Statistically and stylistically, there are parallels between Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. And then there are four differences, which underscore why the Brit's feats in Formula 1 (F1) stand well
As the lights go out on the 2019 Formula 1 season in Melbourne this weekend, there are many storylines to chase this year that traverse the usual range of charm, intrigue, nostalgia and newness. But there’s one storyline around the one thing that ends up shaping and defining an F1 season: records.
The parallels are many, statistically and stylistically. Both Schumacher and Hamilton took 12 years to win five titles. Both racked up impressive headline numbers, but Hamilton is slightly ahead.
Both drivers won their five titles across two teams, the first in which they cut their teeth and the second in which they burnished their reputation. Both are widely regarded as having the best package in their time of racing nous, aggression and aura.
At the same time, there are differences in the way the two accumulated their pile of numbers.
There are four aspects in particular, which reveal something about each driver and also underscore why Hamilton’s feats stand up well against the man who raised most F1 records to stupendous levels. In order to enable a comparison between the two drivers, the data for Schumacher here is for the first 12 of his 19 seasons, during which time he notched up five of his seven titles.
Schumacher’s career was punctuated by on-track confrontations with fellow leading drivers, most of whom felt this edginess took away some gloss from his brilliance.
Such confrontations illustrate how much risk drivers are willing to take into a direct fight and how they weigh the costs to themselves and their fellow driver.
Schumacher’s face-offs ended with him retiring from the race almost three times as much as Hamilton. Schumacher retired due to reasons that could be pinned on the driver, as opposed to the machine, in 21 races (or 12% of his races) as compared to nine for Hamilton (or 4% of his races). The most infamous of these was Schumacher’s turn into Jacques Villeneuve in the 1997 title-deciding race, which resulted in him being disqualified.
It’s a testament to Hamilton’s growing maturity that in his last six seasons, he has been involved in just one accident or collision that resulted in him retiring from the race. By comparison, Schumacher’s retirements due to driver-oriented reasons were more spread out during his years, and it’s only in the last two years of this 12-year period that he went accident- or collision-free.
With rivals, Schumacher could be about brinkmanship. On teammates, Schumacher never really had anyone who matched him in skill or ruthlessness. That was the intended design as the teams he was part of—Benetton and Ferrari—were all built around Schumacher. At the same time, Schumacher was a far superior driver to them. As a result, in these 12 years, he outscored teammates in overall points every year between 28% and 81%—all significant margins. Hamilton’s teammates at McLaren and Mercedes have run him a lot closer than Schumacher’s did.
On three occasions, they have either matched him or outperformed him—notably, Nico Rosberg to the title in 2016. Having said that, Hamilton has been paired with three world champions in his 12 seasons, a period that has also generally seen greater equality among teammates in terms of team support.
It started with his debut season in 2007, when McLaren teamed up Hamilton with reigning world champion Fernando Alonso, and they ended an ill-tempered season even on points, and lost the driver’s title to Ferrari by one point.
If Schumacher is a picture of unbridled aggression, Hamilton makes a statement of controlled aggression, as illustrated by what each made of the good and not-so-good situations they found themselves in. In a good situation, both drivers are close. When he has qualified first, Hamilton has won 57% of the races, while Schumacher won 50%. Hamilton is also marginally ahead in terms of qualifying first and finishing among the top 3 spots (81% to 78%).
But a difference opens when they qualified between fourth and sixth position. Hamilton managed to hold his position or improve 67% of the time, against 51% for Schumacher. Further, this was a window where Schumacher retired far more than Hamilton for reasons ascribed to the driver, like accidents and collisions.
Nine of Schumacher’s 21 accidents, collisions or spins that resulted in his race ending came when he qualified between 4 and 6, and was trying to work his way to a place that marquee drivers feel they own.
howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data.