Sir Jackie Stewart says he would find it “difficult to justify” labelling Lewis Hamilton as Formula 1’s greatest driver, believing the manner the sport has changed has skewed statistics.
Hamilton is on the brink of equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories and seven titles, having taken 90 wins and six championships so far.
Stewart claimed 27 Formula 1 victories and three titles across the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Speaking to the official Australian Grand Prix podcast he pointed to the differences in the championship’s structure and priorities of drivers across the various eras
“[Juan Manuel] Fangio in my mind is the greatest driver that’s ever lived, with Jim Clark as the second greatest even ahead of [Ayrton] Senna,” said Stewart.
“Those people only raced sometimes maybe six or eight races a year in Formula 1, they were driving sportscars, GTs etc.
“But the world championship now, Lewis or any of the other top contenders today are doing 22 or 21 races, but only in Formula 1, not in touring cars, GT cars, IndyCar or Can-Am, you can’t really compare.
“One year I was driving around the world like an idiot, I went across the Atlantic 86 times, to drive and do business there as well as in the UK.
“The pressure today is much more relaxed, of course they go to the factory and do the simulator but that’s not quite the same. 86 [flights] across the Atlantic, 27 with Concorde, it’s a different world, it’s not the same playing ground.”
Stewart praised Hamilton’s decision to move from McLaren to Mercedes for 2013 but says that the squad’s current advantage has assisted the Briton’s rise.
“Lewis made a very good decision and I take my hat off to him for that,” he said. “But frankly, the car and the engine are now so superior it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field.
“Now you can’t say that, you must take your hat off to Mercedes-Benz, to Toto Wolff and to Niki Lauda for making one hell of a team, for choosing the best engineers, getting the best money that most other teams couldn’t get, apart from Red Bull.
“Therefore it’s not quite the same respect if you like, of being able to do it in the less than the best car.
“And that’s where sometimes there’s the difference [is] between the very, very great drivers and the ones that were very successful.
“It’s difficult to say that about Lewis, not being as good as say Fangio was in my mind and a lot of people would find fault in that.
“I’ve been watching motor-racing for a long time, I was seeing [Alberto] Ascari, [Tazio] Nuvolari, [Rudolf] Caracciola.
“Some of the best racing drivers in the world I saw, Sir Stirling Moss was one of them and he never won a world championship as he never had the right cars. It’s difficult to put that in proper terms, although beating Michael Schumacher is a big thing for him [Hamilton].
“To say that Lewis is the greatest driver of all time, would be difficult for me to justify, if you understand me, in sheer power of what the other drivers were doing.”