Lewis Hamilton: The Greatest Driver of All Time?

Lewis Hamilton has won the 2015 Formula One World Championship which, of course, makes him the greatest Formula One driver that the world has ever seen. Did you not quite follow that train of logic? Let me explain.

If we take Ayrton Senna as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, it’ll make things a little easier. Senna, sublime and successful as he was, won 3 championships (in 1988, 1990 and 1991). The last of these came in his eighth season in F1, and he would go on to complete a further two season before tragically being killed in his elevnth season in the sport.

Lewis Hamilton, the greatest Formula One driver of all time (did I mention that?), by comparison has won his third championship (level with Senna) in his ninth season. Though it took him an extra seasons, he also took three fewer seasons to get his first crown.

Lewis_Hamilton_October_2014If Hamilton wins again next year, he’d beat Ayrton in the same number of seasons. And for those of you still pressing on about Schumacher being better than Senna to begin with, Hamilton took fewer seasons than the great German to get to both his first and third titles.

So why have few people come out to claim that Hmilton is better than the legendary Brazilian?

Much more likely, and bizarrely, considering that I have proven that Lewis Hamilton is the greatest Formula One driver of all time (you’ll be convinced by repetition if nothing else), is that all these so-called experts and pundits simply disagree.

If Hamilton beats Senna on a season-by-season basis, as he does Schumacher for that matter, then the only reason why no one considers him quite in their company must be that the car he drives, the drivers around him, the era he competes in, are all simply far less impressive.

People have gone on about ‘boring F1’ before, but from a disgruntled former fan, the most disappointing thing about Hamilton’s victory was that I simply didn’t care. In 2008, anyone watching F1 must have been excited by Hamilton’s last-corner victory.

Come 2014, by the time Mercedes had won the first five races (Hamilton winning all but the first), with Hamilton and teammate Rosberg leaving almost 50 seconds to the rest of the field, we all knew one of the Mercedes was going to win the championship. Heck, we all figured it was Hamilton, for whom only a retirement prevented him being at the top of the podium for all the first five races.

2015_Malaysian_GP_opening_lapThis year was barely any different. With three races to go, the Championship was mopped up. There have been the same number of non-Mercedes wins (three) as there were last year, though this of course could improve. In other words, in the last 35 races, 29 were won by Mercedes. Before 2014 ushered in engine changes that cost Red Bull and Ferrari, Red Bull won 13 of 19 races, and four  Championships in a row. Throughout the recent history of Formula 1, victories come in pairs or more.

Since 1984 (31 championships), only 10 individual championships have been won in isolation, and on six of those occasions, they followed on from or came before a teammates’ victory. Up to 1984 (35 championships), only eight individual championships were part of a consecutive sequence, the other 27 were before and after competitor’s victories.

Others may focus on F1’s dwindling entertainment value based on the mechanics of the race, the reduced takeovers, the fact that within a handful of laps, it’s clear half of the time who might win.

In truth, that would be irrelevant if people had faith that F1 could supply a close finish. The competition organisers know it themselves, hence the double points rule that was introduced for the final race of last year.

People are getting bored of F1 for the same reason that they don’t like Manchester United, the New England Patriots or Floyd Mayweather: no one likes a dynasty (except, of course, if it’s your own team).

So no, Lewis Hamilton probably isn’t the greatest F1 driver of all time; and if the trend continues it’s unlikely that many people are going to be offered that label again. If F1 wants to make the season more competitive I do have a couple of (not-so-serious) suggestions that would certainly make it all a tighter affair.

  1. The grid layout is determined by the results of the previous race. Whoever won last time is at the back of the grid, whoever lost is at the front and everything else fills in between quite logically.
  2. Speed limit for anyone out in front by more than 3 seconds. Once the gap is back down to 3 seconds, you can motor off again all you like.
  3. Radios between cars and teams. Yes, this makes team tactics harder to get across, but you can really get into your opponents mind by interacting with them throughout the race.
  4. Points-bonus for various categories including most-takeovers, ‘best performance’ as voted for by the public, and whatever else suits Bernie Ecclestone’s fancy (assuming he’ll be here until the next century).

If Formula 1 wants to keep its fans and attract some back, it’s got some work to do. Hamilton might be the greatest driver of all time but since his era can’t be compared to the legendary ones of the past, we’ll just never know.

PHOTO 1/ Brian Snelson

PHOTO 2/Morio

PHOTO 3/Stephan Brending