Lewis Hamilton's longevity cements status as one of F1's all-time greats

 JULY 23: F1 pilot Lewis Hamilton arrives to take part in the practice session at the Circuit Paul Ricard ahead of the Formula 1 Lenovo Grand Prix de France in Le Castellet, France on July 22, 2022 - JULY 23: F1 pilot Lewis Hamilton arrives to take part in the practice session at the Circuit Paul Ricard ahead of the Formula 1 Lenovo Grand Prix de France in Le Castellet, France on July 22, 2022 - GETTY IMAGES
JULY 23: F1 pilot Lewis Hamilton arrives to take part in the practice session at the Circuit Paul Ricard ahead of the Formula 1 Lenovo Grand Prix de France in Le Castellet, France on July 22, 2022 - JULY 23: F1 pilot Lewis Hamilton arrives to take part in the practice session at the Circuit Paul Ricard ahead of the Formula 1 Lenovo Grand Prix de France in Le Castellet, France on July 22, 2022 - GETTY IMAGES

Amongst all the eye-watering statistics and records that Lewis Hamilton holds, the longevity of his career is one that is often overlooked. Yet with little chance of adding to his win tally of 103 races at Sunday’s French Grand Prix, it is likely to be his standout statistic of this weekend.

Five men have raced in more grands prix: Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher at 306, Rubens Barrichello (322), Fernando Alonso (345) and Kimi Raikkonen (350) are the only men above him.

Alonso is still fighting near, if not exactly at, the front at 40 years old and with little sign of his skills diminishing. Given Hamilton’s ability, fitness and the potential to be the only man with eight world championships, you would expect there is a good chance that he could yet surpass them all. And with increasingly long seasons - there will be 24 races next year - it is not out of the question that Hamilton could become F1’s first 400-race driver.

The comparison to Alonso is a pertinent one. Earlier this week Hamilton praised Alonso as his toughest competitor in his 15-and-a-half seasons at the top of motorsport. The two drove as McLaren team-mates in the Briton’s debut season in 2007, with the rookie finishing ahead, despite losing out on the title.

“I remember the task of being alongside Fernando when I was 22,” Hamilton said.

“I was so young mentally and, of course, OK in terms of skill but it’s a lot of pressure to go up against a great like Fernando.

“I would say on pure pace, Fernando [is the toughest he has faced]. We had some good battles. I wish we could have more. Hopefully he will continue to race so hopefully we’ll have more in the future.”

Alonso repaid the compliment, congratulating Hamilton on a triple century of races. “He had the talent already in 2007, he still has the talent now with experience.

“He has been a tremendous driver, a legend of our sport, so it has always been a pleasure to share all this time with him.”

 Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen...British McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, center, waves with his teammate Fernando Alonso, right, of Spain and Finnish Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen after qualifying for Sunday's Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway circuit in Oyama, west of Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007 - AP
Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen...British McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, center, waves with his teammate Fernando Alonso, right, of Spain and Finnish Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen after qualifying for Sunday's Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway circuit in Oyama, west of Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007 - AP

The stats that Hamilton has behind him after 299 races are staggering. There are few categories where he doesn’t lead the way and even in some of those he is a close second to Schumacher.

He has 103 wins and 103 pole positions, has led every lap of a race 23 times, has more than 4,200 points, 60 fastest laps and has taken a hat-trick of pole position, fastest lap and win 19 times. But do these numbers mark him out as the greatest of all time? Or just the most successful of all time? More so the latter.

It is impossible and difficult to compare Hamilton to the finest drivers of F1’s different eras. The fundamentals of the sport are the same and they drive at some of the same venues, but that is about it. Comparing Hamilton’s successes and his statistical landmarks to Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart or even Ayrton Senna is a task that will never get to the heart of the matter.

It is even difficult to fairly compare him to some of his contemporaries. The similarities are there with Schumacher. They are both supreme over one lap and dominated the sport in the best car for several years, racking up multiple titles and scores of victories. Yet, when it comes to sportsmanship, Hamilton has not crossed the line anywhere near as much. That perhaps makes him a better ‘champion’, if not the better driver.

There is also, perhaps, a tendency to underrate some of his title triumphs. He and Mercedes had to come back from behind in both 2017 and 2018 to take both championships. Yes, Ferrari’s challenge fell apart as the season went on, but Hamilton was arguably driving at his finest in those years, especially the second halves.

Alonso might be the only try rival of Hamilton's who compares in talent and longevity

In 2018, after losing to Vettel at the British Grand Prix (a rare Silverstone defeat) to go even further behind in the championship, he reeled off eight wins in the final 11 races. The pivotal moment in that season was another Hamilton masterclass in the wet at Hockenheim. Vettel crashed out in the damp but the Mercedes driver mastered the conditions to take an improbable victory from 14th on the grid. And let us not forget the end of the 2021 season, where the title slipped from his grasp through no fault of his own on the very last lap. That could have been his finest triumph of all.

Returning to Alonso, the Spaniard is, perhaps, the only true rival Hamilton has faced who compares in the talent - and longevity - stakes. Alonso’s winning days are well behind him and his return of two championships and 32 race wins seems paltry compared to his former team-mate’s and even small compared to what he could have achieved with better decisions and in better cars. Whilst Alonso’s career choices look questionable, Hamilton played a masterstroke with his move to Mercedes from McLaren in 2013. A decade later he has become the sport’s most decorated driver.

It is easy to say that Hamilton has achieved stratospheric heights due to being the best driver in the best car for a prolonged period of time. There is some truth in that but it is an oversimplification that does a disservice to both his consistency and longevity at the very top. The best drivers tend to end up in the quickest cars for a reason and he deserves credit for Mercedes’ successes.  Above all, it is undeniable that he is the best driver of his generation and deserves his place amongst the most storied names in F1.