Three-times world champion Sir Jackie Stewart says Lewis Hamilton’s near-record-breaking success doesn’t necessarily make him the greatest driver in Formula 1 history.

Hamilton is on course to equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time records of 91 race wins and seven world championship titles this year. But Stewart, the oldest world champion still alive, said it is hard to compare Hamilton’s success to the champions of his era.

“I don’t think that you can account [for] that sort of level of success, just because today there are 20, 22 races, whereas in the old days when for example Juan Manuel Fangio… raced maybe sometimes six, eight or nine races a year in Formula 1,” Stewart told the In The Fast Lane podcast.

“They were driving sports cars, GT cars et cetera. But in the world championship now, Lewis Hamilton or any of the other top contenders today, are doing 22 races or 21 races but only in Formula 1. Not in touring cars, not in GT cars, not in IndyCars, not in Can-Am cars. So therefore, you can’t really compare.”

Fangio is still the greatest, says Stewart

Stewart said the superiority of Hamilton’s Mercedes is “not good for the sport”, and also makes it harder to compare his success with that of past champions.

“Lewis drives extremely well, make no mistake, I’m not in any way diminishing his skills, but it isn’t the same,” said Stewart.

“Lewis made a very good decision when he left McLaren at that time and went to Mercedes-Benz. And I take my hat off to him for making that decision. But frankly, the car and the engine are now so superior that it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field.

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“Now, you can’t say that. You must take your hat off to Mercedes-Benz, to Toto Wolff and of course, Niki Lauda before that, they were working together to make one hell of a team, choosing the best engineers, getting the best money that most other teams couldn’t get apart from, say, Red Bull.

“Therefore, it’s not quite the same respect, if you like, of being able to do it in less than the best car. And that’s where sometimes there was a difference between the very, very great drivers and the ones that were very successful.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2012
Hamilton is on course to break Schumacher’s records

“So it’s difficult to say that about Lewis not being as good as, say, Fangio was in my mind. A lot of people would find fault in that. But I’ve been watching motor racing and luckily, as a wee boy, my brother was a racing driver and I was going with him to races and seeing Ascari and Nuvolari and Caracciola and people like that. Some of the best racing drivers in the world, I saw.

“Stirling Moss was certainly one of them and he never won a world championship because he never drove the right cars, he always went to drive British teams, that sort of thing. So it’s difficult to put that in proper terms.”

Stewart said he still considers Fangio, who won five world championships in the fifties, as F1’s all-time great.

“Juan Manuel Fangio in my mind is the greatest driver that’s ever lived,” he said, “with Jim Clark as the second-greatest, even ahead of [Ayrton] Senna.”

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