Schumacher & Hamilton: more than just 91 F1 wins in common


With 91 GP wins apiece, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are the greatest F1 drivers of their era. Paul Fearnley examines the many links between them - which point to who may be the greatest of the pair

Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton side by side at Monza during the 2011 Italian Grand Prix

Schumacher and Hamilton on track in Monza, 2011

Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images

Mick Schumacher’s presenting of one of his father’s crash helmets in touching tribute to Lewis Hamilton at the Nürburgring on Sunday was also a reminder that eras come and go, and that life is short and unsure.

Michael and Lewis barely overlapped on the track. Schumacher was elbowed out of Ferrari the year before Hamilton arrived as Formula 1’s best prepared – and best, as it turned out – rookie. And at the end of 2012 they swapped helmets to mark Schumacher’s leaving F1 – after three underwhelming extra seasons with Mercedes-Benz – and Hamilton’s joining the Silver Arrows.

Yet they are linked in many ways above and beyond their 91 grand prix wins – and soon to be seven world titles – apiece.

Both were born in January, albeit 16 years apart. Both are blue-collar heroes. Both families made sacrifices for them to achieve their dream. Both immediately caught the eye at the highest level. Both were fundamental to the revival of sleeping giants. Both used their status and wealth to reach out, support and inspire in the wider world. And both divided opinion as they did so.

Their F1 records, of course, are too big to ignore – and contain parallel themes; increasingly so if those painful last 58 GPs without a win for Schumacher 2.0 are, ahem, glossed over.

Spend 15 seasons – coming up 14 in Hamilton’s case – operating at the sharp end of an extremely competitive environment and you are bound to experience highs and (relative) lows, no matter how good you are. The keys to it are digging in during the darker days and making hay while the sun shines.

Michael Schumacher celebrates winning his first Formula 1 championship with Corinna at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide

Schumacher celebrates his first title win after the controversial '94 Australian GP

Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning his first Formula 1 race

A dramatic end to the '08 Brazilian GP brought Hamilton his first F1 championship

Getty Images

Let’s deal with the latter first: Schumacher was twice crowned world champion while winning 19 of 69 GPs during four full seasons with Benetton; Hamilton was crowned once while winning 21 of 110 GPs during six seasons with McLaren.

They were just warming up.

Schumacher added five more titles and 72 wins in 181 GPs over 11 seasons – one of which was ruined by injury – with Ferrari; Hamilton has added five more titles and 70 wins in 151 GPs over seven-and-a-half seasons with Mercedes-Benz.

For much of that time, of course, they were in the best car. Winning aboard inferior equipment is perhaps a more illuminating test of greatness.

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Both Schumacher and Hamilton tackled five seasons with packages demonstrably second-best, or worse. They scored at least one victory in each and every one of those seasons and mined 11 from the 84 GPs (Schumacher) and 13 from the 94 GPs contained therein.

Schumacher finished a combined 21 places higher in the final standings than his various team-mates, who had not a single win between them, and scored 43.75 per cent more points. (The latter figure admittedly includes the 78 docked for his inglorious part in Jerezgate in 1997.)

Hamilton was not so obviously dominant in times of ‘hardship’. He was a combined eight places higher and just 3.35 per cent better off than his team-mates, who mustered 10 wins between them.

There are caveats: quality of team-mate; capability of ‘second- or third- rate’ car; ethos of team; and a more generous redistribution of points from 2010.

Only recently – and still yet not to the same obvious extent – has Hamilton had a team wrap itself around him, as did Benetton and Ferrari with Schumacher. And for four of those five seasons he had a past and future world champion team-mate.

Jenson Button got into Hamilton’s head in a way that Messrs Brundle, Patrese, Irvine and Barrichello could not/were not allowed to with Schumacher.

And Nico Rosberg, who scored two wins to Hamilton’s one during their first season together at Mercedes-Benz in 2013, would follow Button’s lead – albeit with rather more false bonhomie – to win the 2016 title.

Michael Schumacher celebrates winning in Monaco alongside Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine

Schumacher had the measure of Barrichello & Irvine

Clive Mason /Allsport

Nico Rosberg celebrates winning the Chinese Grand Prix with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on the podium

Rosberg and Button proved tough team-mates for Hamilton

Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Hamilton has no doubt improved continually since. The first four GPs of 2016 were arguably the last time that he took the foot off the gas. Certainly smart guy Rosberg – physically and mentally spent after a monumental effort – knew what was coming and sensibly ducked out, bragging rights intact.

The only ‘team-mate’ to get under Schumacher’s skin was Luca di Montezemolo’s future-proof signing of Kimi Räikkönen for 2007.

Prior to his departing Ferrari in response, Schumacher’s 91 wins had come at a rate of one every 2.7 starts. By the time of his second retirement this had been skewed and ‘slumped’ to 3.36.

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It has taken Hamilton 15 more starts to reach 91 – 261 to Schumacher’s 246 – but his current rate of one win every 2.87 starts is bettered only by two: Juan Fangio (2.13) and Alberto Ascari (2.46) – world champion greats of a very different age.

Is it possible to compare then with now?

The great Sir Jackie Stewart – win rate 3.67 – cast doubt on the matter with his recent listing of Fangio, Jim Clark (2.88) and Ayrton Senna (3.93) as a top three.

Firstly, he is entitled to his opinion. Secondly, that opinion carries great weight because of his achievements. Thirdly, his reasoning understandably contains biases: personal friendships, and the decreasing element of life-threatening danger in F1 – something that he is hailed as being largely responsible for. And fourthly, that’s not a bad list to be fourth on – without wishing to second-guess Sir Jackie’s unannounced choice.


Hamilton and Schumacher in Shanghai in 2012

Liu Jin/AFP via Getty Images

But are Schumacher and Hamilton so far removed from one another that comparison is inequitable?

Their F1 careers have followed broadly similar paths and the mindboggling statistics generated underpin the same story: indubitably they were/are the best of their eras.

But should one feel a need to rate them – I fall into the Hamilton camp – it will likely be moments and memories, both good and bad, plus informed opinions and gut-feel, that decree any order: the how rather than the how many.

So let the debate begin – on the understanding that Schumacher’s current plight and Hamilton’s shining a light on life’s bigger picture/problems has put F1 into perspective as just a bit of (serious) fun.

Lewis Hamilton in front of a pitboard marking his record-equalling 91st Formula 1 victory in the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring