Lewis Hamilton debuted his F1 career in 2007 and almost won the drivers’ championship. By the smallest of margins he denied Felipe Massa at the final race of the season in Brazil 2008 to chalk up the first of his 7 titles. Yet when we look at ‘best F1 drivers ever’ it is significant to understand the numbers game that contributes to their success.
Michael Schumacher’s career spanned 22 years. The German got his break mid season at the 1991 Belgian GP and finished his career in 2012 at the finale event in Brazil. Of course Michael took three years out from driving to become a Ferrari advisor from 2007-2009 (inclusive).
In those 19 years of competition Michael started 308 GP at an average number of races per season of 16.2 races a year.
Lewis Hamilton debuted in 2007 and by the end of the last season had entered 288 F1 races at an average of 19.2 races a season. Lewis is currently under a 2 year contract that will expire at the end of 2023. There is serious cause to believe he will retire either then or even before if he is consistently beaten by his young gun team mate.
Max Vertsappen has completed 7 seasons in F1 and is still just 24, 13 years younger than Hamilton and it would be fair to assume he could compete for as long as Hamilton which would mean his career would span 22 years.
His average races paper season has been 20.1 and with F1 now set to deliver no less than 24 F1 events a year when Lewis quotes at the end of 2023 he will have clocked up around 355 race starts.
Max will have 188 with 13 years to go.
At 24 races per season this would see the Dutchman achieve 500 Grand Prix starts by the time he etches Hamilton’s retirement age. Max would average 23.8 races per season.
So it’s just a numbers game. Given Red Bull are always there or thereabouts, Max will certainly clock up more pole positions and race wins than Lewis Hamilton. He started younger and four this article we assume he retires at a similar age.
So greater reliability and dominance of teams, longer careers and more races per season all affect the statistics.
Based on win % with comparable reliability Mark Hughes excellent analysis rates Lewis Hamilton joint 5th with Jackie Stewart on the all time list of F1 drivers.
Vertsappen win % to date is far short of Lewis, though this season suggests Hamilton’s will fall, while Max Vertsappen has won every race he has finished in 2022.
Interestingly, the longer Lewis continues his career in a car that wins infrequently, his legacy on the hall of fame win % measure will decline – race on race. He is within 3 Gp’s of falling behind Jim Clarke and with Rae wins this year and next would see him left behind Schumacher.
On a win % basis it’s a bit shout to say Max will end up better than Lewis, though with 145 more GP’s in his pocket he will almost certainly win the all time absolute pole positions, fastest laps and race wins.
But that’s won’t make Max the greatest, just like Lewis’ 7 titles yet has him soon to be P4 in the panacea of F1 drivers races to win ratio.