Thanks to seven world titles each and 186 wins in total, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are the two most successful Formula 1 drivers of all-time.
Both drivers have delivered some of the best performances in the sport’s history, and both have driven some of the greatest F1 cars to grace the grid. Although Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996 and Hamilton began his Mercedes career in 2013, you can't help but compare the two legendary names from different eras.
While fans and pundits may fall on either side of the debate when it comes to who is the better driver, what is certain is that both men are synonymous with excellence.
Schumacher was already a double world champion when he moved to Ferrari in 1996, but he joined a team that was anything but a title contender. However the German managed to turn things around immediately, winning his first race with the Italian team in his first season thanks to a stunning victory at the Spanish Grand Prix in torrential rain.
Monaco 1997 saw Schumacher at his best when he romped away from the field to build a gap of over a minute. For context, he was 22 seconds ahead of the second-place car after five laps. He replicated this performance later that year at Spa-Francorchamps in similar rainy conditions.
Hamilton has not had as many opportunities to show his class in the wet during his time at Mercedes. Having said that, he has managed to win nine rain affected races in a row, starting with Japan 2014 and that pivotal comeback drive in Germany 2018.
The sixth race in that run was the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix. While the event may be remembered for Max Verstappen’s drive, Hamilton was in dominant form, controlling the gap to teammate Nico Rosberg in treacherous conditions.
Heroics in Hungary
Hungary 1998 was one of Schumacher’s greatest drives in Formula 1. Ferrari team principal Ross Brawn came up with a unique three-stop strategy which hinged on Schumacher pumping out consecutive qualifying laps to execute the masterplan.
Emphatically, Schumacher delivered as he broke records by pushing his car to the absolute limit to build a 25 second lead and emerge ahead of Mika Hakkinen.
Hamilton’s victory at the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix was reminiscent of Schumacher’s 1998 performance. The Briton was stuck behind Max Verstappen so Mercedes unexpectedly pulled him into the pits, threw on some fresh tyres and told Hamilton to close a 20-second gap in 21 laps.
With three laps to go, he completed his chase to win another classic in Budapest.
Winning the championship in style
At the 1999 British Grand Prix, Schumacher broke his leg and many argue he would have been an eight-time world champion had he not been absent for six rounds that year.
Nevertheless, he finally gave Ferrari their dream with one of the greatest drives to win a championship at Suzuka the following year under the greatest of pressure. Mika Hakkinen was there to stop Schumacher achieving his goal of winning the title with Ferrari so the German was forced to risk it all to win the race, and win the championship.
Throughout the weekend, Hakkinen and Schumacher were driving at their peak. Hakkinen jumped Schumacher at the start and from there they pulled away from the rest of the field, putting in qualifying-type laps on one of the best race tracks in the world.
They were right on the limit and after the second round of pit stops, Schumacher overcut his Finnish rival to win the race and the championship.
Hamilton’s victory at the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix summed up his strengths. At half distance, many ruled Hamilton out of contention for the win but his incredible tyre management helped turn his intermediate tyres into almost slicks.
When others pitted for fresh rubber, the Brit carried on and somehow kept enough tread on his wheels to avoid an extra pit stop. Tyre management is the area where Hamilton has grown as a driver, to the point that he's in a league of his own amongst his peers.
During his McLaren days he was known for taking too much out of the Pirelli rubber, but now he is able to maintain a high pace without the tyres degrading whereas most drivers slow down as their stint goes on.
You can’t teach how to treat the tyres like Hamilton does, it’s all about driver instinct. Earlier in 2020 at Portimao, he had a poor start but overtook teammate Bottas with ease and cruised away due to his tyre skills, showing that outright speed is not everything.
For drivers, the best comparison in Formula 1 is made against your teammate. Rubens Barrichello could never challenge Schumacher and was forced to play second fiddle during the German's five consecutive championship wins between 2000 and 2004.
While Schumacher never let a teammate get the best of him at Ferrari, the same cannot be said for Hamilton at Mercedes. The 2016 season will be remembered for Rosberg’s mammoth efforts to become Formula 1 world champion.
On paper it was a poor year by Hamilton’s high standards, but he had some terrible luck as well. Everyone knows about his engine blow up in Malaysia when on course for the win, but he also suffered misfortune at other events while Rosberg avoided trouble for the most part.
Hamilton was forced to start from the back in China and Belgium due to engine issues, turned around immediately at the Bahrain Grand Prix and struggled off the line at Monza and Suzuka due to car issues. The fact Hamilton still had a fighting chance and finished just five points behind Rosberg was impressive.
No doubt the Mercedes man learned a lot from that agonising loss, making him an even tougher driver. Ferrari proved to be a genuine title challenger to Mercedes in 2017 and 2018, and Hamilton revelled at the prospect of going up against the biggest team in the sport and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The Brit made the difference during both of those championship campaigns with amazing consistency and very few errors. Many believe had Hamilton driven with Ferrari in 2018, he still would have won the championship.
Schumacher showcased great consistency too. He finished outside of the podium on just three occasions in 2001 and was on the podium at every event of the 2002 season.
Thriving in adversity
Hamilton’s success at Mercedes started in 2014 and his Bahrain win that year sent a message to the rest of the field. On slower tyres, Hamilton defended brilliantly against Rosberg in one of the greatest teammate battles in recent memory. You will have a tough job finding a better tussle between drivers in the same team in any motorsport category.
Another great duel was the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix. Hamilton needed to be on top of his game in a race-long scrap against Vettel. It’s one of Hamilton’s most underrated Grand Prix victories, as he had to fight hard to catch his rival before finally making a move stick into turn one.
Schumacher has had numerous underdog moments as well. Fernando Alonso and Renault finally put an end to Schumacher and Ferrari’s reign in 2005, but the German came back fighting 12 months later.
In his final year with Ferrari, Alonso beat Schumacher over the season but the latter had one more spectacular drive at the Brazilian Grand Prix, his last race in red. Any chances of winning an eighth world championship were put to bed when he suffered a puncture on the opening lap after a collision with Giancarlo Fisichella.
This put Schumacher nearly one lap down but somehow, he came back through the field magnificently to finish fourth without the help of a safety car, 24 seconds behind race winner and teammate Felipe Massa. It summed up Schumacher’s time at Ferrari, blistering pace that could be sustained over a race distance of 300km.
So who is better?
Comparing eras is tough especially when Formula 1 nowadays is not all about flat out racing. The game has changed and the way Schumacher drove in his Ferrari days would no longer work in the Pirelli era.
Both drivers have mastered the conditions and situations they raced in. Hamilton is the cleaner of the two drivers, whereas Schumacher was prepared to go over the limit and was penalised for some of his controversial actions. The German had more of the team around him than the Brit and was the outright number one. Hamilton’s numbers are better too and he was able to wrap up championships early when they could have gone down to the final race.
They are both incredible sportsmen and will be remembered in F1 history forever, so what is the difference between Schumacher at Ferrari and Hamilton at Mercedes?
Schumacher’s blistering pace and consistency makes him the most complete F1 driver of all-time. His ability to operate at the peak of his powers race after race was unprecedented and he took the sport to new levels. A peak Schumacher beats a peak Hamilton.
The German had a remarkable 44 wins prior to 2001 despite not being in a dominant car, and he gave Ferrari a fighting chance in 1997 and 1998 even though his machine was inferior to Williams and McLaren. No other driver at the time would have dreamed of being anywhere near the front in those years.
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Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes vs. Michael Schumacher at Ferrari
|Driver||Lewis Hamilton||Michael Schumacher|
|Front row starts||110||89|