Six-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton remains below Juan Manuel Fangio and several other greats in the pantheon of great F1 drivers, according to Sir Jackie Stewart.
A three-time champion in his own right, Stewart says Hamilton’s success – with him about to close on Michael Schumacher’s F1-record 91 race victories – can’t be compared to that of the legends of yesteryear.
“I don’t think that you can account for that level of success,” he told the In the Fast Lane podcast. “Just because today there are 20, 22 races.
“Juan Manuel Fangio is in my mind the greatest driver that ever lived, with Jim Clark the second greatest, even ahead of [Ayrton] Senna. But those people only raced sometimes six to eight or nine races a year in Formula 1. They were driving sportscars, GT cars, etcetera.
“But the world championship now, Lewis Hamilton, or any of the other top contenders, are doing 22 races – only in Formula 1. Not in touring cars, not in GT cars, not in IndyCars, not in Can-Am cars.
“The pressure today is much more relaxed. Of course they go to the factory and do the simulator, but that’s not quite the same. It’s a different world.”
And while Stewart insists he is not “in any way diminishing his skills”, he insists the dominance of Hamilton’s Mercedes team makes it hard to place his achievements relative to Fangio et al.
“Lewis made a very good decision when he left McLaren at that time and went to Mercedes-Benz. And I take my hat off to him for making that decision. But frankly, the car and the engine are now so superior that it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field.
“Now, you can’t say that. You must take your hat off to Mercedes-Benz, to Toto Wolff and of course, Niki Lauda before that, they were working together to make one hell of a team, choosing the best engineers, getting the best money that most other teams couldn’t get apart from, say, Red Bull.
“Therefore, it’s not quite the same respect, if you like, of being able to do it in less than the best car. And that’s where sometimes there was a difference between the very, very great drivers and the ones that were very successful.
“So it’s difficult to say that about Lewis not being as good as, say, Fangio was in my mind. A lot of people would find fault in that. But I’ve been watching motor racing and luckily, as a wee boy, my brother was a racing driver and I was going with him to races and seeing Ascari and Nuvolari and Caracciola and people like that. Some of the best racing drivers in the world, I saw.
“Stirling Moss was certainly one of them and he never won a world championship because he never drove the right cars, he always went to drive British teams, that sort of thing. So it’s difficult to put that in proper terms.”
Additionally, Stewart says that modern F1’s disparity between the big and small teams makes it harder to gauge the ability of Hamilton’s rivals than it did back in his day.
“I do think I was lucky to drive in my window of time. We had Jim Clark and Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt, my teammate Francois Cevert and a few others that were really top racing drivers. Chris Amon, Jack Brabham. These were top, top racing drivers.
“We don’t have that today, that you could identify these people at the very top of their profession.
“The great thing about my window of time was the Ford Cosworth. Everybody had a Ford Cosworth except for Ferrari. There was a level playing field that simply doesn’t exist today.”