the arguments for and against Lewis Hamilton as the best F1 driver of all-time and also look into the overall impact he has had on the sport.
The case FOR Lewis Hamilton being the best F1 driver of all-time
Pole Sitter King
If Lewis Hamilton is on pole position just don't watch the race
— Edelman is back (@Titleistmac1) August 15, 2017
He will beat Schumacher’s pole record this season. For a very long time, Schumacher’s records have looked untouchable, but this will change if Hamilton can pick up two more pole positions.
Given that Spa and Monza are next up on the calendar and are two tracks that are expected to heavily favour Mercedes, he may only have to beat his teammate Valtteri Bottas in the next two Q3’s to become the all-time pole sitter king with 69 poles, beating Schumi’s 68.
What makes this even more impressive is considering the time it has taken for Hamilton to get within touching distance of the record. He has 199 race starts, whereas Schumacher’s 68 poles came from 308 race starts. If Hamilton can match Schumacher’s record before the 2017 United States Grand Prix, it will have taken the Brit 2/3 of the time to do it.
Why do poles matter? Well, the car is set up to be at its quickest and unfortunately, in this era, stands as one of the very few instances in which the cars aren’t preserving energy or tyres. It’s the test of ultimate speed.
Whilst there is the argument that F1 calendars haven’t always visited around 20 circuits, so we haven’t seen what talent from the past has been fully capable of, Hamilton holds the all-time record for victories at the most venues.
The Brit has won at 24 circuits in F1, his happiest hunting ground being the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, in which he has picked up six victories. His most recent victory at a circuit he had never previously won at before came last season at the Interlagos circuit. His victories span the largest amount of circuits, giving him real credit in terms of natural pace, regardless of the different traits of each circuit.
The Marmite Factor
— Oasis BeadyEye (@OasisBeadyEye) August 6, 2017
Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher are two drivers synonymous with controversy. Their greatness in the car is indisputable, but both of these characters were polarising in their primes. Senna’s passion sometimes boiled over and he was famously difficult to work with as a teammate, doing his best to get more out of a team than the guy across the garage.
Schumacher was similar to this, and did everything he could to win, even if it meant bending the rules. Lewis Hamilton has this polarising factor, too, with many loving him and others showing a deep dislike for him as an individual. The greats always divide and Hamilton is no different.
Juan Manuel Fangio has a ridiculous record in this area, winning 47.1% of his 51 races. Hamilton would have to complete another 70 races and win every single one of them to beat Fangio by 0.1%. But compared to Senna and Schumacher, who have to be the realistic benchmarks of the past 40 years, Hamilton’s win percentage is very close.
The Brit has won 28.6% of the races he’s contested against Schumacher’s 29.6%. Senna managed to claim victory in 25.5% of the Grand Prix he contested, a painful 0.1% shy of his rival Prost. This shows that Hamilton is more likely to win a Grand Prix than Senna was, and the 1% difference between Schumi and Hamilton is negligible enough to see both drivers on par with one another.
The case AGAINST Lewis Hamilton being the best F1 driver of all-time
Senna vs Hamilton? That's like comparing Mila Kunis with Susan Boyle. pic.twitter.com/LqlSCLHYbN
— Chris Miller (@chrislegend85) August 13, 2017
There can’t be a best F1 driver “of all-time” because the difference between eras is too vast, meaning that a Senna in a 2017 car or a prime Schumacher contesting the 2008 Driver Championship could hugely upset the Hamilton party. We can only measure the greatest F1 driver of any single era because there is no way of telling how Fangio would race a Mercedes W08, let alone fit in it.
Lacks the Underdog Moment
Diehard Hamilton fans look to McLaren’s 2009 season in which the team fell off the pace of Brawn and Red Bull and managed to win twice. There’s also a few victories in the post-2010 Red Bull micro-era, but none of these are real underdog drives that display the same unlikeliness as Senna 2nd place finish at a soaking Monaco in a Toleman.
Hamilton can’t be criticised for landing a first F1 drive at the front-running McLaren because of his junior record, but it is a shame he hasn’t had to prove himself in the true midfield of F1. This is something that doesn’t look like being rectified in the future unless Mercedes make a shock switch between himself and Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber.
Needs to Beat Schumacher’s Victory Tally
CAREER PODIUMS #HUNGARIANGP 🇭🇺
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 30, 2017
Hamilton needs to win 35 more races in F1 if he wants to leave to the sport as the driver with the most wins. He is still almost two unrealistically perfect seasons away from surpassing Schumacher’s 91. Only then can he be regarded as the greatest driver in F1.
In conclusion, Lewis Hamilton is without doubt one of the greatest drivers on the current grid. The only two that have been around long enough (and have won titles, which is important) to be in the top tier of the current crop are Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. Watching this triage fight in their prime in the same machinery would be sweet, but will never happen. As far as calling him the best driver in the history of F1 – That would require a time machine, a 20-race calendar split up into five different eras and a touch of magic to bring back some of the best F1 drivers from the past.