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Is the opposition to Hamilton/Schumacher comparisons really justified?

Written by  Jan 08, 2019

In the first week of 2019, Formula 1's two most successful drivers, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, each celebrated their birthday.

For Michael, it was a milestone, the big 5-0, as for Lewis, he turned 34, which in F1 terms might mean he is in the final years of his prime, but don't tell him I said that.

Certainly, his performances don't follow that description as 2018 saw the Mercedes driver continue showing his class with a remarkable display of consistency at a level very few can match.

His combination of speed without making mistakes once again proved crucial as Hamilton saw off the challenge of Sebastian Vettel to become just the third driver in F1 history to claim five world championships.

It was an achievement that solidified his place as one of the all-time greats and now some are wondering if he can go on and match Schumacher's two most impressive records that were thought to be unassailable.

Right now, Hamilton sits just 18 wins shy of the German legend's total of 91 and two titles short of that hallowed figure of seven, and if we surveyed the competitive landscape as it stands today, there's no reason why those marks can't both be reached.

Yet, when Hamilton's name is mentioned in the same breath as Schumacher, there remains a strong group who could never bring themselves to put Lewis in that category.

While it would be easy to blame it on the Briton's polarising nature, Michael was equally divisive for some of his actions during his career, however, his status as one of the best ever was still respected by all.

So what is it that makes comparing Hamilton and Schumacher such a sensitive topic? I have some theories.

One point some like to suggest is during his F1 career, Lewis has never really had a bad car, and on the face of it, that would appear to be true having raced for only two teams, McLaren and Mercedes, but there have been occasions when he has fought towards the back.

Who can forget the 2009 McLaren that was horrid for much of the season but still, Hamilton had two wins to his name that year in Hungary and Singapore.

After that, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel began to stamp their authority in F1, but Lewis kept on winning at least once every season in a car that was often second or third fastest on the grid.

Then came the move to Mercedes in 2013, a team that hadn't won since taking over the remains of Brawn GP after 2009.

While Schumacher is credited for laying the foundations, Hamilton was really the catalyst for the German manufacturer to become a race-winning threat once again and he would confirm that with victory in Budapest that year.

It would also lay his groundwork for what was to come in 2014 and beyond, as the new hybrid era Mercedes had been preparing for catapulted them to the front with Lewis ready to capitalise and achieve his own era of success.

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This leads to another argument that Schumacher built his way to championships with Ferrari while Hamilton simply benefited from being at the right place at the right time.

Admittedly, this does have some credit as for those first two years there wasn't much of a relationship between driver and team, instead, it was simply his ability that saw him beat Nico Rosberg to the championship.

Even here though things have begun to change, from the ashes of the 2016 turmoil, Hamilton has formed a much closer working relationship with Mercedes and that has been one of the reasons he has beaten Vettel and Ferrari the past two years.

Perhaps the main reason though is a reluctance to place today's drivers on the same level as their predecessors under the assumption that the F1 of now is much easier and much safer than previous eras.

It is true to an extent as telemetry, sensors and technology have meant drivers can find the limit much more and arts like racecraft, tyre management can also be controlled much more too.

But there are some barometers that can be considered such as single-lap pace, where Hamilton has far exceeded Schumacher's record of 68 poles with 83 now to his name. 

In the wet, both are considered the rain meisters of their generation and deciding between them in that category would be very tough given the performances they have produced over the years.

Hamilton and Schumacher are also masters of optimising the performance of any car they drive, so deciding between them really would be very difficult.

But that wasn't the point of all this, to draw a comparison that has yet to have all the relevant facts, instead, it was to simply decipher if such a comparison should be made at all.

On these three criteria at least, whether you love him or hate him, you simply can't deny that Lewis Hamilton does deserve recognition and in the years to come, likely long after he's retired from racing, an answer will be formed.

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