KNUTSON: Is Hamilton F-1’s Greatest Driver?

Lewis Hamilton has established himself as one of the greatest Formula One drivers in history, but is he the best ever? (LAT Images photo)

Knutson
Dan Knutson.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Records, Michael Schumacher said, were made to be broken.

So, is Lewis Hamilton the greatest Formula One driver of all time?

His win in the Turkish Grand Prix was the 94th of his F-1 career as he continues to pull away from Schumacher’s previous record of 91 F-1 victories. Hamilton could easily earn more than 100 wins as early as next season.

Hamilton’s victory in Turkey also clinched his seventh world championship, which tied the record set by Schumacher. And Hamilton is not slowing down, so more world championships are possible.

“There’s a lot of talk in all sports about greatest, past and present, and I think it’s almost impossible to compare,” said Hamilton. “There’s all this talk of who is and who is not, and it’s not important to me. What’s important is the journey. It is what we’ve done along the way, the obstacles you’ve faced. And everyone’s got a different journey.”

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel declared Hamilton the greatest F-1 driver of this era.

“I think he is greatest of our era for sure,” Vettel said. “It’s always difficult to compare. How can you possibly compare Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss to our generation? You can’t. Maybe we would be useless because we would all be scaring ourselves in those cars. Maybe they would be useless in our cars because they’re way too fast. Who knows? But it doesn’t matter. I think every era has its driver or its drivers and Lewis is certainly the greatest of our era.

“To me, certainly emotionally, Michael (Schumacher) will always be the greatest driver. But there’s no doubt that Lewis is the greatest in terms of what he has achieved. He’s equaled the championships, he’s won more races, he has a lot more pole positions, so I think he’s done everything you can ask for. I think he deserves everything he has achieved.”

It is indeed difficult to compare eras. In recent years, there have been about 20 races in a season. During the 1950s, most seasons had only seven, eight or nine races. In the 1960s, there were nine to 12 races. During the 1970s, there was a maximum of 16 races.

What you can compare is winning percentages.

Fangio won 24 of the 51 championship F-1 races he contested — 47.06 percent. Jackie Stewart won 27 of his 99 races — 27.27 percent. Alain Prost had 51 wins out of 199 races — 25.62 percent. Ayrton Senna 41 of 161 — 25.46 percent. Alberto Ascari won 13 of 32 — 40.63 percent. Moss won 16 of his 66 races — 24.24 percent.

Schumacher won 91 times in 307 starts — 29.64 percent. Schumacher’s numbers would have been considerably different if he had not made his F-1 comeback. When he retired at the end of 2006, he had 91 wins in 249 starts — 36.54 percent.

In his three-year return from 2010 through ’12 with Mercedes, Schumacher contested 58 races but won none of them. In fact, he had just one podium finish during those three years — one third place in 2012.

To be fair to Schumacher, Mercedes was still building  its team at that time. It did not really start winning a lot of races until 2014 with Hamilton.

Hamilton’s victory in Turkey was his 94th in 264 races — 35.61 percent.

Stewart says it is easier to win more races now because there are more races in a season.

“I have so much respect for the past legends, even those that do continue to talk negatively about me all the time,” Hamilton said. “I still hold them in high regard because I know it was a different time in history. It was incredibly tough for them.”

Hamilton has averaged 10 wins a season since 2014.

“Hopefully, we have got more records to break and to make,” he said. “I am not done yet. I still feel I am able to improve. I still feel I am driving at a really good level.”

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