Lewis Hamilton As the Greatest? A Discussion of Formula 1 Racing Greats

Lewis Hamilton has done everything a driver could accomplish, and then some. Where does he stand in the history of Formula 1?

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Jakob De Swaan Arons

Max Verstappen (Top) and Red Bull have been able to challenge Mercedes and take the crown for best car.

Robert Horry is the greatest basketball player of all time. Okay, maybe not, but he has won the most championships in the NBA since 1980, the beginning of the modern era, more than legends such as LeBron, Jordan, Kobe, Magic, Duncan — you name it. So why is he not considered in the greatest of all time, or GOAT, conversation? Well, he didn’t impact games the way the aforementioned players did; he never averaged more than 12 points per game, and was a role player on many championship teams.

A similar phenomenon is found in football, where Aaron Rodgers is considered to be one of the best — if not the best — quarterbacks in NFL history, but it is widely agreed that he is not the greatest; that title belongs to Tom Brady. From watching the Green Bay Packers over the last 15 years, there have been plays that only Rodgers could make, ones that would usually enter him into the GOAT conversation. Yet, because Rodgers only has one championship to his name, he is still not considered the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

There are many factors that go into an argument for someone being the greatest to ever do it. The rich and extensive history of Formula 1 has made it one of the most difficult sports to name someone the greatest. How can one select one driver out of differing eras, competition, and technological advancements? It’s almost impossible, but one driver has started to separate himself from the rest: Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton made his Formula 1 debut in 2007, and since then, he has become the winningest driver in history, amassing 100 race victories and 7 driver’s world championships, including six of the last seven. Despite his historical success, some still question whether he is the greatest driver of all time.

Hamilton’s not even the best driver on the field right now. Verstappen is the best driver right now. Charles Leclerc is second, and George Russell is tied for third with Hamilton,” said Jakob De Swaan Arons ’22. (Jakob De Swaan Arons)

When asked to name the greatest driver of all time, Jakob De Swaan Arons ’22 said, “Ayrton Senna. If you take a look at pure driver skill over championships won, there is no driver like Senna. Lewis started off in McLaren, and never in his career did he drive a bad car. He’s never actually had to fight from the back. I just don’t think it would be right to give him the title of the greatest driver of all time.”

Many fans agree that Senna is the most skilled driver of all time, but in terms of greatness, he isn’t on the same level as Hamilton. There is a difference between being the best to do it, and being the greatest. Greatness is more than simply being good at the sport — it is about garnering a legacy. Senna sadly passed away long before his career came to a close, and he was not able to build the career that others have been able to. In contrast, Hamilton has more than doubled Senna’s championship count and win total. Although statistics aren’t the only metric that should be used to determine greatness, they show the incredible longevity and legacy drivers have left on the sport.

John Drumm ’22 said, “I think Michael Schumacher is the greatest of all time. Schumacher helped to popularize the sport around the globe and became an icon of motor sports.” Although Schumacher helped to bring new fans and drivers to the sport in his generation, Hamilton is doing the same in the present day, especially in trying to bring diversity to the sport. In 2020, Hamilton announced the launch of The Hamilton Commission, a research partnership aimed to make motorsports more diverse.

“I don’t think Lewis is the greatest, because most of his wins and championships have come in by far using the fastest car and against much weaker competition,” Drumm continued. “In order to reach goat status, I think Hamilton needs to win two more world championships and be competitive against the young generation of drivers.” Hamilton’s success on the track has come against many generations, all bolstering strong competition. In his first year alone, he finished second in the standings, beating out two time reigning champion, and teammate, Fernando Alonso.

Many discredit Hamilton’s championships, claiming that he competed against what Drumm and many others have described as “weaker competition.” However, this argument fails to recognize Hamilton’s immaculate success even amongst the strongest competition.

Hamilton won his first championship in 2008, which was only his second year racing, where he bested two former world champions. Although his championship wins in 2014 and 2015 both came in dominant years for his Mercedes team, he had to beat his teammate, Nico Rosberg, a skilled driver who would go on to win the world championship in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, Ferrari joined the fight with Sebastian Vettel, a four time world champion, who came in second both years, alongside teammate Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, coming in fourth and third in those two years. The Mercedes team was not as dominant as in years past, given that Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate, lagged behind, coming in third and fifth. The following two years in 2019 and 2020 were dominant wins for Hamilton and the Mercedes team, and while Hamilton wasn’t greatly challenged, his level of dominance should withstand such criticism.

Now, as Hamilton is in the midst of a fierce title battle against Max Verstappen, he no longer has the advantage of a dominant car. In fact, he may not have the best car on the grid. Another championship this year would surely lift Hamilton above the pack and put the years of debate to rest.

Ultimately, Hamilton has become a victim of the timeless saying, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” He burst onto the scene as a young driver and found immediate success. While he had a big fanbase that was rooting for him when his career began, many have started to turn on him once he found continued success and domination of the sport, finding excuses to invalidate his victories. Rooting against the favorite is a commonality in professional sports, but taking away an athlete’s credibility is another thing.

Many fans come to support Verstappen and his pursuit to take Lewis’s crown. (Jakob De Swaan Arons)

The dominance that Hamilton has shown in his career doesn’t come from just anyone — it comes from one of the best in history, and that alongside the statistical prowess over the last 15 years should put any debate to rest that Lewis Hamilton is the greatest driver in Formula 1 history.

Hamilton’s not even the best driver on the field right now. Verstappen is the best driver right now. Charles Leclerc is second, and George Russell is tied for third with Hamilton,” said Jakob De Swaan Arons ’22.

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