Among all the tantalizing statistics and records that Lewis Hamilton holds, his career longevity is often overlooked. Still, with little chance of adding to his 103 race win tally at the French Grand Prix on Sundaythat will likely be his most notable stat of the weekend.
Five men have raced in more grands prix: Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher at 306, Rubens Barrichello (322), Fernando Alonso (345) and Kimi Raikkonen (350) are the only men above him.
Alonso is still fighting near, if not exactly on, the front at 40 and with little sign of diminishing skill. Considering Hamilton’s ability, fitness and potential to be the only man with eight world championships, one would expect there’s a good chance he could still top them all. . And with seasons getting longer and longer – there will be 24 races next year – it’s not out of the question that Hamilton will become F1’s first 400-race driver.
The comparison with Alonso is relevant. Earlier this week Hamilton hailed Alonso as his toughest competitor in his 15-and-a-half seasons at the pinnacle of motorsport. The two drove as McLaren teammates in the Briton’s debut season in 2007, with the rookie finishing ahead, despite losing the title.
“I remember the task of being alongside Fernando when I was 22,” Hamilton said.
“I was so young mentally and, of course, OK skill-wise, but it’s a lot of pressure to face a big like Fernando.
“I would say pure rhythm, Fernando [is the toughest he has faced]. We had some great battles. I wish we had more. I hope he keeps racing, so hopefully we get more in the future.
Alonso returned the compliment, congratulating Hamilton on a triple century of racing. “He already had the talent in 2007, he still has the talent now with the experience.
“He was a great driver, a legend in our sport, so it was always a pleasure to share all this time with him.
The stats Hamilton has behind him after 299 runs are staggering. There are few categories where he is not in the lead and even in some of them he is right behind Schumacher.
He has 103 wins and 103 pole positions, has led every lap of a race 23 times, has over 4,200 points, 60 fastest laps, and has a hat-trick of pole position, fastest lap and victory 19 times. But do those numbers mark him as the greatest of all time? Or just the most successful of all time? More so the latter.
It is impossible and difficult to compare Hamilton to the best drivers from different eras of F1. The fundamentals of the sport are the same and they drive to some of the same venues, but that’s about it. Comparing Hamilton’s successes and its statistical benchmarks to Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart or Ayrton Senna is a task that will never get to the heart of the matter.
It is even difficult to compare him fairly to some of his contemporaries. The similarities are there with Schumacher. They are both lap supreme and have dominated the sport in the best car for several years, racking up multiple titles and dozens of wins. Yet when it comes to sportsmanship, Hamilton hasn’t crossed the line as much. This perhaps makes him a better “champion”, if not the best pilot.
There is also, perhaps, a tendency to underestimate some of his title triumphs. He and Mercedes had to come from behind in 2017 and 2018 to win both championships. Yes, Ferrari’s challenge fell apart as the season progressed, but Hamilton was arguably driving at his best in those years, especially in the second half.
Alonso could be Hamilton’s only trial rival who compares in talent and longevity
In 2018, after losing to Vettel at the British Grand Prix (a rare defeat at Silverstone) to go even further in the championship, he picked up eight wins in the last 11 races. The pivotal moment of this season was another Hamilton masterclass in the wet at Hockenheim. Vettel crashed in the damp but the Mercedes driver mastered the conditions to claim an unlikely victory from 14th on the grid. And let’s not forget the end of the 2021 season, where the title eluded him through no fault of his own in the very last lap. It might have been his greatest triumph of all.
Back to Alonso, the Spaniard is perhaps the only real rival Hamilton has faced that compares on the talent stakes – and longevity. Alonso’s winning days are well behind him and his return of two championships and 32 race victories pales in comparison to that of his former teammate and even small compared to what he could have achieved with better decisions and in better cars. While Alonso’s career choices seem questionable, Hamilton pulled off a masterstroke with his move to Mercedes from McLaren in 2013. A decade later, he became the sport’s most decorated driver.
It’s easy to say that Hamilton reached stratospheric heights by being the best driver in the best car for an extended period of time. There’s some truth to that, but it’s an oversimplification that hurts both its consistency and its longevity at the top. The best drivers tend to end up in the fastest cars for a reason and he deserves credit for Mercedes’ successes. Above all, it is undeniable that he is the best driver of his generation and that he deserves his place among the biggest names in F1.