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Opinion: Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher? There’s no contest

  • November 15, 2020

Lewis Hamilton was only ten years old and was doing his laps in a kart when Ron Dennis, head of the McLaren racing team, became aware of him. Dennis took the boy under his wing and supported the future seven-time world champion.

By the age of 22, Hamilton was allowed to climb into the coveted McLaren cockpit with Fernando Alonso, the reigning world champion at that time, his new teammate. The newcomer outshone the two-time world champion in his first season with only Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen standing between him and the title.

Was Hamilton preferred in the team by Dennis? The answer to this question was clear when Alonso walked away from his three-year contract at the end of the season and turned his back on McLaren. Hamilton won his first title the very next year.

Deutsche Welle Sportredaktion Gerhard Sonnleitner (DW/D. Pötsch)

DW’s Gerhard Sonnleitner

Difficult starts

For Michael Schumacher, the road to the first world championship was stony. When he entered F1 in 1991, top drivers like Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet were still on the grid. That’s why it took Schumacher three years with the small, newly formed Benetton team until he won consecutive titles in 1994 and 1995.

For four years after his first world championship victory, a weak McLaren car held Hamilton back. In 2011, even his teammate Jenson Button put him in the shade, but then came the switch to Mercedes. The German company had spared no effort in converting F1 to hybrid to create a racing car that was miles ahead of the competition. Hamilton made Mercedes his home and won two world titles in 2014 and 2015.

Michael Schumacher switched to Ferrari in 1996 after his initial championship successes. At that time, the Italians had been chasing success for almost 20 years and the German brought in technicians like Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne to work day and night in the Ferrari factory and on the test track to push the technical development of the car. After five years, the hard work paid off: In 2000, Schumacher won the first of five consecutive world championship titles with the Scuderia.

Formel Eins: Lewis Hamilton of Mclaren Mercedes und McLaren Mercedes Fernando Alonso (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Buettner)

There were tensions between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who believed McLaren favored his teammate.

Leisurely driver vs passionate fighter

When it comes to simply burning a fast lap, Lewis Hamilton is perhaps the greatest natural talent that F1 has ever seen — but even a full-throttle Hamilton makes mistakes. In 2016, Nico Rosberg put him under increasing pressure and eventually won a world title himself. Since Rosberg departed the sport, Hamilton’s grip on the drivers’ leaderboard has been unbreakable.

Sometimes it seems as though Hamilton, like someone out for a leisurely Sunday drive, is completely relaxed and without a challenge. The record winner’s superiority has taken the tension out of Formula 1 following title after title. And even after the seventh World Championship, everything points to more to come.

Hamilton may be the best racing driver of his time. But his racing victories are not reminiscent of the passionate battles of Schumacher, who became a legend because, in competition with other outstanding drivers, truly made the impossible possible as a relentless competitor, team player and human being.

  • Formel 1 | Der große Preis der Türkei in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/REUTERS)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Seventh heaven

    Lewis Hamilton gets the champagne treatment in Istanbul on a day that he equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. He achieved it with a typically controlled masterclass in the wet conditions, securing his place among the greatest — if not the greatest — driver the sport has seen.

  • Formel 1 | Lewis Hamilton gewinnt großen Preis von Portugal (Jose Sena Goulao/Reuters)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Most race wins of all time

    Despite the 2020 season being abbreviated by COVID-19, Lewis Hamilton kept making history. In round 12 of 17, Hamilton overcame a tough start to win in Portimao, a track in Portugal making its Formula One debut. The win took Hamilton’s career race wins to 92, one more than Michael Schumacher.

  • Formel 1 2017 - Großer Preis von Belgien Vettel und Hamilton (picture-alliance/dpa/SvenSimon)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Title No. 4

    Lewis Hamilton enjoys competing against the odds and going into the 2017 F1 season Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel looked the best bet to pose a credible title challenge. With the German plagued by a series of mechanical failures during the campaign, Hamilton helped himself to his fourth drivers’ title in the third-last race of the season.

  • Formel 1 | Grand Prix Abu Dhabi | Lewis Hamilton (Getty Images/M. Thompson)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend


    Lewis Hamilton is known for pushing both his car and his opponents to their limits. At this year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Hamilton came out of Turn 15 particularly slowly, and his German rival, Sebastian Vettel rear-ended him. Vettel then pulled up beside him and rammed his car. Hamilton denied having been at fault.

  • Österreich, Großer Preis (Getty Images/M. Thompson)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Difficult teammate

    Hamilton is not always easy to deal with even when he happens to be your teammate. The alpha male didn’t take it well when then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg competed hard against him — and succeeded in winning the 2016 drivers’ championship. The German driver’s lack of deference was a constant source of friction between him and F1’s biggest ego.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot küsst Ayrton Senna Helm (picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Remiorz)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Fan of Senna

    The Briton’s favorite driver when he was growing up was the late Ayrton Senna. In Montreal in June, Hamilton captured the 68th pole position of his career, equaling the record of Senna, who died in a crash at Imola in 1994. Senna’s family recognized the achievement by presenting Hamilton with one of the late Brazilian driver’s helmets.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot mit Vater (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suki)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Father and son

    Like the parents of many professional athletes, Hamilton’s father Anthony (above, left) made many sacrifices to make Lewis’ development as a driver possible, at times holding down as many as three jobs at once. Anthony was Lewis’ manager when he first arrived on the circuit in 2007, but the two ended their business relationship in 2010. The two now have a close father-son relationship.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot mit Bruder Nick (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vieira)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Another Hamilton at the wheel

    His entire family are a priority for Hamilton — including his younger half-brother Nicolas, who despite suffering from cerebral palsy has also managed to become a professional racecar driver. Lewis almost burst with pride when Nicolas moved up the British Touring Car Championship in 2015.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot Autosports Award (picture-alliance/dpa)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend


    At the age of eight, Hamilton (second from right) enjoyed his first win as a driver racing go-karts. He first came into contact with Formula One in 1996, when Mika Hakkinen (right), who would go on to win two F1 titles, presented the trophies at an an event to honor up-and-coming drivers.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot mit Ron Dennis (picture alliance/dpa/Kimimasa Mayama)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Mentor at McLaren

    Ron Dennis (left) was one of the biggest influences on Hamilton early in his career. The longtime team principal of McLaren was impressed when the then-10-year-old Hamilton one day approached him for his autograph and said he intended to drive for McLaren in the future. Three years later, Dennis brought Hamilton into McLaren’s youth program.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot mit Freundin Nicole Scherzinger (picture-alliance/dpa/V. Xhemaj)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Ladies man

    Hamilton is said to have dated a long list of famous women such as actress Kate Hudson, singer Rihanna or professional tennis player Maria Sharapova – as well as numerous models. He remains single and doesn’t plan to start a family until his driving career is over. His longest romantic relationship was with the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger (right).

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot mit Naomi Campbell (picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Bruno)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Fashion conscious

    Hamilton is very mindful of his image and enjoys hanging out with the rich and famous. He is often seen in the front row of fashion shows. Above he is pictured with supermodel Naomi Campbell (left) at a fashion show in Milan. The Briton has said that he has plans to release his own line of clothing in the future.

  • Lewis Hamilton Formel 1 Pilot bei der Red Obsession Feier (picture-alliance/abaca/Wyters Alban)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Party animal

    While some drivers unwind by spending quality time with their loved ones, Hamilton prefers to be where the action is, partying at the hottest clubs. He also enjoys sharing his escapades with his social media followers (five million on Instagram, four million on Faceboook).

  • Formel 1 Mexiko Lewis Hamilton Weltmeister Fahne (Getty Images/M. Thompson)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Title number four

    It was an anti-climatic way for Lewis Hamilton to win an historic fourth F1 world championship, but the smile on his face suggested he didn’t care much. A collision with Sebastian Vettel at the start of the Mexican GP left both at the back of the field, but a ninth-placed finish was enough for Hamilton after Vettel finished fourth. Hamilton is the most successful British F1 driver ever.

  • Mailand Formel 1 Fahrer Lewis Hamilton im TV (picture-alliance/AP Photo/ANSA/F. Lo Scalzo)

    Lewis Hamilton: The career of a Formula One legend

    Trusting soul

    Just days after winning the title, Hamilton was in the headlines for something completely different. According to information released as part of the “Paradise Papers” the Briton avoided paying more than $4 million (€3.4 million) in taxes on a private jet by registering it in the Isle of Man. Hamilton said he trusted the advice of his lawyers, who had assured him that the arrangements were legal.

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