Lewis Hamilton on Monday deflected all suggestions that he might be the greatest Formula One driver of all time, saying that seven-time champion Michael Schumacher remains the man who most deserves that label.
The 33-year-old Briton, who on Sunday clinched his fifth drivers’ title when he finished fourth for Mercedes in the Mexican Grand Prix, rejected consideration of himself as the greatest in history, citing his father Anthony’s mantra to “do your talking on the track.”
Hamilton’s achievement drew him level with the sport’s ‘godfather’ Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles with only German Schumacher ahead on seven.
Schumacher, with 91, also has more race victories, another target for Hamilton during the two remaining years of his current Mercedes contract.
But the Englishman put such statistical ambitions into a distant perspective when he adopted a modest role on his own triumphant career.
“Firstly, I could never personally classify myself as the best,” said Hamilton.
“Obviously, within myself, I know my abilities and where I stand, but ultimately, as my dad always told me since I was eight years old — he said ‘do your talking on the track’.
“So I just try to let my results and the results from the things that I do outside of my sport, hopefully, also contribute to that. So people can hopefully create a decent opinion.
“But Michael’s still quite far ahead in race wins so you have to say he is still the GOAT (greatest of all time).”
Discussion of Hamilton’s standing in the exclusive club of the sport’s multiple champions had started in earnest before he overcame chronic tyre-wear problems to secure his fifth title at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 champion, said that he felt the way in which Hamilton had succeeded throughout his career put him way “miles” clear of Schumacher in the evaluation of the greats.
Villeneuve said that Schumacher’s career had been accompanied by “too many negative stories — too many question marks on how some races or championships were won. And being a great champion is about more than just winning races.”
He added that Hamilton, despite some criticism of his private lifestyle, had risen without any such negativity.
“You can like, or not, the way he is in life, but there’s nothing nasty or negative with it. There’s nothing nasty towards his opponents. There’s respect.
“There’s no question mark on ‘Is he cheating or not? Has he been dirty?’ That makes a big difference.”
Hamilton’s former Mercedes team-mate 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, who has known him since the pair were junior karting team-mates, said he believed he can go on to break all of Schumacher’s records.
“He can seriously go for Schumacher’s records now,” he said.
“He’s got two more years on the contract and ‘Schumi’ is only two titles and 20 race wins away. That’s possible in two years. Amazing.
“He can really try and statistically become the best of all time, which is unreal, but it is a possibility. So I’m sure he’s going to be motivated by that.”
Hamilton signed a contract extension earlier this year that will keep him with Mercedes until the end of 2020.
He is only 20 adrift of Schumacher’s 91 race wins and could make inroads into that total in the two final races this year in Brazil and Abu Dhabi when the constructors’ championship will also be settled with Ferrari bidding to end Mercedes’ triumphant four-year run.
Hamilton has always resisted talk of record-breaking, saying merely that he may be “hoping I can at least get close,” and reiterated after Sunday’s race that he had “not really put any thought towards getting to that number because I’ve been trying to focus on this one.”
He added: “Whether or not I’m going to have the chance to win more, who knows? But I’m going to give it everything. The 91 wins that he has, for example, that’s a lot of wins.
“Michael was just such a genius in how he implemented himself into Ferrari and what he did with that team. I will always be a fan of him.”