Hamilton or Alonso? Fernando or Lewis? Who is better? What makes them a cut above the rest - the super-elite category of Formula 1 drivers? How does one compare the two best drivers of their generation? Statistics hide as much as they reveal, circumstances dictate as much as they facilitate. Sometimes one is driving at the wrong place, sometimes the other is at the wrong time.
There’s only one year (17 races) when they faced off in equal machinery and equal status. The opinion differs vastly as to who the favored driver (even if marginally) was at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007, but it most definitely was the rookie Lewis Hamilton as the championship rolled on. Fernando Alonso, the reigning and defending 2-time world champion felt slighted by the promised reneged by team principal Ron Dennis to give him the number 1 status in the quest for a third consecutive drivers' championship.
McLaren had the car and the driver to do it. The problem was they had 2 drivers who could do it. Dennis has always maintained that there should be no team orders and looked to bring the two best drivers available to the McLaren stable - viz Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 80s. It took Dennis time to side with Senna too, as there was hardly anything to separate Senna and Prost. But he had a soft corner for him as he had for Hamilton.
In 2007, McLaren backed their British rookie over their Spanish champion. Alonso left for Renault in 2008 and the world couldn’t see more of the these extremely closely matched racers (mind you, not just drivers) ever face-off in equal, championship-winning machinery. That is a huge loss for the sport of Formula 1, but there couldn't be two roosters in a shed, or two Supermans in a phone booth. It happened with Prost. It repeated with Alonso.
Often Hamilton fans, vociferously and vituperatively and perhaps by sheer force of habit hark back to the battle of 2007. And the keyboard warriors are aplenty. They point out that Hamilton had the measure of Alonso, had him rattled enough to leave McLaren, that he finished ahead of him in standings, despite both finishing on 109 points - an excruciating and crucial point behind Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso backers counter that he was still able to achieve 109 points despite openly being raced against by his own team - even at the title-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix. Had McLaren backed him, he would have delivered the title for them, he believes as McLaren drivers nicked points off each other, benefiting a chasing Ferrari.
And so, how does one compare?
The only way left and surprisingly, seldom delved into, are their performances in the years when both had race-winning but non-championship winning cars to lap around. What do they achieve in a car that they know they have to out-drive and out-perform every time to have a shot of stepping on the top step of the podium.
How do they keep up the garage's morale and their own performances? That leaves us with a 5-year window of 2009-2013. The Red Bull era. When the Milton Keynes based team had the fastest car by quite a distance, designed by aero genius Adrian Newey around the comforts of their lead driver. In those testing times, Hamilton won races in each of the 5 years, and Alonso in 4, through their talent, a bit of luck, a splash of rain, and Michelin chef level skills - but applied at 330 kmph and 5G lateral forces. Here's how they compare.
Lewis Hamilton came into the year as the defending world champion, but the 2009 rules overhaul meant that Brawn initially and later on Red Bull stole a march over the rest of the field. Halfway through the year, it was public knowledge that Alonso is going to Ferrari in 2010. Hamilton won in Hungary and then in Singapore, while Alonso tried hard to drag the Renault higher up the grid. Both convincingly trounced their teammates - Heikki Kovalainen, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Romain Grosjean and had set their targets for a title challenge for next year. They were seldom in a straight fight, but Lewis finished ahead; although he had more to lose as his crown went to Brawn's Jenson Button, who would be joining him at McLaren in 2010.
Races won: Hamilton 2 Alonso 0
Poles: Hamilton 4 Alonso 1
Podiums: Hamilton 5 Alonso 1
Championship Standing: Hamilton (49 points) 5th | Alonso (26 points) 9th