Is Lewis Hamilton now the GOAT in F1? After fifth title, he ranks above Michael Schumacher in my eyes – but there is one man he cannot yet beat…
- Lewis Hamilton won his fifth world championship on Sunday in Mexico
- Hamilton has matched the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s haul of five titles
- Only Michael Schumacher has more, with seven championships
- But can Hamilton now boast to be the best driver the sport has ever known?
- Likes of Ayrton Senna, Sir Stirling Moss and Alain Prost also have claims
Lewis Hamilton was asked if he was the GOAT – the Greatest Of All Time, a moniker Maurice Greene tattooed on his shoulder when he was the fastest sprinter in the world.
The freshly minted five-time champion modestly sidestepped the praise as he should have done. To agree would have invited accusations of hubris. But that does not stop the rest of us debating the topic: who is the best Formula One racer in history?
The criteria rule out Tazio Nuvolari, the Italian adventurer who operated his genius behind the wheel in the years before the formation of the world championship in 1950, the start of Formula One as such. He has his advocates but given the chasm of time – he was born eight years before the turn of the century before last – there are intractable problems in the exact assessment of his undoubted qualities.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his fifth world championship after sealing glory in Mexico
Then we are into the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, and we have such incontrovertible judges as Sir Jackie Stewart and Sir Stirling Moss swearing on their lives that the great Argentine stands supreme. His record in four teams, winning five titles in seven years and 24 races from 51 starts, is magisterial.
Moss, who never won a championship but graced the whole world of sport with his style, was further ahead of all rivals in the years after Fangio’s retirement in 1958 and his own accident at Goodwood in 1962 than any racer ever. In the whole range of racing, he was perhaps the most brilliantly versatile driver ever. His peers watched on in awestruck bafflement at his sheer skill.
Stewart and his own friend and hero Jim Clark are, or were, masters revered to this day.
Hamilton is now arguably above seven-time champ Michael Schumacher in the F1 pantheon
All the aforementioned operated in an era when death was a constant curse. It marks them out as special. Perhaps, then, a judgment on the best should be divided into two categories: the dangerous era and the relatively safe one.
That is not to say Formula One is entirely danger-free now but the odds are not stacked so ludicrously against its practitioners as they once were.
Of the drivers of the last 30 years as safety improvements came – though not in time to save one of the finest, Ayrton Senna – Hamilton, I contend, is now the greatest of the period. Over one lap he is at least Senna’s equal, and has better race craft to boot.
Also, he is not a dirty racer, and that is a real feather to wear in his helmet. He has never crashed maliciously in his Formula One career. That puts him ahead, on that basis, of Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher – marvellous drivers all.
Fernando Alonso, dazzling and consistent but petulant to a heightened degree, has not been as shrewd as Hamilton in choosing which team to drive for. That perception is part of the whole package. And in this regard, as well as his qualifying pace, Hamilton is ahead of the extraordinary yet paranoid Spaniard.
However, Hamilton has not always needed the fastest car to be a winner. In 2008 he took the title in a McLaren inferior to the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. And I wonder whether Hamilton might not have won in the Ferrari this season and last. Discuss, as school essays used to say.
The extraordinary Juan Manuel Fangio won five championships in just seven years
So this is my list of the top 10, which is necessarily subjective and debatable. I know many will say Clark is ludicrously too low and they may well be right. If so, I am sorry. But here goes:
1st = Juan Manuel Fangio and Lewis Hamilton
3rd Michael Schumacher
4th Stirling Moss
5th Ayrton Senna
6th Alain Prost
7th Jackie Stewart
8th Jim Clark
9th Fernando Alonso
10th Niki Lauda
With apologies to Alberto Ascari.
A happily manic few hours on Sunday for me. Filed a report and quotes for the paper, and refiled both for later editions. Attended Hamilton’s press conference. Taxi to my Sante Fe Hilton hotel through typically busy roads, a storm brewing and then unloading the first of its worst as we approach the front door. A quick gin. I then try to establish Skype contact with Good Morning Britain, no straightforward task for such a renowned technophobe. Part of the GMB team back in London are up – it’s 1.30am on Monday morning as we speak, 7.30pm here in Mexico City. We record a few congratulatory words of mine about the champion. Back to the hotel lounge. Leek and potato soup and toasted sandwiches. Write up this column.
They asked me on GMB how I felt watching Hamilton win. I told them something like this: being ringside at high-level sport can tie your stomach in knots of anxiety. That is how it was as Hamilton completed what was, in fact, little more than a formality.
One of the more bizarre comments under a recent article of mine wondered, accusingly it seemed, how I could possibly know what Anthony Hamilton thought about this issue or that. Did it not strike the doubter that I might actually have spoken to him about the topic? We have a word for it in my trade: journalism.
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