Lewis Hamilton said the debate over who is the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time is “not important” to him after equalling Micheal Schumacher’s all-time wins record at the Eifel Grand Prix.

A seventh victory from the opening 11 races of the season in Germany enabled Hamilton to draw level with Schumacher on 91 grand prix wins.

Schumacher’s milestone had stood unrivalled since his last win at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix – where at the time he had just pulled 40 victories clear of any other driver – and many considered his new benchmark insurmountable.

But 14 years later, Hamilton matched the record at the Nurburgring, an iconic venue that Schumacher won at on five occasions, leaving the Briton “humbled” by a feat he described as being “beyond my wildest dreams”.

Hamilton’s triumph was also momentous for its implications on the 2020 title race, as he surged into a 69-point advantage over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who retired with engine trouble shortly after being passed by Hamilton. 

As a result, Hamilton remains in control of the title picture and looks on course to join Schumacher on seven world championships at the end of the year.

Matching Schumacher’s landmark will undoubtedly lead to comparisons between the two and intensify the debate of who is the greatest of all time. Where Hamilton stands among the all-time greats is a hotly contested and controversial subject that has divided opinion among fans and drivers alike.

Three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart brought the complex talking point back into the limelight ahead of the race when he claimed it is “hard to justify” Hamilton being on the same level as the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Jim Clark based on his record-breaking success alone.

In what appeared to be an indiscreet reference to Stewart’s remarks, Hamilton argued: "I don't think you should knock anybody for the way they do things. I get knocked by many people, particularly older drivers. I don't know why.

"Maybe one day they will get over it, but I have so much respect for the past legends, even those who continue to talk negatively about me all the time. I still hold them in high regard. It was a different time in history. It was incredibly tough for them.

"And in 20 years' time when I am looking back, I can promise you this, I will not be talking down any young driver who is coming through and succeeding. Because a responsibility as an older driver is to shine the light as bright as possible and encourage those.

"There will be someone else chasing the record I eventually set, and it is the wrong approach to be hoping he doesn't break it. You should be encouraging them to live to their full potential and if that means them getting to that record, that's amazing."

Sceptics have often pointed to Hamilton having the best car on the grid at his disposal when trying to diminish his achievements and skew his numbers.

Hamilton had 21 victories to his name in six seasons when he made the career-defining decision to leave his McLaren home and gamble on a switch to Mercedes at the end of 2012.

In the eight years that have followed, Hamilton has racked up an incredible 70 wins while driving for the team which has crushed its opposition and dominated the V6 turbo-hybrid era at a staggering rate.

Mercedes appears to have produced its strongest car yet in 2020 with its W11 machine that has claimed 11 out of 11 poles and won 10 of the 11 races that have taken place so far this year.

While it is easy to overlook the relentless work and collective effort behind Mercedes’ success, the fact remains that Hamilton is the only driver in F1 history to win a race in every season he has contested (13 and counting).

Hamilton has triumphed both in dominant periods, and difficult ones – notable wins in particularly tricky 2009 and 2011 campaigns spring to mind - and he has been a title contender in nearly every year he has competed in F1.

His first title for McLaren was won in a fair fight against Ferrari, while his abilities in direct combat and breathtaking pace over a single lap made the difference as he overcame the challenge of Sebastian Vettel in 2017 and 2018. In the last 24 months, Hamilton has taken his performances to another level, highlighted by his dominance over Bottas.

The argument that Hamilton is only breaking records for effectively the same reason Schumacher set them in the first place is wearing thin.

It is a claim that was firmly rejected by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, one of the leading architects in the German manufacturer’s rise and rise, with the Brackley squad set to claim an unprecedented seventh straight world championship double this season.

“In my opinion that’s not quite fair,” he said. “Winning races and winning championships is always in this sport a team exercise.

“But you need to put yourself in a position where you end up in the best car. There you can see lots of talents and skilled drivers took the wrong decisions, not well-advised decisions.

“And in that respect it was him who joined us in 2013, and it is him that sits in the car and is able to execute on track with a tool that we provide to him. But it’s always the two that are part of this.

“We couldn’t achieve the records that we have and he probably couldn’t achieve the records with[out] the right car, full stop. I don’t want to allow these voices that say ‘he drives a Mercedes, it’s obvious that he wins so many races’. 

“The drivers who say that should analyse why they haven’t found their way into a Mercedes.”

Hamilton simply believes that such critics are lacking the “full facts or full knowledge” when making such accusations.

“When you hear some of those things it’s not always the nicest thing to hear, but I’m not mad at it, what I do know is those that often say those things or make those comments they just don’t know,” he explained.

“I think in general in life we can often give the wrong opinion when we don’t have the full facts or have the full knowledge of how it really is.

“Having now been in the sport this long, years ago when they talked about Michael turning Ferrari around, the fact is it is not one individual. I have not turned Mercedes around, and Michael did not turn Ferrari around.

“As much as I love Michael and he is a legend, it wasn’t just him, there’s so many people around in the background - it is the collaboration.

“Valtteri and I have played the rudder role, almost helping to steer that powerful group of innovators in the direction that help us do what we do best,” he added.

“Being a team player, that’s what I’ve been trying to work hardest to deliver on. It’s the weekend - with all that pressure, all the things that we’ve got going on in and out of the race track - delivering performances above and beyond regardless of whether we’re ahead on performance or behind.

“If you look at the tally of the races we’ve had, sometimes we’ve been behind the Red Bulls or the Ferraris and still won races. That’s been done through great communication and just the relentless pursuit for perfection that Toto always talks about.”

It is that relentless pursuit for perfection that will inevitably see Hamilton one day stand alone as statistically the most successful F1 driver and further cement his deserved place among the pantheon of all-time greats.

 

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