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Brought to you by TJ13 contributor, @WTF_F1
If you’re reading this, you will know that I am dead. I’ve been killed by covert Hamfosi operatives. Being intelligent enough to anticipate my murder, I arranged for this final article to be published in the event of my untimely demise…
…I jest. I’m not really dead. Well that’s not entirely true; I’m a little dead inside. But physiologically speaking, I am very much alive.
Provocative title though, right? Click-bait perhaps? Nope. Read on.
As a fan of historical team-mate comparisons, I find from time to time such analyses can serve as secondary evidence to help one attain a deeper understanding of a specific driver’s career successes, over and above the obvious headline statistics that are, as we know, heavily correlated to the opportunities a driver has received and/or earned in their career. In short, if a driver has a good car, headline statistics build up and world titles become possible. If a driver doesn’t, headline statistics remain 0-0-0. So it’s important to not only look at the headline statistics of a driver’s career when pondering about where said driver may place in historical contexts, but also to scrutinize the context of said career – be that the teams they competed with, the team-mates they competed against and the variety of success across different teams, regulations and variations in relative quality of car.
If we stick to headline statistics, Hamilton is Formula One Top-10 material. He is a triple WDC with 43 victories and even more pole positions. His percentages are very good too, in line with Senna and Prost at about a 25% win rate, a little behind Vettel and Stewart, and only significantly behind Fangio, Ascari, Clark and Schumacher (even with the 40yr-old-plus three year stint Schumacher did between 2010 and 2012.)
But, despite these headline statistics, strangely, Hamilton has failed to beat any team-mate of significance in his career.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” – The collective Hamfosi.
“It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced…” – @WTF_F1 Kenobi.
Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Let’s work backwards from the present, a present where of course Hamilton was given the greatest car advantage – now for his third consecutive season – in the history of Formula One. Let’s analyse the data that rests in the blurry and oft rewritten past, starting at his partnership with Button. Why Button? Well, Hamilton and Rosberg’s overall team-mate partnership hasn’t finished yet. Hamilton has had the upper hand more often than not, and particularly in 2015, but Rosberg is currently on a four race winning streak – a streak Hamilton has never been subjected to as a team-mate by anyone in his career.
Fun fact: If Rosberg wins in Bahrain, it will be equal the most consecutive wins either Rosberg or Hamilton has had over each other in their time together as team-mates. Currently, Hamilton has one period of five wins between Italy ’14 and USA ’14. Rosberg is currently uninterrupted on four wins. Even the most ardent Hamilton fan cannot dismiss this growing trend and reversal in fortune. One wonders what car development changes were made that precipitated this reversal? Perhaps the tyre pressure regulations introduced late last year are of more significance than we realise…
Either way, back to the past we march, dear friends.
Jenson Button vs. Lewis Hamilton
Seasons together: 3
Scored most points in a season: JB 1 – LH 2
Average WDC pos. over 3 seasons: JB 4 – LH 4.33
Cumulative points over 3 seasons: JB 672 – LH 657
Average pts per season over 3 seasons: JB 224 – LH 219
Proportion of points delivered to team: JB 50.6% – LH 49.4%
Highest WDC pos. in the 3 seasons: JB, 2nd 2011
Grand Prix starts together: 58
Wins: JB 8 – LH 10
Podiums: JB 25 – LH 22
Top 5’s: JB 37 – LH 36
Top 10’s: JB 47 – LH 45
It should be noted here that these three seasons include Jenson’s first season at McLaren where Hamilton was already integrated within the team and the car’s development. Given that, it’s amazing how close the competition was in 2010 (4th and 5th in WDC overall) between the pear… *crunch* Mmmm, tasty. I know, I know; it’s pair. Gotcha!
Overall Winner: Button
There’s a general perception out there that Hamilton did indeed defeat Button. As you can see above, that’s not quite the case. If getting fewer cumulative points, having a higher (worse) average WDC position, having your team-mate deliver the team’s best WDC result and bringing home fewer trophies to McLaren’s trophy cabinet in Woking is defeating someone, then frankly, I think we need to discuss the definition of ‘defeat.’ If one is being generous, we could call it a tie. But there are a lot of JB’s in the data. It’s clear Button was the better overall racer, Hamilton was the quicker driver on Saturday with a failure to capitalise on better Sunday starting positions than Button enjoyed, evidenced by Button delivering more consistent results from further back.
In late 2009, after Button’s WDC and his announcement to join McLaren, no one, not even this writer, thought he stood a chance against Hamilton and certainly not over a three year stint where any aberrations Button may’ve profited from would be smoothed out to reveal a genuine result. So, it’s time to call it. Hamilton did not only NOT beat Button over their time together, but instead was beaten by Button if one values race results over qualifying results; race craft and consistency over one-lap light fuel pure pace; a driver that “wakes up” when top positions are on the line à la Mika Hakkinen. Remember, even Coulthard beat Hakkinen when there was little to play for. Come title time, Hakkinen was unbeatable for Coulthard.
We can now see why Mclaren, at the time of 2012, were willing to let Hamilton go if they had Button’s safe hands – despite the qualifying data, which includes a 9-1 pole ratio in Hamilton’s favour. That Mercedes turned into the juggernaut they are now off the back of Brawn/Schumacher’s effort was good fortune – and not oracle-like insight – for Hamilton and subsequently his headline statistics. This is evidenced by the fact that it’s been revealed that Hamilton wanted to head to Red Bull in 2013, which had he gotten his way he’d have had a terrible 2014 and 2015 – probably beaten by Riccardo in both years and remaining a one-time WDC.
Furthermore, had Hamilton gotten his way in 2013, I can’t see how he plausibly could have defeated Vettel for the title in the then dominant Red Bull given how in sync Vettel was with the unique on-throttle Red Bull. Vettel made the three to four tenth per lap gap count in opening heavy fuel stints, and so good was he at establishing a lead early on that Hamilton most likely would’ve been left frustrated week in, week out. This of course would’ve given us an early answer as to the ‘greatest of this generation’ – but as you’ve read, and will continue to read, I feel the answer is already clear with respect to that particular question.
On we march… further back we go.
Fernando Alonso vs. Lewis Hamilton
Seasons together: 1
Scored most points in a season: Equal
*Averages and proportions are irrelevant due to single season*
Grand Prix starts: 17
Wins: FA 4 – LH 4 Equal
Podiums: FA 12 – LH 12 Equal
Top 5’s: FA 14 – LH 14 Equal
Top 8’s: FA 16 – LH 15
Unlike with Button, the analysis reflects how equal across the board – with the exception of Alonso having more minor-point finishes despite Ron Dennis’ anti-Alonso machinations – the competition between team-mates was. So we need to dig a little deeper to get an outcome. A tertiary layer of evidence…
Higher finisher when both drivers finished: FA 9 – LH 6
Critically, despite the system used by the FiA to decide a higher WDC placer in the event of equal points, placing Hamilton 2nd in 2007 and Alonso 3rd, Alonso actually defeated Hamilton when both saw the finish line to the tune of 9-6. Both had one retirement each.
What is revealing is when one studies the results post Hungary ’07 – where the biggest blast of the McLaren nuclear explosion in terms of team moral happened – Alonso beat Hamilton 4-0 when both finished. This may suggest that the associated pressure bolstered Fernando’s resolve while Hamilton crumbled under the weight of a title challenge and a fractured team, of which in part he was a cause vis-à-vis Hungary qualifying; not to mention that he was the recipient of the team’s (stated) support post Hungary.
Overall Winner: Alonso (despite being Dennis’d.)
As we can see, Hamilton has never beaten on points – or in anything deeper than ‘most poles’ analyses – any of his team-mates of significance over their entire partnership as team-mates. Not Alonso and certainly not Button. He did however beat Kovalainen in their partnership, which lasted two seasons spanning 2008-09. One wonders what might’ve been if Alonso enjoyed a second season in 2008 against Hamilton – without Dennis’ manipulations – especially given Alonso established the upper hand later in the year.
Presently, Hamilton is on the rough end of a Rosberg four win streak. People may theorise as to Hamilton not wanting to compete to his highest standard in the latter part of 2015 given he had secured the title, which I think is bullshit. But even if true, frankly, that adds to the lack of greatness given the ‘great’ competitors that we all know were all compelled to win no matter what. Schumacher, Senna and Fangio would not have, and did not, back off when titles were secured early – and certainly not for multiple races. Occasionally they gifted a team-mate a win, which Schumacher, Senna and Fangio all did.
So in this respect, Hamilton is either lying (to himself and thus us) to cover, using a dash of post hoc analysis and a good deal of reductionism to explain / mitigate his downturn and has simply been genuinely out-muscled and defeated for four consecutive races by his team-mate (tyre pressure reg. anyone?) Or, he is being entirely truthful and actually did back off voluntarily… Either option isn’t good as both possibilities undermines any candidacy to universally acknowledged Formula One greatness. Cognitive dissonance, thy name is Hamilton.
Being entirely forthright, I’m not sure which is worse. If I had to choose, the deliberate backing off given the title is secured excuse is possibly stranger to me, ya know, given the employers continue to pay the same rate regardless. Imagine it, “Sorry, boss, but I won’t be applying myself as highly now; however, please make sure my wages are paid in full…” Not to mention that it speaks to a non-compulsive desire to win absolutely everything at any opportunity, the likes of which the aforementioned greats had in spades.
In closing, it’s clear that some would nominate Hamilton for Formula One ‘great’ candidacy, yet, how that’s logically said I can’t know given Hamilton has only officially beaten ONE team-mate in the form of Kovalainen so far. It’s almost ridiculous; headline statistics or not. Hamilton leads Rosberg as team-mates presently, but the partnership is not over and could have a few years left. Currently, Rosberg 2.0 seems to not quite care too much about the past.
I put it to you that Hamilton cannot enter the pantheon of greats in the same way that perhaps Nelson Piquet Snr couldn’t either, 3-time WDC or not. The names of Fangio, Schumacher, Senna, Clark, Prost, Ascari, Stewart, Vettel, Lauda, Brabham are safe, for now. Hamilton is good, of that there is no doubt. Sometimes he can have smallish 3-5 race streaks of pure greatness followed by strange downturns in form that no amount of 1+1=11 analyses can explain. Trends emerge. Hamilton belongs with names like Hakkinen, Mansell, Piquet, Fittipaldi, Moss, Andretti, Alonso, Graham and Damon Hill. The very good, and the occasionally great, but not a Top 10 great of Formula One. Not a ‘greatest of his generation.’ Given he’s struggling to stop Rosberg’s rampant and resplendent run of results, that feels about right, doesn’t it?
I want to leave you all with a final thought… Twain once said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Whilst I enjoy bathing in the boiled blood of challenged / smashed paradigms, as well as the righteous indignation that springs forth from the perception of a grievous injustice (on the internet) being perpetrated and wantonly propagated, I will say this article didn’t once touch, or speculate on, Hamilton’s lifestyle, musical works, celebrity status, fashion interests, energy levels and cerebral capacity. Those are irrelevant and this is data driven. At the very least, that fact may warrant some acknowledgment. In other words, Hamilton has been attacked without the usual tactics oft enjoyed by others. I’m not that lazy.
I end how I began… Lewis will never be a ‘Great’ of Formula One, and that’s why.
*Enters witness protection program*