Lewis Hamilton's place in the history of Formula 1 as one of the best is undebatable. The Mercedes driver has achieved so much throughout a career that has spanned 15 years that not putting him alongside some of the best to ever do it almost sounds unfair. Having said that, one of the biggest debates around Hamilton is his status as the 'GOAT'.
Having matched Michael Schumacher and even surpassed him in some statistics, many feel Lewis Hamilton should be considered the greatest driver to have ever raced in F1. Concurrently, however, others just don't agree with those claims.
In this piece, we try to look at the reasons why Lewis Hamilton should be considered the greatest driver to ever race in F1. Then we look at the counterpoints of why the claims of him being the greatest driver ever are nothing more than just claims.
Before we proceed further, let's get one thing out of the way. Lewis Hamilton is a Formula 1 legend. What he has achieved in his career is unprecedented and because of that, he will always go down as one of the greats. Is he the greatest, though? Let's find out.
Why Lewis Hamilton could be considered the Formula 1 GOAT
#1 That unprecedented record
Let's just go through some of these statistics that this man has accrued over the years. Joint highest world titles, most race wins, most pole positions, most podium finishes, most career points, and most laps led. It's a clean sweep for Lewis Hamilton when it came to F1 records.
Hamilton is 37 years old right now, having started racing in F1 as a 22-year-old in 2007. That's more than 15 years of fighting at the top against some of the greats of the sport. From Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, and now a new generation of drivers like Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell, Hamilton has seen it all. This kind of longevity is not common and this kind of performance at such a high level, year in and year out, you don't see too many drivers pulling that off.
#2 All rounded skills
When you talk about Lewis Hamilton, you talk about a driver that has a well-rounded driving style. You have a driver that is probably one of the best qualifiers ever in Formula 1. You have a driver that has shown racing acumen second to none throughout his career. Most importantly, you have a driver that does not show too many weaknesses.
If you want someone to wring the lap time out of an F1 car while making their way through the field and scoring a podium or even a win, you look at Hamilton. If you want someone that can preserve their tires better than anyone else, while guaranteeing a strong performance in wet weather, you look at Hamilton.
It doesn't matter what the conditions are. Lewis Hamilton has shown that he can thrive in any condition and score big points for the team. It's rare to find many drivers that tick all the boxes and the Briton seems to be one that certainly does that.
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#3 That fight against the odds
Lewis Hamilton has achieved immense success in F1. The kind of challenges a poor black kid living in Stevenage might have had to face while making his way to the sport, however, is often ignored in that success. What makes his success in this sport significant is because it is, even in its latest iteration, a rich kid's sport.
Hamilton was a special talent even when he was competing in karts. He was, however, not the only special talent there. Every year, multiple talented kids compete in karts. Not everyone gets through. Not every kid at such a tender age has the drive to progress through the levels, and to be honest, not many have the work ethic either. Add to this the fact that you don't come from a resourceful family and you belong to a marginalized part of the community.
There is a reason why F1 still does not have another established black driver on the grid right now despite Hamilton being there for the last 15 years. It's not easy! Yet, he did it. He made his dream come true despite having so many hurdles thrown at him.
#4 Stand-out wins like German GP 2018 and British GP 2008
There are races in an F1 driver's career where no one can touch him. Where he finds himself on the back foot and with the enormity of his talent, he's able to dig himself out of that giant hole and succeed. Lewis Hamilton has done that multiple times in his career. One of the earliest occasions was his drive in the British GP, where he finished a wet race almost a lap ahead of every other driver on the grid.
Even during his stint at Mercedes, there are multiple races where Hamilton was on a backfoot and Mercedes was all but counted out as a contender for the win. In the 2018 German GP, the way he went through the entire field to win the race was just magic on four wheels. Races like the 2020 Turkish GP 2020 or even the 2021 Brazilian GP are a true testament to the ability of a driver that just cannot be questioned. Hamilton has proven time and again what he can do behind the wheels of a Formula 1 car and these wins are just a testament to his abilities.
#5 That debut season
When we talk about Lewis Hamilton's career, there's one specific aspect that does not get talked about enough: his debut. The Briton was handed his debut by McLaren in 2007. He was to partner the incoming two-time reigning world champion Fernando Alonso and was expected to play the supporting cast as often as he could.
What happened that season, however, was unprecedented. Hamilton ended up beating Alonso in the drivers' championship and lost the title by just 1 point in the season finale. He beat the gold standard of racing in F1 in his debut year! Let that sink in.
In F1, there aren't many drivers that are ready to win the title in their debut season. Ayrton Senna was not, nor was Alain Prost or Michael Schumacher. Lewis Hamilton, however, was ready! Sadly though, with a career that spans more than 15 years, this aspect of his career tends to get ignored. When you talk about him, you talk about a driver that has proven himself on so many levels time and again and these factors are a true reflection of that.
Having established why Hamilton could be considered the GOAT, let's take a look now at the factors that suggest otherwise.
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Why Lewis Hamilton should not be considered the Formula 1 GOAT
#1 Who did he beat to win the title?
Looking back at Lewis Hamilton's career, he has 7 championship wins to his name. The runners-up in all those title wins were Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas. Excluding Vettel, who suffered from a deficit in performance with the Ferrari, neither of the other drivers were what anyone would call the elites of the grid.
When Hamilton beat Felipe Massa, there were drivers like Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, and Robert Kubica on the grid with uncompetitive machinery at their disposal. When he beat Rosberg and Bottas, Mercedes was in a league of its own. Contrast that with Michael Schumacher beating Damon Hill in 1995 in a Benetton that was slower than the Williams, or Ayrton Senna beating Alain Prost and vice-versa. The difference in the caliber of the opposition some of the great in F1 beat during their championship wins becomes apparent.
It is said that "You're as good as the competition you beat". In his title triumphs, Lewis Hamilton did not really beat the elites of the sport. To an extent, that does count against him in the GOAT debate.
#2 Losses to his teammates and Max Verstappen
Regardless of how many Lewis Hamilton fans believe that he was robbed in Abu Dhabi, the fact that Max Verstappen was the better driver in 2021 simply cannot be ignored. The Dutchman made the least number of mistakes and was the more consistent driver. Crucially, without his misfortunes, he would have won the title even before the last race of the season.
With that out of the way, let's address the elephant in the room. Hamilton was beaten in the championship by Jenson Button in 2011 and then to the title by Nico Rosberg in 2016. That's two drivers beating the Briton in the same car.
When you talk about a driver being the 'greatest of all time', should he be losing to his teammates not once but twice in his career? While both Button and Rosberg were very high-caliber drivers, one can safely say that they were not a bigger adversary than an Alonso or a Vettel. Somewhere down the line, when you talk about the best to ever do it, he cannot be losing in his career to drivers of a lesser caliber.
#3 The impact of other legends on their teams was more significant
There is clear evidence of Lewis Hamilton making a massive difference to Mercedes when he joined the team and even at times when the team was in the dumps. That, however, pales in comparison to the impact Michael Schumacher had on Ferrari, a team that had not won a title in close to two decades. Or Niki Lauda's impact on both Ferrari and McLaren. Or what Alain Prost was able to do with McLaren by guiding the team through multiple regulatory changes.
There is no denying that throughout these years of Mercedes dominance, whenever there was a blip, Hamilton brought the team back to the front. One just can't compare that, however, with the 5 years of toil Schumacher had to contend with at Ferrari before the team entered its dominant years. There is a massive difference between what the German did at Ferrari and what Hamilton did.
#4 Is he even a true rainmaster?
Lewis Hamilton is arguably a superb driver in wet weather. Is he the best driver, however, when the track is wet? The answer is no! While the Briton has had some mind-blowing races in the wet, throughout his career there have been other drivers that have prevailed in similar conditions.
Even in 2008, when Hamilton had the crazy win at Silverstone, it's very hard to say that his win eclipsed Sebastian Vettel dominating a wet race weekend in a Toro Rosso in Monza. During his stint with McLaren with Jenson Button as his teammate, the latter had as many 5 wins in mixed conditions while Hamilton had none. While Hamilton has had multiple race wins during his time with Mercedes, there are losses as well to Max Verstappen in the 2019 German GP or 2021 Imola GP.
While Hamilton is a fantastic driver in wet weather, it does appear that for all his accolades, he's not your go-to driver when it comes to wet-weather conditions.
#5 The "Best Driver" tag came with the "Best Car"
For Lewis Hamilton, the greatest decision of his career was to move from McLaren to Mercedes. The move gave the British driver six more world titles to add to the one he already had and, in the eyes of many, elevated him to "GOAT" status. Before the rise of Mercedes, however, Hamilton did not enjoy the accolades of being considered the best driver on the grid.
For Hamilton, his rise to prominence in Mercedes coincided with Alonso's McLaren-Honda debacle and Vettel going to Ferrari and completely imploding. Due to this, the drivers that were the true gold standards of Hamilton's generation couldn't compete with him anymore.
If we look at the ecosystem before that, from 2010 to 2013, Hamilton could not beat either Vettel or Alonso (despite the Spaniard having arguably the inferior machinery) in the championship standings. During that time, Hamilton even lost to Jenson Button in 2011.
Hamilton was considered an elite driver even before he joined Mercedes. It is, however, fair to say that he was not the gold standard of racing before jumping into a rocketship called Mercedes and starting to compete with Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas every week.
We have now had a look at both sides of the coin. On one side, we have compelling arguments on why Lewis Hamilton as the GOAT makes complete sense with the way he has fought the odds. On the other side, it makes you think that maybe the GOAT in F1 should not be losing to his teammates multiple times in his career.
At the end of the day, it's hard to deny that the seven-time world champion will surely go down as one of the best to ever do it. Is he the greatest though? Well, we're going to let you take a call on this one. What do you think? Is Lewis Hamilton the F1 GOAT? Make your picks in the comments section and let us know!
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