Is Lewis Hamilton the best ever? How his record compares to Michael Schumacher and other F1 greats ahead of potential fourth World Championship

 
Joe Hall
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The best ever? Lewis Hamilton moves into even more rarefied air if he wins on Sunday (Source: Getty)

Lewis Hamilton is one fifth-placed finish away from being officially the most decorated British F1 driver of all time.

A top-five finish at Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix is all the 32-year-old needs to claim the 2017 F1 World Championship — the fourth world title of his career.

A fourth title puts him ahead of Scotland’s Sir Jackie Stewart, who won three championships between 1969 and 1973, and into an exclusive club of five drivers to have won four or more titles.

Winning the 2017 title will see Hamilton join old foe Sebastian Vettel and legendary Frenchman Alain Prost on four, move one behind Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio — the dominant force in F1 in the 1950s — and three behind Michael Schumacher’s record seven world championships.

Comparing drivers across different eras is notoriously fraught with problems of how to account for the different engines and technological advances available throughout motor racing’s history.

“You can’t compare eras,” was former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone’s frank assessment of such an exercise.

Yet what will not be up for debate should Hamilton triumph in Mexico is his place amongst the greats of the sport.

The Brit’s nine grand prix victories so far this season have pushed his career total to 62. Only Schumacher has more with 91, while only one other man has more than 50 — Prost on 51.

When considering the total number of times he's been on the podium, Hamilton finds himself in a familiar position in relation to Schumacher.

The Hertfordshire-born driver is once again second only to Schumacher, having finished in the top three on 116 occasions in comparison to Schumacher’s 155.

Schumacher called time on his F1 career at 43 and won his last championship in 2004, so there’s plenty of time for Hamilton to close in on his world title and Grand Prix haul.

After all, this season saw him move ahead of the German in career pole positions.

Hamilton now has 71 pole positions — including 10 this season — after breaking Schumacher’s record of 68 at the Italian Grand Prix last month.

And even if he were to follow the example of former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who retired after winning last year’s Championship, Hamilton can consider himself favourably against Schumacher and anyone else when you compare his number of races.

Take podium places. Hamilton’s 116 podiums have come from 205 starts to date, meaning he has finished in the top three in 57 per cent of his races. None of the 20 other drivers with more than 40 podium finishes have a better record, while Schumacher’s ratio finished at 50 per cent.

Of the 10 drivers with the most grand prix wins in history, only fellow Briton James Clark — a double champion in the 1960s — has a better wins per race record than Hamilton. Clark won 35 per cent, Hamilton 30 per cent and Schumacher 29 per cent.

Yet if Hamilton wants to keep going and break more records, he may want to keep his options open when his Mercedes contract expires at the end of next year.

As it stands he is just one of nine drivers to become a champion with two different teams, having won with McLaren earlier in his career. Winning with a third team would put him above Schumacher, although Juan Manuel Fangio holds the record with four.

He may also want to win in even more dominant fashion than he has this year. If Hamilton wins his final three races it will make 2017 his best championship of his career so far with 12 grands prix in a season. Yet the record is 13 and owned by — you guessed it — Michael Schumacher.

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