Lewis vs Seb – another look

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    I would like to take this moment, when Hamilton has clearly risen above Vettel in this championship and in their legacies, to take a closer look at what I find to be a pretty fascinating rivalry between the two drivers of the same generation, and it might suggest that the public perception in some, admittedly less serious circles, of Hamilton being way better than Vettel is very much exaggerated.

    I would also like to state my opinion at the beginning: Lewis is a class above Sebastian, following this season. I think there can’t be two opinions about that; numbers don’t say everything. Lewis as grown into a better driver, but I do think this particular race is not as over as some people might believe.

    First of all, Lewis Hamilton started his career at a potential season-winning team, the best team of 2007, the McLaren Mercedes. He did go up against Fernando Alonso and showed he was up to par right from the start, although some mistakes ended up costing him the incredible feat of winning the title the first year around.
    The 2018 season was his 12th in Formula 1 – and he had a car with which the Championship title was possible nine times. In terms of car performance alone, he even should have won it in 2008, 2012 and every year since 2014. And yes, the two times he didn’t clinch it, in 2012 and 2016, reliability was an issue, but not only, to be fair.
    Sebastian started his career in 2007, subbing for Kubica in a Williams BMW, and had a stellar first season at Toro Rosso, in 2008, mostly due to an impressive second half of the season. Since then, he has been in a car capable of winning the championship probably seven times. And this might be the first season where he didn’t win the title when he should. I would argue that 2010 it wasn’t a must, and 2012 equally.
    Many things have been said about Seb’s Red Bull years, some in comparison to Lewis’ time at Mercedes. It ranges from comparing their internal competition (Webber vs Rosberg) to comparing the advantage their cars had over the rest of the field. This is, in my view, where maybe the biggest injustices have been done.
    The Red Bull was the best car in 2010, but only by a margin. McLaren was pretty damn close, and Ferrari was closer as the 3rd best team than Red Bull have been this year.
    2011 the Red Bull had a greater advantage, to be sure, but even in its peak year in terms of advantage, it was still a lesser one than Mercedes enjoyed from 2014 to 2016. This is to say that Vettel’s 2011 season has gone under the radar, compared to, say, Hamilton’s 2015 title. I do think that perception plays a role, here. Let’s just say that Vettel was probably closer to perfection in 2011 than Hamilton, with better machinery, in 2015.
    The 2012 season was curious, since one could argue that McLaren had the best car, over a whole season; this argument can be made of the Ferrari in 2018, and I guess in both cases one could argue both sides, which just goes to show the small margins involved. If I am correct, though, numerically, McLaren beat Red Bull in 2012 and Mercedes beat Ferrari in 2018, in terms of % to the fastest car, averaged out over the season. So that title was quite a feat for Vettel, and possibly made it less glamorous for it being the third in a row with the same car, first time that had happened in F1 since the Schumacher/Ferrari years, which were perceived as boring and even bad for the sport in many ways. Curiously, this has not been the case for Hamilton’s title win this year, which has a similar background. It is a perception game, at least part of it, I guess.
    Please not that I believe Hamilton truly has reached another level and Vettel has been left behind, but I wouldn’t say this is definite yet.
    Other arguments involve internal team battles. While Vettel has won 10 and lost 1 in his career, points-wise, Hamilton has beaten his team mates on points 8 out of 12 times. Of course, the numbers don’t say everything, here. Jenson Button had just become WDC when he teamed up with Lewis, and although he beat him twice and also in the total points tally at McLaren, the perception often was that reliability had a say in this. The same argument has been used in 2016; and 2007, Lewis was perceived to have had the better season, but ended up with the same points as two-time reigning WDC Fernando Alonso.
    With Sebastian, people will argue that he beat Webber with the help of the team (although that really isn’t all to fair), being Helmut Marko’s favorite (that was true indeed); his only loss to Danny Ric came in his last RBR year, where he had seemed to find it difficult to get motivation in a car not capable of fighting for wins every weekend. He then beat Kimi very clearly each Ferrari season, although the former WDC was generally viewed as being in decline. I do see those points and find they are mostly fair, but it still doesn’t convince me in total when people say that Lewis has faired better against team mates because they were so much stronger. I think Webber and Nico are comparable, and so are Jenson and Kimi. The advantage I give Lewis because Jenson was at his peak while Kimi wasn’t goes away when you see that he failed to win the points duel four times. Other all-time greats have never failed to beat their team mates as often.
    I do know that I am not considering the team battle between Lewis and Fernando in 2007 to have gone Lewis’ way, although he finished that season in 2nd, ahead of Fernando. But the points tally was equal. One could argue 9-3 in Lewis’ 12 seasons, and I can live with that.

    I am now going to attempt a season by season comparison by their performances alone, starting with 2008. The winner always will receive 3 points, the loser 0 to 2, depending on this perceived relative performance. If you like to join in, comment on these numbers, since I will not do that extensively.
    2008: Lewis 3×2 Sebastian
    2009: Sebastian 3×2 Lewis
    2010: Sebastian 3×2 Lewis
    2011: Sebastian 3×1 Lewis
    2012: Sebastian 3×2 Lewis
    2013: Sebastian 3×2 Lewis
    2014: Lewis 3×0 Sebastian
    2015: Sebastian 3×2 Lewis (Keith agrees with me there, look at the Top Ten)
    2016: Lewis 3×2 Sebastian
    2017: Lewis 3×1 Sebastian
    2018: Lewis 3×0 Sebastian

    In total, that’s 11 seasons, six times Seb ahead, five times Lewis ahead, but Lewis up 26×23 on points.
    Again, I end this post saying that Lewis has climbed a level above Sebastian. But the numbers aren’t the only ones telling me that if Seb were to beat Lewis in a straight fight next year, they would have to share the same level again, in my view.


    Hi there.
    Thank you for this! Well Lewis did grew as a driver, they all do. But the problem is the team. Ferrari lacks support and that’s not the only thing. Because of this, it’s like “having a stressfull and bad day at the office”, which then leads to mistakes comming from both drivers and the team. But the driving isn’t the only thing I look into. Personallity is another factor for me. And that’s the point where Seb shines in.

    These might help you a bit:

    2nd one is really interesting. He beat all those guys in close racing with exacly the same cars. I hope we will witness Lewis vs Seb in the RoC some day. No issues, no motor vs motor, not any factor. Just PURE drivingstyle and Racing!

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