Lewis Hamilton is not in the conversation about who is the best Formula 1 driver ever despite standing on the verge of equalling Michael Schumacher’s records, says Sir Jackie Stewart.
Schumacher’s benchmarks of 91 victories and seven drivers’ championships are in range for Hamilton, who is on 90 wins and six titles himself. However, Stewart – who won three world championships in 1969, 1971 and 1973 – said drivers from before his era stand out more as he feels the machinery had less of an influence, which also led him to leave Schumacher out of his top three.
“(Juan Manuel) Fangio in my mind is the greatest driver that’s ever lived, with Jim Clark as the second greatest even ahead of (Ayrton) Senna,” Stewart told the ‘In the Fast Lane’ podcast.
“Frankly, the car (Mercedes) and the engine are now so superior it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field… it’s not quite the same respect if you like, of being able to do it in the less than the best car. And that’s where sometimes there’s the difference between the very very great drivers and the ones that were very successful.”
F1 calendar expansion means drivers compete more often each year now than in the past, but in terms of win percentage Fangio leads the way ahead of Alberto Ascari, Hamilton and Clark, with Stewart himself eighth, one place behind Schumacher and one ahead of Senna.
The Scot admitted it is tough to overlook Hamilton given his results, but said both he and Schumacher can point to driving for dominant teams to an extent Stewart believes his own rivals didn’t.
“It’s difficult to say that about Lewis, not being as good as say Fangio was… beating Michael Schumacher is a big thing for him. Because Schumacher, again, chose very well from Benetton that was successful at the time and then into Ferrari, and made Ferrari buy the best engineers, the best designers, the best aerodynamicists. He really was a giant in thinking apart from his driving.
“To say that Lewis is the greatest driver of all time, would be difficult for me to justify, if you understand me, in sheer power of what the other drivers were doing.
“There was a level playing field that simply doesn’t exist today, so therefore it’s difficult to identify who really are the very best racing drivers themselves from just behind the steering wheel.”