Sir Jackie Stewart does not believe Lewis Hamilton can be considered in the top-three Formula 1 drivers of all time despite him standing on the verge of history this season.
Hamilton goes into this weekend's Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring one victory shy of Michael Schumacher's record of 91 F1 race wins, while the Briton is on course to also match the German's mark of seven titles.
Yet Stewart feels the current era of F1 does not compare to that in the 1950s, '60s and '70s when considerably shorter F1 seasons meant drivers were forced to compete in several other categories.
"I don't think you can account for that sort of level of success just because today there are 20, 22 races," assessed Stewart, speaking on the Australian Grand Prix Corporation's 'In The Fast Lane' podcast.
“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.
“Those people only raced maybe sometimes six to eight or nine races a year in Formula 1. They were driving sports cars, GT cars etcetera.
“But the world championship now, Lewis 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 nor in Can-Am cars, so therefore, 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 in America, as well as in the UK. Nobody would do that today.
“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.
"Those 86 [flights] across the Atlantic, that was 27 of them with Concorde, so it’s a different world. It’s not the same playing ground.”
Stewart is hoping that when the new regulations come into force in 2022, Mercedes' era of dominance will finally come to an end, with the manufacturer set to clinch its seventh successive constructors' title this season.
Asked whether he believed such dominance could be repeated, he replied: "I hope not because it's not good for the sport.
"Lewis drives extremely well, make no mistake. I'm not in any way diminishing his skills, but it isn't the same
“Lewis made a very good decision when he left McLaren 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."
Stewart highlighted the fact Fangio won four of his five titles with different manufacturers, while Hamilton is set to win his sixth with Mercedes.
“You must take your hat off to Mercedes-Benz, to Toto Wolff and to Niki Lauda before that when they were working together to make one hell of a team, for choosing the best engineers, getting the best money that most other teams couldn’t get, apart from, say, Red Bull," added Stewart.
“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’s where 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.
“To say that Lewis is the greatest driver of all time, would be difficult for me to justify, in the sheer power of what the other drivers were doing.”
To my mind, the drivers of a by gone day, who had to use clutch, gear lever and brains, and really get down to business of driving to their own ability without radio contact, were to me the men to beat. No tyre changes in less there was a puncture. Those were the days. Look at the tenacity and bravery of the late Niki Lauda to come back after 6weeks and do his utmost to win a title, and when he thought it not safe to race in wet weather that was not fitting for the occasion, stopped in the pits and said my life is more important. That to me is a true champion.
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