Lewis Hamilton isn’t and never will be the greatest of all time as Sir Jackie Stewart feels he has an “almost unfair” advantage over the rest of the field.
That, though, doesn’t mean he isn’t up there with the best.
In the debate over who is the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, the numbers weigh heavily in Michael Schumacher and Hamilton’s favour.
While Schumacher still holds the record for the most grand prix wins, 91, and the most World titles, seven, Hamilton is closing fast.
He could match Schumacher’s win tally at this weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix while his 44-point lead in the championship has him marching towards a seventh World title of his own.
Stewart, though, believes Mercedes’ superiority over the chasing pack has given the Brit an “most unfair” advantage.
“Lewis drives extremely well, make no mistake, I’m not in any way diminishing his skills. But it’s not the same,” the triple World Champion told the ‘In the Fast Lane podcast’.
“When Fangio was doing it, he drove in such a way, it was quite extraordinary – he would choose Ferrari, and then he would think ‘well Maserati next year might be good’, so he never did more than a one-year contract.
“And then he drove for Mercedes-Benz and won two World Championships I think with them, because they were the best cars in the world at that time.
“But he also chose very well the people he had with him.
“Lewis made a very good decision when he left McLaren at that time and went to Mercedes-Benz, and I take my hat off to him for making that decision.
“But frankly, the car and the engine are now so superior that it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field.
“Now you can’t say that, you must take your hat off to Mercedes-Benz, to Toto Wolff and to Niki Lauda before that for making one hell of a team, for choosing the best engineers, getting the best money that most other teams couldn’t get, apart from Red Bull.
“It’s not quite the same respect, if you like, of being able to do it in less than the best car.
“And that’s where sometimes there was a difference between the very, very great drivers and the ones that were very successful.
“It’s difficult to say that about Lewis, not being as good as Fangio was, in my mind and a lot of people would find fault in that.
“But I’ve been watching motor racing [since] I was a wee boy.
“My brother was a racing driver, I was going with him to races and seeing Ascari and Nuvolari and Caracciola and people like that who were coming to races. Some of the best racing drivers in the world, I saw.
“Stirling Moss was certainly one of them and he never won a World Championship because he was never drove the right cars. He also wanted to drive British.
“So it is difficult to put that in proper terms but beating Schumacher is a big thing because Schumacher himself chose well, leaving Benetton and then into Ferrari and made Ferrari buy the best. He really was a giant in thinking apart from his driving.
“To say Lewis is the greatest of all time would be difficult for me to justify, in sheer power of what the other drivers were doing.”
The Scot added that today’s numbers cannot be compared with yesteryears given that today’s drivers spend 20 to 22 Sundays racing Formula 1 cars whereas in Juan Manuel Fangio’s era they also raced in other series.
“I don’t think that you can account that sort of level of success, just because today there are 20, 22 races,” he explained.
“Whereas in the old days when Fangio was racing… Juan Manuel Fangio in my mind the greatest driver that ever lived, with Jim Clark the second greatest, even ahead of [Ayrton] Senna.
“But those people only raced maybe sometimes six, eight or nine races a year in Formula 1.
“They were driving sportscars, GT cars, etc etc.
“But the World Championship now, Lewis Hamilton, or any of the other top contenders today, are doing 22 races, or 21 races, but only in Formula 1.
“Not in touring cars, not in GT cars, not in IndyCars, not in Can-Am cars.
“You can’t really compare.”
“I’d still say those two drivers I mentioned, plus Senna and to an extent Schumacher but even he wasn’t doing other races whereas the Fangios were.”