The teams are confirmed, the cars ready, the fans full of anticipation. All that can only mean one thing… Formula 1 is finally back! And, right from the first race this weekend in Melbourne, it promises to be an exciting year.
Ferrari appear to have done the best work during the off-season, and their car was the fastest during pre-season testing. As a result, Sebastian Vettel will be well within a chance to add to his four World Championship titles this time around.
There is also plenty of cause for optimism at Red Bull. An engine supplier change, with Renault being replaced by Honda, has enabled their lead driver Max Verstappen to enter the grid in a healthy position. He will be looking to improve on the two race wins he was able to pick up in 2018.
However, Lewis Hamilton is still the man to beat. The Briton won last year’s title by 88 points, winning seven of the last 11 races to triumph for the fifth time of his career. Despite Ferrari’s improvement, the Mercedes man is still the favourite to eventually come out on top.
Should he again prevail, he would find himself just one championship behind legend Michael Schumacher. Little has been heard about the German since his horrific skiing accident in 2013, but no-one will forget the way he dominated the sport during the late 90s and early 00s.
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He is considered by many to be the greatest driver ever to have graced the sport, but there is a growing consensus that Hamilton may one day dethrone him in the land of the greats. Nico Rosberg has said in the last week that he believes the current champion has more natural talent than Schumacher. But how do they compare so far?
Schumacher: 7 - Hamilton: 5
As it stands, Schumacher currently leads the way. The German picked up a record seven Championships in an F1 career spanning 15 years, including five titles in a row between 2000 and 2004.
Hamilton is two behind on five. He first lifted the trophy in 2008, in just his second season in the competition. He then went five years without an overall victory, before triumphing in four of the last five campaigns.
At the age of 34, one would think he still has at least a couple more years left at the top. Schumacher himself retired the first time around when he was 37, winning his last title aged 35.
Hamilton: 83 - Schumacher: 68
The very best always look to lead from the front, and there are no better than Hamilton and Schumacher. They occupy the top two positions in the all-time list of most pole positions, although Hamilton has a clear advantage, having recorded the fastest lap in qualifying 83 times, 15 more than Schumacher. That is 36.24% and 22.08% of their respective careers.
Even if Schumacher’s numbers from his return are removed, he would still only have been on pole 26.77% of the time. In terms of pole position percentage, only Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Alberto Ascari and Ayrton Senna have recorded higher numbers than Hamilton.
Schumacher: 155 - Hamilton: 134
Whilst it is not always possible to win each race, it is vital for a title contender to regularly find a way to stay close to his rivals. Podium finishes are generally considered the minimum. So how do the two titans of the sport match up?
During his time in F1, Schumacher was on the grid 308 times, finishing in the top three during 155 of those. Hamilton, meanwhile, has stood on one of the top three steps on no less than 134 occasions. Percentage-wise, Lewis Hamilton’s 58.52% dwarfs Michael Schumacher’s 50.32%.
However, this does not tell the full story. If we take away the races from the German’s ill-fated return to the sport in 2010 until he retired for the second time in 2012, he finished in the top three 154 times in 254 races. This would work out at a percentage of 60.63%, which would put him above Hamilton. Schumacher was on the podium just once in 45 outings during his second spell.
Percentage of races finished in the points
Hamilton: 83.84% - Schumacher: 71.75%
In a sport like F1, with so many variables, it sometimes isn’t always possible to finish right at the front. But if you want to pick up titles, then finishing in the points is an absolute must. And once again, nobody plays the percentages quite like Lewis Hamilton. In his 12-year career, he has scored in 83.84% of all the races. He leads the all-time list in this area as well.
Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, only finished in the top 8 – or 10 depending on the scoring system - 71.75% of the time, which puts him at number six. The removal of his second spell would see the number rise to 75.59%, but it is still way off Hamilton.
Hamilton: 3,018 - Schumacher: 1,566
A lot of things in F1 are uncertain, but there is one undeniable fact: points win Championships. And Lewis Hamilton has taken that to heart more than any other. His accumulative 3018 points puts him over 200 ahead of second-placed Vettel, with Schumacher way down in sixth on half of that gigantic number.
It is important to remember, however, that the F1 scoring system has changed several times down the years. During Schumacher’s apogee, the maximum number of points on offer was 10 for a race win, compared to 25 since 2010. In fact, all points were at least doubled for each position since the system was overhauled at the start of the decade.
Were all overall points adapted to the current system, Schumacher would lead Hamilton by over 500, as he would have picked up the full 25 instead of just 10 on plenty of occasions. The two lead the way, with Vettel in 3rd place.
It is hard to compare two of the greatest drivers in racing history. Looking at the statistics, Hamilton may end up being the more popular choice should he continue at his current rate. But, at the same time, other than Ayrton Senna, it is hard to remember anyone embodying Formula 1 like Schumacher did at his peak. Hamilton and the German also come from different eras, although their careers overlapped when Schumacher was briefly back in the sport.
Either way, the two are undoubtedly amongst the best to ever step inside a racing car. It will be interesting to see whether Hamilton can further enhance the already unforgettable legacy he will ultimately leave when he eventually hangs up his helmet.