Caption photo 2: Sir Jackie Stewart, here with late Niki Lauda, says he is not diminishing Hamilton's achievements. Photo / Don Kennedy
Don Kennedy on Formula One
Prior to Lewis Hamilton equalling the mark of 91 F1 victories, set by Michael Schumacher in 2006 when he won the inaugural Eifel GP, Sir Jackie Stewart' had opined that Juan Manual Fangio was the greatest racing driver, followed by Jim Clark.
Hamilton was not impressed by what the three–time world champion had to say on the subject as to who might be the greatest of all time, or GOAT.
"I get knocked by many people, particularly by older drivers," Hamilton told the Daily Mail. "They have a bee in their bonnet. I don't know why.
"I have so much respect for the past legends, even though they continue to speak negatively about me."
Stewart has reacted, insisting he is disappointed Lewis took umbrage with his opinion, which he says was not expressed to minimise what Hamilton is achieving, but rather was in response to a question he was asked.
"I am not trying to diminish Lewis Hamilton and I hold his performances with incredible respect," Stewart told the Press Association.
"He is the best driver of the present time. I am not knocking him down and I am disappointed he thinks that way. What do I have to gain from that? I am 81 years of age.
"I was asked, what did I think about Lewis becoming the most winning driver of all time and if that made him the greatest. I said it was difficult to say that.
"The greatest I believe there has been is Juan Manual Fangio, followed by Clark. But even then, is it correct to say someone is the best?
"Is Lionel Messi better than Pele or Sir Stanley Matthews, who was the greatest of all time when I was a child? Is Roger Federer better than Rod Laver? They are different eras.
"You can say Lewis is the best of his time and that is not in any way demeaning towards him. He is doing a hell of a job, and he is his own man, which is different to Niki Lauda, different to Jackie Stewart, different to Jim Clark and different to Graham Hill."
Judging by his Twitter post, Hamilton despite his bee-in-their-bonnet comment actually agrees with Stewart.
"It's not the most important thing for me to be remembered as the best or the greatest, because I have so much respect for those drivers in the past. I don't feel like I need to compare myself to them because I'm different. We are all different and unique-@Lewis Hamilton©pic.twitter.com/8julmQx209-Mercedes-AMG F1(@MercedesAMGF1)."
Two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen raced against Schumacher when the latter was trying to become world champion with Ferrari, the team he joined in 1996 after taking back-to-back world titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995. Hakkinen won the championship in 1998 and 1999 for McLaren, preventing Schumacher from winning with Ferrari. But when Schumacher did win in 2000, he won five consecutive titles to give him seven in total. Hamilton is all but assured of securing a seventh title for himself, and his sixth since joining Mercedes in 2013.
Hakkinen disagrees with Stewart's comment that the Mercedes car gives Hamilton an "almost unfair advantage".
"To win one grand prix is not easy, so to repeat that so many times over 14 years in Formula 1 is a very special achievement and one that Lewis has every right to be proud of," Hakkinen wrote in his Unibet column.
"To win races and a World Championship requires many things, including a great car, strong teammate and excellent people to support you, and Lewis has benefited from all of those things at Mercedes.
"But you also have to perform yourself, because no matter how good your car is, you have to do the driving, operate the systems in the right way, execute the right strategy and, most importantly of all, be a really good racing driver.
"Lewis's ability to deliver victories, and then to repeat them over time, starting at the age of 21 and continuing now that he is 35, is no easy task," he added.
"I know how much energy it took to win the title twice and, when I stopped racing in Formula 1, I knew it was the right moment - at 33 - so no one should think that what Lewis has done is simply a question of having the best car. It requires ability, fitness, application and focus to keep on winning, and clearly Lewis has found the way to do that."
Hakkinen said he was very happy to see Mick Schumacher present Lewis with one of his father's helmets at the end of the Eifel GP to recognise Hamilton matching his father's record of wins.
"The Schumacher family is very strong, and Michael is a formidable competitor who will be the first to recognise Lewis' achievements, so it was a good moment for Mick to represent him and acknowledge the record of 91 wins was being matched.
"We all now expect it to be broken very soon, and we cannot imagine what the new record will be before Lewis decides to retire," Hakkinen said.
"Michael, of course, still holds records such as the most wins in a single season - 13 - and his place in history is assured, but Lewis is right there with him at the top of the record books."
Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo, who scored his first podium in the Eifel GP for the team he will leave for McLaren at year's end, has also defended Hamilton amid claims he is achieving so much success only because of the Mercedes car.
"His career now has been well over a decade in the sport and to keep coming back and to show that level of consistency at the front, that's not easy," Ricciardo told Autosport.com.
"You can have a package and a car to do it, but it's doing it every weekend when the lights go out. It's easier said than done. Certainly, big respect."
Ricciardo was another to appreciate the gifting of Schumacher's helmet to Hamilton, calling it "one of the coolest gifts I've ever seen in the sport."
Stewart has also commented on the decision of Sebastian Vettel to remain in F1 after being dropped by Ferrari, by joining the Racing Point team that will next year race as Aston Martin.
"Sebastian Vettel is a really nice gentleman, he's had a wonderful career, and I personally would love to see him retire and do what I do, go to some of the best events, get involved with some of the multinational corporations," Stewart said.
"He'd be a great ambassador for the sport apart from everything else. But if he wants to continue it will be because he loves the sport."
Vettel is currently 13th in the drivers' championship with just 17 points, which is 46 less than his teammate Charles Leclerc has in eighth place. Vettel continues to make mistakes. Only time will tell if he can regain his mojo by joining another team, but his current form suggests he has lost his motivation. If he wants to recapture his glory days at Red Bull that brought him four consecutive driver's titles, he need only look to Hamilton.
"I think I can't respect his efforts enough," Vettel acknowledges in reference to Hamilton's achievement of matching Schumacher's 91 race wins.
"It's been the number in my head that I thought would never be beaten or equalled. I think we can be quite certain he will exceed this number. Nevertheless, I have to say that Michael will always be my hero. And I think Michael had something that I haven't seen in another driver so far."
So, what does Hamilton think about setting a new record, which he could well do in the Portuguese GP next week?
"I think its really hard to suddenly be rewriting history, that's a very hard idea for me personally," Hamilton says. "Of course, I've looked at it and I still watch other people who are cool legends in other sports who are chasing historic moments and title and records that were broken by great legends in the past.
"But what I can say is I'm not done yet. I still feel that I'm able to improve. I still feel like I'm driving at a really good level."
However, he claims there are more important things to do out of the car, and would prefer to be remembered as "being a good human being and someone that actually cared about the world and did what they did with great intentions".
If Hamilton is referring to caring for the environment, then he should retire now, because winning a Formula 1 championship is not compatible with aspirations of saving the planet. If he means fighting for racial equality, there is no evidence being Black has hampered his driving career, and he has the respect of past champions. It is hard to imagine what more he could want, but we know he may be the only driver to win 100 F1 races.