Lewis Hamilton has been praised for many things in his career and to be fair, he deserves those accolades. He holds so many driver records now that it is hard to even keep track of them anymore. However, there is one accolade bestowed upon Lewis that he probably does not deserve.
The Mercedes driver is often touted to have the best debut season in F1. Well, at first glance, it's hard to disagree. He had a two-time world champion as his teammate but beat him in the standings (albeit with the help of countback) and finished the season second in the standings, falling just two points short of winning the title.
What Lewis did that season was brilliant and not many would have predicted him to be this good this early in his career. However, Hamilton's debut F1 season was stunning. It is not the best rookie F1 season by a driver. That title goes to Jacques Villeneuve, who debuted almost a decade before Lewis Hamilton did.
Even for Villeneuve, what he was able to achieve in F1 at the time was unprecedented. He was the reigning IndyCar champion when he made his debut in F1. However, the perception of IndyCar drivers was not that bright in the F1 paddock.
Nigel Mansell, a year after winning the F1 title, moved to IndyCar and won the title at the very first attempt. On the other hand, the IndyCar superstar and McLaren recruit Michael Andretti had been a massive failure in F1. While Villeneuve was considered a strong talent, not many expect him to be this good.
To support our claim with facts, let's compare the rookie F1 seasons of both Villeneuve and Hamilton and see how everything stacks up.
Lewis Hamilton vs Jacques Villeneuve: Who had the better rookie season?
#1 Championship Standings
In the championship standings, both Lewis Hamilton and Jacques Villeneuve finished the season as runner-ups. Hence, in this case, neither of the drivers were able to perform better than the other.
Both Lewis and Jacques won 4 races in their rookie season, however, in this particular case, Villeneuve takes the lead. The reason behind this is the win percentage for Jacques.
While Hamilton won 4 races in 17 races, Villeneuve did that in 16 races and hence had a better win% in his rookie season.
#3 Podiums %
Lewis secured 12 podiums in 17 races while Villeneuve had 11 podiums in 16 races. For Villeneuve, the podium %age comes out to be 68.75% while for Hamilton it comes out to be 70.59%.
As a result, Hamilton levels things up with a better podium %age in his rookie season,
#4 Pole Positions %
When it comes to pole positions, there is no comparison as Hamilton scored as many as six pole positions in his rookie season, while Villeneuve could only score half that number at three pole positions.
#5 Fastest to first win
Now, this is where things get interesting. Lewis Hamilton's first win was an impressive drive in the 2006 F1 Canadian GP. The driver secured pole position and never looked back after a clean start into the first corner. Lewis secured his first win in F1 in his sixth race.
Jacques Villeneuve, however, was able to get into a groove a tad earlier. The driver was on pace very early into the season and secured his first win in just 4th race. He got his first-ever win in Nurburgring, Germany with Williams.
#6 Fastest to first pole position
Just like his first win, Lewis Hamilton secured the pole position in the same race. His first pole position was in his 6th race in Canada and ended up converting it into a win.
Jacques Villeneuve, however, made a more immediate impact as he secured pole position in his very first race in F1. The driver would have secured a win as well in the same race if an oil leak issue had not hampered his progress.
As we can see here, Lewis Hamilton is pipped 2-3 by Jacques Villeneuve. Now, in no way is it an exercise to disregard the kind of rookie season Lewis Hamilton had put together.
However, this is an attempt to show just how impressive Jacques Villeneuve was at the start of his F1 career.