How do Lewis Hamilton’s career earnings compare to those of other star athletes?

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

By many measures, Lewis Hamilton can now be considered the greatest Formula 1 driver in history.

There may always be debate among some, but at this point he more or less has the opportunity to sail into the sunset with most of the sport’s meaningful records under his belt.

To that point, there’s beginning to be some talk of retirement. As we noted following Hamilton’s signing of a one-year contract with Mercedes, the world champion has indicated that he’s “flexible” about his future. There’s a chance that means he simply moves on from Mercedes (possibly to Aston Martin) in 2022. But it may also mean that he secures a record-breaking eighth championship and calls it a career.

Either way, the mere possibility of an ending will cause all sorts of different looks back on his career and the otherworldly success he’s achieved. So to offer up just such a retrospective — admittedly a bit prematurely — we wanted to look at Hamilton’s career earnings, and how possibly the greatest F1 driver of all time measures up against other star athletes.

We should state that celebrity earnings and net worth should always be taken with a grain of salt. These aren’t always precisely measured, and particularly when endorsement deals and the like come into play, accounts can differ. That said, we’ll be going off of Celebrity Net Worth’s estimate of Hamilton’s value — which is $285 million (and climbing).
tiger woods
That number stacks up favourably against a number of very prominent sports (and sports-adjacent) figures:

Tom Brady - Estimates for Tom Brady’s worth come in at about $200 million — which given his endorsement deals actually sounds a little bit low. Nevertheless, if that’s the real number (and NFL contracts are actually smaller than one might imagine relative to other major sports leagues), then Hamilton can claim an edge over the man increasingly recognised as the best American football player of all time.

Phil Ivey - Poker is sports-adjacent at best, but it’s a type of competition that yields very wealthy stars, and if eSports are being referred to as sports today, we’ll count card games as well! According to a list of the wealthiest poker players by net worth, Phil Ivey ranks third. But the top spots go to a billionaire banker named Andy Beal, and the actor Kevin Hart. Ivey, at $100 million, is the highest-earning poker pro. But even in this sport so closely tied to massive cash winnings, he sits well behind Hamilton.

Ricky Ponting - There really isn’t a consensus best cricketer in history, and if there were one it would probably be player from previous eras. Ponting is among the best in more recent generations though, and is certainly among the highest earners at (according to estimates) about $95 million. So he’s right in line with Ivey, but only about half way to Lewis Hamilton.

Sidney Crosby - As with Ponting, Sidney Crosby is not necessarily the best at his sport (NHL hockey), but he’s probably the best of the modern era. That matters when we’re considering the highest earners, simply because of the massive inflation that’s occurred in sports salaries and endorsements over time. Even as an all-time great player though, Crosby is estimated to have racked up only about $55 million — surprisingly little by star athlete standards.

Hamilton is likely to finish well above all of those icons (even if the Brady estimate seems suspiciously low). At the same time however, even a likely $300 million-plus in ultimate career earnings won’t quite land him in the following company:

Lionel Messi - Messi is among the greatest football talents in history and is widely considered the best player alive today. And we’ve learned over the years that star footballers have international popularity and endorsement appeal beyond all other athletes save for absolute icons. Accordingly, it’s believed that Messi is worth at least $400 million and counting. He’ll easily top half a billion before he’s done playing.

Roger Federer - Another all-time great who may well go down as the best his sport has ever seen, Roger Federer has also maximised his earning potential off the court. Aside from his WTA counterpart Serena Williams, there’s probably never been a tennis player quite as endorsement-friendly as the easy-going, effortless classy Federer. It should come as no surprise then that his net worth is believed to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $450 million.

LeBron James - LeBron James is also in the icon class, and is giving Michael Jordan a real run for his money as the best basketball player of all time. He’s also competitive with Jordan on the financial front, where a recent CBS Sports article suggested he’s on track to have earned $1 billion by the end of his career. Some estimates of his net worth put him at about $500 million, but given the same article’s note that he’ll earn $95.4 million this year alone (between his contracts and endorsements), the estimate seems low. James is one of the precious few athletes who is simply out of Hamilton’s league from a money-making perspective.

Tiger Woods - And then there’s Tiger Woods. Woods is the closest thing the sports world has to Michael Jordan from a personal branding perspective, and it’s paid off to what by all accounts is well over $1 billion in career earnings already. On this list, only James has any hope of reaching the Tiger Woods tier.

The ultimate takeaway here is that while there's an elite tier of just a few sports figures who earn the wealth of a small country, Lewis Hamilton will have made more money than just about everybody else in sports by the time he's done. Not bad for the man anointing himself as F1's greatest ever.