Debate has raged for some time now over who the greatest Formula One driver is between Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher.
The argument bubbled up again recently after the Brit equalled Schumacher’s record of 91 race wins. He is also on course to level with the F1 icon on seven world championships this season.
Sebastian Vettel declared that his German compatriot, who continues his recovery from a life-changing skiing accident in 2013, remains unrivalled as the best he’s ever seen.
But there are many who disagree and some point not only to Hamilton’s incredible winning record but also the clean driving style.
While it is of course difficult to compare two juggernauts with different eras, cars and rule changes, the argument is an inevitable one and some of the great names in the sport have weighed in with their verdicts.
Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher are now both level on 91 Formula One race wins
Hamilton is on course to equal Schumacher’s seven world championships and was presented with a helmet belonging to the German by his son Mick after matching his win record
The German is regarded as an all time great but there is debate over who is the greatest
TEAM SCHUMACHER –
The German sided with his childhood hero and compatriot despite paying tribute to Hamilton’s remarkable achievement of 91 wins.
‘I think I can’t respect his (Hamilton’s) efforts enough,’ he told Motorsport.com
‘It’s been the number in my head that I thought would never be beaten or equalled. I think we can be quite certain he will exceed this number.
‘Nevertheless, I have to say that Michael will always be my hero. And I think Michael had something about him that I haven’t seen in another driver so far.’
‘I think he was better than anybody else I’ve ever seen so far. I think he had a natural talent that is very difficult to explain.’
‘On top of that, he had an incredible work ethic, but I think it’s the combination of the two that for me stands out. I haven’t seen a match yet.
Sebastian Vettel (L) believes Schumacher (R) was better than his rival Hamilton
Fernando Alonso –
Alonso has locked horns with Hamilton down the years but the two-time world champion does not rate his old rival as on the same level as Schumacher.
He believes that what sets them apart is the fact that Hamilton has twice been beaten to the title by team-mates in the same car.
He said: ‘It is difficult. These are different eras and cars with different levels of performance.
‘I remember Michael as a driver who is hard to beat, one with the greatest talent.
‘He had that little bit extra. Lewis is very good and the best of his generation but he did not win the championship with McLaren when he was a teammate of Jenson Button At Mercedes, Nico Rosberg also won it.
‘Michael never had such things. He always won. For me, Michael is one step ahead.’
Fernando Alonso believes the German is the driver with the most amount of talent ever
Murray Walker –
The legendary former motorsport broadcaster is well placed to offer his opinion having worked on so many races where both men were involved.
His reasoning for siding with Hamilton is that Schumacher became renowned for ruthless, occasionally blatantly unfair tactics to win or prevent others winning.
In terms of a disciplinary record, Hamilton is squeaky clean in comparison.
Walker said: ‘In my opinion – and this is very contentious indeed – better than either Schumacher or Senna because both of them, Schumacher and Senna, adopted at various times in their career, highly debatable driving tactics.
‘Like Schumacher stopping deliberately at Monaco to prevent [Fernando Alonso] getting pole position, like Schumacher colliding with Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997, like Senna with [Alain] Prost in 1990 in Japan.
‘Lewis Hamilton has never been anything like that. He’s always driven as clean as a whistle.
‘He’s an extremely nice, gigantically talented driver, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen anybody like him before.’
Murray Walker’s voice was synonymous with F1 for many years and he picks Hamilton
Mark Webber –
The Australia Formula One veteran spent 11 years in the sport and echoed Walker’s sentiments about Hamilton’s refusal to fight dirty.
‘I would take Lewis over Michael because of his completeness,’ he said.
‘I am not saying Michael wasn’t anything because we are comparing two juggernauts. Michael put our sport into a whole new stratosphere in terms of fitness and approach. He was an extraordinary pioneer.
‘But some of Michael’s numbers are challenged in terms of how he went about certain things. So, Lewis, in terms of how clinical he is, how he has done some pretty special stuff in weaker cars, I would have him by a whisker.
‘When he can smell victories and the real stuff, which is winning championships, he is absolutely frightening.’
When Lewis is eight out of 10, he is special, but when he is 10 out of 10, going for it and is hungry, he is pretty much unbeatable.’
Mark Webber is another former star to side with Hamilton and not his clean driving style
Jacques Villeneuve –
Villeneuve and Schumacher clashed during their title battle of 1997 and the German appeared to deliberately crash into his rival in the final race of the season. Schumacher was disqualified from the race and the move backfired anyway, allowing Villeneuve to go on and claim the championship.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that he rates Hamilton above his old foe.
‘I would rate Lewis above Michael, by miles,’ he declared.
‘There’s very little negativity with Hamilton. You can like or not the way he is in life but there’s nothing nasty or negative with it. There’s nothing nasty towards his opponents. There’s respect towards his opponents,’ he emphasised.
‘There’s no question mark on ‘Is he cheating or not? Has he been dirty?’. That makes a big difference.
‘And that’s how every champion should be.’
Schumacher tried to take out Jaques Villeneuve (left) in the Jerez GP back in 1997
Eddie Irvine –
Irvine may have Ferrari loyalties but his verdict was much the same as the other pro-Hamilton advocates.
He told Frontway: ‘Hamilton’s probably the best racer that’s ever been.
‘As a racer, one-on-one with another guy, I think he’s the best. Much better than Michael [Schumacher] was, much better than [Ayrton] Senna.
‘He very seldom gets involved in accidents, Hamilton, because he’s so focused on driving his car to get ahead. He’s probably the cleanest driver we’ve had in a long, long time.’
Eddie Irvine thinks that Hamilton has surpassed both Schumacher and Ayrton Senna
Eddie Jordan –
Jordan was the man who gave Schumacher his Formula One debut but after one race the German was lured away by Benetton.
He believes the playing field was moved in Schumacher’s favour, a key reason for his success.
Jordan explained to talkSPORT: ‘Everyone has their own view on this, but I am of the view Hamilton has already surpassed Michael.
‘Michael started with me so there is a love affair there, but there is a situation some people may not fully grasp.
‘At the time I handled people like [Rubens] Barrichello, [Eddie] Irvine, [Giancarlo] Fisichella and [Jean] Alesi, and every time we went to sign a contract with Michael Schumacher or Ferrari it always had conditions in it.
‘You can’t have that in a competitive sport, where one part of the team dictates to the other.
‘For me, that is a flaw factor for Michael. Seven World Championships… how many would he have won if he hadn’t had the influence and support of the other people in the team? And I’m not just talking about team members – I’m talking about the drivers.
‘Lewis is already in a different league, in my opinion. He’s done it on his own.’
Eddie Jordan puts Hamilton way above where Schumacher was as No 1 in the sport
Rubens Barichello –
The Brazilian is another F1 Ferrari alumni but thinks Hamilton is the complete package.
‘Hamilton has a talent that is possibly even greater than that of Ayrton and Schumacher,’ he told ESPN Brasil.
‘The only thing he lacked was maturity. He has progressed on that, and now you see the final product.’
‘The perfect driver would have Ayrton’s skill, Schumacher’s courage and Hamilton’s coordination. It would be something to see!’
Rubens Barichello, former Ferrari driver (centre), believes Hamilton could have the most talent
Jenson Button –
Button has seen at close quarters how talented Hamilton is as his team-mate for three years at McLaren.
While he did not directly compare the two greats, he ranked Hamilton as the most gifted driver he’s seen.
‘Lewis’s natural ability is extraordinary,’ Button told the Evening Standard. ‘He’s probably the most naturally gifted driver ever and he seems as determined as ever.
‘When I used to be his team-mate, he’d do things on track that would just leave me saying, ‘Wow’.
‘For example, I’d be quicker all weekend and then, bam, he’d come out in qualifying and be three-tenths of a second quicker than me. He’s very good at pushing the car to the absolute limit.’
Jenson Button (right) was Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate before he retired from racing
SITTING ON THE FENCE –
Toto Wolff –
Given Wolff’s long and fruitful partnership with Hamilton as the Mercedes team principal, you would think he would come down on his driver’s side of the debate.
But he was diplomatic and chose not to pick between him and Schumacher.
‘Lewis, in my opinion, along with Michael, are the best we have ever seen,’ Wolff told The National.
‘We’re only going to realise when he retires one day. We tend to never acknowledge somebody’s great performance while it happens.
‘We are always full of the types of people who retire or die. But they are never saying ‘This guy is really unbelievable, we’re alive to witness an exceptional performer’.
Toto Wolff (centre) believes Hamilton (left) and Schumacher are the two greatest ever
Bernie Ecclestone –
The former Formula One chief executive has seen it all over the years but believes the debate is impossible to resolve due to the difference eras.
He told Firstpost: ‘You cannot say anything bad about Lewis, you cannot say he is not good, that is not the point.
‘How good he is compared to somebody else, well he is super, super talented and would be amongst the top five drivers for the last 30 years.
‘Was he better than Michael? Would Michael have been better in that car (Mercedes)? You can’t say.’
Bernie Ecclestone thinks it is impossible to compare drivers from different eras properly
Ross Brawn –
The Formula One managing director believes there are a number of parallels between both legendary drivers.
Following Hamilton equalling Schumacher’s race wins record, Brawn wrote in his column for the F1 website: ‘It’s a remarkable achievement. Michael always said that records are there to be broken, but I admit I didn’t expect to see this one broken so soon.
‘And I can’t imagine Lewis is going to stop here. The way he’s going, he will raise the bar in the next few years to a level that will be astonishing.
‘Michael was a driver who was very dramatic on track in many ways and had a very quiet persona away from the track. Lewis is almost the opposite – quiet but lethal in terms of delivery on track, but his flamboyance comes out away from the track.
‘You couldn’t have two more different characters. Both have achieved an astonishing accomplishment.’
Ross Brawn believes there are a number of parallels between Hamilton and Schumacher