The greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time come in pairs: Schumacher and Ferrari, Hamilton and Mercedes, and Senna and McLaren. To understand the magnitude of their greatness, one has to consider not just the stats but also the context behind each driver’s success. Looking at all of Formula 1 history, there are two standouts: Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.
In Formula 1, the greatest evidence of a driver’s raw pace is often their performance against their teammates in a qualifying environment where cars are pushed to their very limits. Schumacher’s performances in this department were outright dominant compared to Hamilton’s, as Schumacher was rarely out-qualified by any teammate. If this wasn’t a testament enough to his skill behind the wheel, Schumacher is perhaps the best rain driver in F1, accumulating a record 19 victories on the wet tyres.
However, Schumacher’s greatest asset wasn’t his pace or skill, but rather, his ability to transform any team he joined into perennial competitors for the title, something Hamilton has never had to do at McLaren and Mercedes. When Schumacher arrived at Ferrari in 1996, they had not won a title in 17 years. But by 2000, Schumacher had built the foundations of a team that would go on to win the world title for five consecutive years. In fact, such was their dominance that it required the FIA to introduce rule changes that deliberately sought to pull Ferrari back into contention with the rest of the sport. Finally, Schumacher’s ability to push seemingly average cars to title-contending spots is something Hamilton has failed to accomplish in his career thus far.
When Lewis Hamilton made his Formula 1 debut in 2007, and after a second-place season finish with 12 podiums with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, fans knew that he was something special. Since then, Hamilton has won six world championships with two teams and asserted himself as the most dominant, technical, and consistent driver of the era.
Hamilton’s six titles are second only to Michael Schumacher’s seven, and based on the way things are going this season, it is likely that Hamilton will be tying that record in December. When comparing the two, it is important to remember that Hamilton’s career is ongoing, and he is likely to maintain his dominant streak for at least three or four more seasons. Hamilton’s consistency is unrivaled, especially in his years with Mercedes. Since Schumacher retired, there have been several shifts in the sport. The technical aspects of driving have changed—cars have become increasingly intricate since the era of Schumacher, and it is more difficult than ever to drive the jet-engines on wheels that F1 cars have become. Hamilton is also the most technical driver of all time, taking each turn to the maximum, only pushing the engine when it needs to, and consistently out-qualifying every other driver on the grid.
Despite Hamilton’s dominance in recent years, it is clear that Schumacher had a better racing career. Building a team from the ground up is extremely difficult, and Hamilton, despite all his accolades, has always had the best car on the best team. Schumacher will go down in history as the best driver of all time for fighting the odds and pulling out wins.