Who is the best driver in the history of Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher? Experts have trouble answering the question, mainly due to the two historical moments they lived through, in a sport undergoing important evolutions.
. The numbers:
This Sunday at the Eifel Grand Prix, at the Nurburgring circuit. England’s Hamilton equaled the record of 91 grands prix won, which until now was held by the German alone. And everything seems to indicate that the current Mercedes star will equal the mark of seven world champion titles of ‘Schumi’, icon of the Ferrari brand from 1996 to 2006.
Hamilton, a prodigy of precociousness, won his first title at age 23 – Schumacher did it at 25 – and seems to still have several years of career in full, to continue beating the German records. Among those he has already taken away is the number of podiums, with 159 against 155 for the German.
In pure speed, the Englishman is already clearly the best of all time, with 96 pole positions (to 68 from Schumacher) in 260 Grands Prix. A record that seems inaccessible to another driver in a long time.
In contrast, Schumacher is still far ahead as the author of the best laps in the race (77), as Hamilton has 51.
. The talent:
Mercedes technical director James Allison, who worked with both drivers, has made several observations for the German publication Der Spiegel.
Hamilton had a reputation early in his career, he said, of destroying rear tires, much more sensitive today than in Schumacher’s time. Very soon the young Briton corrected himself.
“With today’s cars, Lewis would probably be faster than Michael,” says the engineer, “but Michael was so talented that he would surely have learned quickly how to handle sensitive tires.”
In the race, the German sports website Sport1 recalls that Schumacher proved his worth in everything, with victories from the front of the grid to great comebacks, passing through exhibitions in the rain.
But “Hamilton does not commit major errors of concentration,” he emphasizes, recalling that the Englishman avoids incidents at the exits or at pit stops.
. Mental force
The best driver of all time is not only the best sportsman. But also the one who possesses an unusual mental strength.
“The best youngsters are not happy until they have won a grand prize. Then they want to be world champions,” explains James Allison. “Normally there is a certain satisfaction when they have reached their goal. But to continue having that hunger for a seventh title after six crowns, like Schumacher, you have to have something very special,” he says.
Hamilton appears to be made of the same material. “In the way Lewis always demands the best of us, the coaching team, he’s a lot like Michael,” says Allison.
. The team:
“The Briton has with Mercedes, as before Schumacher with Ferrari, the devotion of an entire team,” notes the German sports newspaper Sport Bild, in a comparison between the two champions.
For Schumacher, his teammates at Ferrari (Rubens Barrichello and later Felipe Massa) clearly had the role of number two. For Hamilton it has been more complicated: at the beginning of his career he had to prevail in McLaren against Fernando Alonso, who did not give him any gifts, and then in Mercedes Nico Rosberg beat him in the fight for the title in 2016. Now the English is clearly number one against Valtteri Bottas.
“It is justified,” estimates former F1 driver Gerhard Berger. “Bottas does not have the class of Hamilton and Barrichello did not have that of Schumacher. With drivers at the same level there would be no possible harmony in the team. When you are technically as superior as Mercedes today or as Ferrari at the time, internal rivalry must be avoided in the team “, says the Austrian.
On the other hand, according to the German website Sport1, “if Hamilton is breaking all F1 records it is not because the competition is weak, the Briton has had to fight in recent years against more former world champions and grand prix winners. than Schumacher in his heyday at Ferrari. ”