By Alexander Smith
Lewis Hamilton secured his 93rd Formula 1 race victory this weekend at Imola, moving two race wins clear of Michael Schumacher’s previous record, as he looks set to secure his 7th World Championship title. But, is Lewis Hamilton the greatest F1 driver of all time? His record might suggest so, but it’s a little more complex than that.
Lewis Hamilton was born in Stevenage in 1985 and began karting at the age of 8. His talent was clear from the beginning, rising swiftly through the junior motorsport ranks. He would make his F1 debut in 2007, for McLaren, partnering the defending World Champion, Fernando Alonso, setting records for the highest points tally for a rookie diver, the joint most wins and most consecutive podiums for a debut season. His first World Championship would follow in dramatic fashion in 2008, beating Ferrari’s Felipe Massa by just 1 point.
Hamilton’s next Championship would come in 2014, the first season of the Turbo-Hybrid era after the rule changes. This was the start of Hamilton’s, and Mercedes’ dominance in the sport, with the Constructors Championship being won for a record-breaking 7 consecutive seasons, including this season, which they clinched at Imola.
Despite having the superior car for much of the past 7 seasons, Hamilton’s driving skills have still shone, with him negotiating difficult periods and showing his class at circuits where the Mercedes was lacking in pace compared to its rivals, as well as his skills in the wet. His qualifying pace is also unrivalled, achieving 97 career pole positions. Hamilton has finished ahead of his teammates every season bar two, including losing the championship to Nico Rosberg in 2016 by just 5 points. Since then, Hamilton has been able to comfortably beat his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, and this season is no different.
But how does he compare to the other claimants for the title greatest of all time? His record can be closely compared to that of Schumacher, for his dominance in the Ferrari of the early noughties. A strong case is made by many drivers for Ayrton Senna, someone who’s raw talent and race craft was undeniable, and someone who Hamilton idolised. Others put forward Jim Clark, who many hold up to being one of the purest drivers the sport has ever seen, and Juan Manuel Fangio, who won just under half of all the F1 races he entered. Other names in the debate include Sirs Sterling Moss and Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Mika Hakkinen.
However, it is very difficult to compare drivers from different eras, as it is a more 3-dimensional question than simply looking at the raw stats. Thus, it is a largely subjective question and depends on what each individual sees as the most important attributes of the greatest driver are. For me, despite never having the privilege to see him drive, Senna always holds the highest place in my mind. What is clear, though, is that Hamilton firmly deserves to be a central part of this debate.
So, what of the future for Hamilton? As of yet, he doesn’t have a contract with Mercedes for next season, but both parties are confident of reaching an agreement, with the view of pursuing Hamilton’s 100th race win. I do, however, believe that next season may be his last in the sport, with new regulations coming in 2022, which promise to shake up the grid order.
Whatever happens, Hamilton is, and always will be firmly in the debate for the greatest driver of all time. No matter your thoughts on him as a character, his driving talent is undeniable and his record soon to be second to none.