THE ROAD TO SEVEN

With Lewis Hamilton now equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 World Titles, the fans around the world have been discussing and debating just who is the greater of the greats. So, I thought it would be a good time for a little walk down memory lane to re-live their paths to number 7.

Both drivers won their first world titles very early in their careers, with Michael winning in his third full season of F1 and Lewis in his second.

In a year marred by the tragedy of Imola, the German’s Benetton may have been the best car in 1994, but it was also a hugely controversial season with Schumacher being banned from 2 races and getting excluded from one more. It all dramatically ended in a collision with Damon Hill in Adelaide of course, and Michael ended up in the barriers but as World Champion.

Lewis’ first title was less controversial, but it was perhaps the most dramatic finish to an F1 season ever. The young Brit fought a season long battle against Felipe Massa at a time when McLaren and Ferrari were equally matched. Both drivers had moments of bad luck along the way and arrived at the finale in Interlagos for a title decider that was settled at the final corner of the final lap. None of us will ever forget watching Lewis pass Timo Glock while the faces in the Ferrari garage changed from euphoria to shock and disappointment.

Schumacher romped to his second title the following year. Benetton didn’t have the fastest car in 1995 and in fact their rivals at Williams took pole position for 12 out of the 17 races. But Michael used his incredible race craft and Ross Brawn’s strategic superiority to clinch the title with ease.

Unlike Michael’s back to back success, Lewis had to wait 5 years for his next title. In 2014 the Mercedes cars were head and shoulders above the rest of the opposition. His team-mate Nico Rosberg actually took more pole positions that season, but Lewis delivered the points when it mattered, taking 11 wins against the 5 for Rosberg to clinch the first of his Championships with the silver arrows.

Schumacher’s third World Championship is in my opinion the best of his 7 titles.

By 2000, the pressure to deliver a Championship for Ferrari had reached stratospheric levels for Michael and the team after near misses in the previous three seasons. The Ferrari and McLaren cars were evenly matched and the momentum in the championship ebbed and flowed between the two teams until Monza, where Michael delivered a crucial win in front of the tifosi.

That set him up on a run of victories till the end of the year, the most important being a tense battle against Mika Hakkinen in Japan to seal the title.

Lewis’ third title was a much more straight forward affair. Mercedes still had the most dominant car in 2015, taking pole position at every Grand Prix that year but the British ace was also a clear step ahead of Rosberg, winning 10 out of the first 16 races and sealing the title comfortably.

Titles four and five were pretty comfortable for Schumacher. In 2001, Ferrari may have had more speed and better reliability than their rivals but in a crushing season, Michael finished with more than double the points of his team-mate Rubens Barrichello, showing just how strong he was. The German amazingly then finished on the podium at every single Grand Prix in 2002 to equal the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s 5 world titles.

In contrast, after a few years of mainly battling his team-mate, Lewis had to battle Sebastian Vettel to win his next 2 titles. The Mercedes and Ferrari were pretty similarly matched in 2017 and when the circus rolled into Singapore, Lewis led by just 3 points. It all unravelled for Sebastian at the start when, starting from pole, he collided with Kimi and Max allowing Lewis to take the win from 5th on the grid. From that moment on, momentum firmly shifted behind the Brit who duly took his 4th title.

After 4 years of utter silver domination, Ferrari finally seemed to produce a faster car than Mercedes in 2018. The season started strongly for Sebastian Vettel and when he arrived at his home race in Germany, he led the title race by 8 points.

However a mid-race rain shower that Sunday in Hockenheim caught him out and it began a slippery slide for Vettel that he really has never recovered from. Lewis capitalised to win, beginning a run of 8 wins in 11 races to take title number 5.

World title number 6 was a hard slog for Michael Schumacher. A new generation of young hot shots had arrived and both Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya battled hard for the 2003 crown. In a highly competitive year that saw 5 different teams and 8 different drivers winning races, the German managed to fend off the challengers and go a step ahead of Fangio on the all-time list.

Schumacher’s 7th Championship victory in 2004 is very similar to Lewis’ 6th and 7th titles. They both had the most dominant car by a clear margin and although their respective team-mates showed flashes of speed, they weren’t really ever challenged consistently across the season.

Looking back, it’s fair to say that both drivers were in the best car for 4 of their 7 World Championships but they both comprehensively beat their team-mates in those years and then beat the strong opposition in the other 3.

There’s no debate that they are two of the greatest drivers of all time. But stats don’t ever tell the full story – for example, Jim Clark won less titles than Nelson Piquet or Niki Lauda, and Stirling Moss never even won a title. We could make the argument that someone like Fernando Alonso could have won 5 titles or Alain Prost could have won 6, or in fact Lewis could have won 9 by now, if they had a bit more luck.

The sport evolves through time and the only thing we can really conclusively say is that both Michael and Lewis are unquestionably the greatest drivers of their generation!

 


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