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Is Lewis Hamilton the GOAT?

His most recent win in Turkey made thanksgiving really early for the seven-time F1 world champion.
IMAGE IWC
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Ask any basketball fan who is the GOAT (greatest of all time) and depending on who you ask, you will probably be getting a few different answers. From Michael Jordan, to Lebron James, or maybe even Kareem Abdul-Jabar or Wilt Chamberlain for the more mature NBA fans. 

The same is true for Formula 1. Or motorsports for that matter.

When Lewis Hamilton came from a sixth position start and slowly climbed all the way up to clinch his 94th F1 career race win—and effectively his seventh F1 World Driver Championship—thanksgiving came in early for Hamilton as he grabbed his F1 Turkish Grand Prix win despite a wet and wild race weekend. This puts him on equal footing with Michael Schumacher’s championship win tally in the so-called pinnacle of motorsports.

Hamilton with his team boss Toto Wolf at the Turkish GP

Photo by IWC.
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Tale of the tape

So, would it be fair to say that Hamilton is the greatest of all time? At least as an F1 driver? The tale of the tape says that as far as GP race wins are concerned, Hamilton edges Schumacher 94 to 91. In pole position, Hamilton is massively ahead with 97 against Schumi’s 68 pole starts. The list goes on. But race fans will debate that, aside from the stats, greatness isn’t just a numbers game. This is where subjectivity begins. Ironically, or perhaps by an act of fate, it was Hamilton who replaced Schumacher in the Mercedes-Petronas team back in 2013.

Former F1 teammate Sebastian Vettel was one of the first F1 drivers to congratulate his rival Hamilton as the “greatest driver of our era” right after the Turkish GP race. The statement is an honor, especially since it comes from a four-time world champion.

“He is the greatest of our era for sure,” said Vettel, who himself finished third place in the race. “How can you possibly compare (Juan Manuel) Fangio or Stirling Moss to our generation? You can't. Maybe we will be useless in those cars! Maybe they'd be useless in our cars because they're way too fast. Who knows? It doesn't matter. I think every era has its driver or drivers, and Lewis is certainly the greatest of our era.”

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Hamilton and his F1 team crew

Photo by IWC.

“To me certainly, emotionally, Michael will always be the greatest driver, but there's no doubt Lewis is the greatest in terms of what he has achieved," added Vettel. “He's equaled the championships, he has more races won, he has a lot more pole positions. I think he's done everything you can ask for. And today is the best proof. It's a difficult race, a very difficult race to stay on track and two hours long—and probably, if we're honest, it wasn't his race to win and he still won it. I think, once again, he managed to pull something special out of that bag and, therefore, he deserves everything he has achieved.” 

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Experts weigh in

We asked two motorsports figures to weigh in. One is a renowned precision and stunt driver, accomplished racecar driver, and a Guinness World Record holder, and the other is a seasoned and veteran F1 commentator and analyst. Both are from the UK. 

“I think Lewis Hamilton’s skills are exceptional and his achievements are incredible but I think it’s unfair to call the most successful driver in F1 ‘the greatest driver of all time,’ says Guinness Record Holder and precision driver Russ Swift. “The statement does a disservice to all the truly great drivers from the past in F1 and every other form of motorsport. F1 attracts the most media coverage and funds and probably has the largest following worldwide but for me, drivers from rallying and other branches of highly competitive forms of motorsport deserve equal recognition. Sebastian Loeb won nine consecutive World Rally championships in a sport which demands a far greater range of driving skills. Should he be ‘the greatest driver of all time?’

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“I see Lewis as undoubtedly being the ‘most successful’ driver in F1 and one of the greatest drivers of all time,” he added.

Swift met Hamilton on several occasions. Once he used a Caterham sports car to carve out a huge 50-foot “Go Lewis” sign by burning the tires on the tarmac of an open lot in 2007. In 2012, just when Hamilton announced he will join the Mercedes-Petronas F1 race team in 2013 he met Swift again to collaborate on a tire-burning stunt again using a McLaren supercar.

Russ Swift carves out a Go Lewis cheer for the F1 drive in 2007

Photo by Russ Swift.
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Meanwhile, F1 analyst and commentator Stephen Slater has this to say: “I think Lewis’s recent drives have put him right up there with Schumacher, Senna, Clark and Fangio in the top five. How though, do you tell them apart when they were each driving such different machinery? The one thing they all have in common is that matched against even the best of their day, they were able to stand head and shoulders ahead of their contemporaries—and keep doing it race after race. Hamilton is doing that right now and is still getting better. I guess that puts him at number 1.”

“It has been incredible to see Mercedes, Lewis and Valtteri triumph and make Formula OneTM history this season,” said IWC Schaffhausen CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr. IWC is the official timekeeper and watch sponsor for Hamilton’s team. “The team met 2020’s challenges head-on and raised the bar to an even higher level. IWC shares the same dedication and passion, and we are all so proud to celebrate this epic success with our long-standing partner.”

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More good years ahead

Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Jim Clark and Juan Manuel Fangio belong to different generations of Formula1 race car drivers and most of them did not have the longevity in motorsports and did not have the same number of races per year as today’s F1 drivers. So to say who is the GOAT will require a more extensive statistical analysis and will also mean that it should be done once Hamilton is retired from racing. But for now, let’s just say we all agree to disagree. (Schumacher, who is the only living F1 driver in the proverbial top 5 list aside from Hamilton, suffered from a massive head injury from a skiing accident year after he retired in 2013 and has been in a medically-induced coma ever since).

One thing is for sure: Hamilton is one of the best there is. And he has many good years left to prove he is the GOAT. That’s something we cannot say for the rest of the greats.

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