Image: Getty Images
Is Hamilton the greatest?
And no, I am not talking about the musical.
After his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton has moved into the outright lead of most F1 podium finishes (156) overtaking Michael Schumacher’s formidable record of 155.
With Mercedes and Hamilton’s dominance continuing into the disrupted 2020 season, conversation once again surrounds whether Hamilton has surpassed Schumacher and his dominance of the early 2000’s. Or whether he is blessed with a car that is streets ahead of its competitors?
Speaking after the race, Hamilton played down the comparisons made between his career and Schumacher’s.
“Michael was an incredible athlete and driver. I always feel really humbled and honoured to be mentioned in the same light,” he said.
Many would also argue that drivers like Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nikki Lauda and Jaun Manuel Fangio are deserving of ‘The Greatest’ title. I have chosen to only compare the impact that Hamilton and Schumacher have had on the sport post-2000.
Staunch Ferrari fans will dispute the claim to Hamilton’s superiority when compared to Schumacher, but the stats and records he has broken don’t lie.
Consistently ranking up the top of many major stat categories, both Hamilton and Schumacher share the first and second position.
After registering his 88th victory in the Spanish GP at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya Hamilton has the chance to break Schumacher’s all time wins record (91) later this season.
Fans often bemoan and scold the current competitiveness on the Formula 1 grid, with Mercedes sometimes seconds faster than their rivals in qualifying. With the usual “anyone could win in that car” uttered by fans and pundits alike.
It would seem that fans and experts alike have short memories, as these same feelings were largely held towards Schumacher and his Prancing Horse during his dominance in the early 2000’s.
Does this devalue the five titles that Hamilton has won with Mercedes? Or further outline his class and talent behind the wheel?
A current 39 race streak of top 10 finishes for Hamilton (which is a record) outlines his continual consistent performances behind the wheel. In comparison, Schumacher in his career managed 24 consecutive points finishes, which is colossal in itself.
Yes, the claims persist that Hamilton’s success is driven by the mechanical set up and development of his car, but he has to still make the car perform under extreme pressure and differing conditions all around the world.
If it is the car that’s making Hamilton so good, then why hasn’t he been more regularly challenged by his teammate for the driver’s championship?
Aside from Nico Rosberg’s 2016 title triumph, Hamilton has been relatively unchallenged by his teammate for the title. The 2016 title may have been Hamilton’s for the taking if he didn’t face so many mechanical issues during the season.
The car may be technologically and mechanically ahead of the field, but Hamilton’s ability behind the wheel is a class above the other 19 drivers he does battle with every race.
When looking at the impact both drivers have had on the Formula 1 circuit, we can see both will leave a lasting legacy.
Schumacher is widely regarded to have redefined the professionalism required to drive a F1 car to a high standard. His meticulous preparation both physically and mentally allowed him to perform at his peak for the entirety of the race, a once unimaginable prospect for F1 drivers.
Gone are the days of boozing and partying in the lead up to a grand prix, with teams now employing armies of personal trainers and nutritionists to ensure their drivers build their fitness levels up to that of professional soccer, basketball and tennis players.
Schumacher’s dominance became so profound in the early 2000’s that it led to F1 bosses adjusting and tinkering with various rules in a bid to limit his dominance and improve the racing spectacle for viewers.
This is also happening to Hamilton right now, F1 bosses just this week announced a ban on qualifying engine modes, with Hamilton conceding “it’s not a surprise, they’re always trying to slow us down”.
It seems F1 bosses and lawmakers are so fixated on closing the gap between all competing teams that they are willing to limit the progress of some of the greatest drivers to ever grace the sport.
But just as Schumacher was able to win races and titles through the changing rules he faced, Hamilton should be able to do the same. Champions always find a way.
Both drivers have an unmatched killer instinct that could be turned to in the face of challenge and adversity, this ability puts them head and shoulders above the other drivers in the field.
Hamilton has always been an advocate for change and diversity amongst F1 ranks, with 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement only increasing his campaigning.
Image: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Being the first Black driver (his father is black and his mother being white) on the grid has given Hamilton a platform to inspire and motivate a new generation of racing drivers, with the hope to increase diversity across the F1 landscape.
Hamilton has a strong voice and visible public persona that has contributed to ensuring F1 as a brand is in the public domain, and this includes his advocacy for change and equality for all. This has no doubt contributed to his own team, Mercedes pledging to diversify the employees in their racing division.
With Schumacher’s current health condition unknown we may never hear him speak again giving his opinion on whether he has been dethroned as potentially the GOAT. A tragic skiing accident in late 2013 saw Schumacher be placed into an induced coma due to a traumatic brain injury.
Schumacher has remained out of the public eye since, with updates on his condition few and far between. Long-time boss and friend Jean Todt did however reveal in an interview in 2019 that Schumacher is making progress, and is back watching F1 from his home.
“Michael is in the best of hands and well looked after in his house. He does not give up and keeps fighting,” he said.
Still, maybe instead of all the comparisons, statistical analysis and commentary, we should instead just appreciate the talent in front of us, and the joy he brings to countless fans around the world.
After all, who knows how long it will last for?