If 42 was the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, then 41 would appear to be the measure of greatness in Formula 1.
Coming into the Singapore GP weekend it felt like nothing else mattered. Forget that Schumacher had 91 wins. Forget that Prost had 51. Senna had 41 wins and all the hype surrounding the week before was that Hamilton was set to equal his hero’s record. Stats fans like to separate the emotion from any argument when it comes to Senna. It serves a great purpose. We are supposed to ignore the fact that had he not been killed it is a given that Senna would have added more wins and more titles to his glittering career before it was tragically cut short. Even if he hadn’t beaten Schumacher in 94 or 95 then he would surely have added two more titles in 96 and 97. Context. It is something that is often ignored when statistics are being applied. So we ignore that had he been allowed to see out what seemed like his destiny he would be sat alongside the likes of Schumacher and Fangio as one of the greats of Formula 1. Instead when Formula 1 arrived at Singapore, Senna’s record was laid out like a mantle. There to be taken up by a would-be heir to the throne.
Coming into Singapore, Hamilton seemed set to match Senna’s 41 race wins in 161 races, but he apparently had only realised such possibility.
“I only found out after the last race and to see it almost correlates with the career Ayrton had… I couldn’t believe it. Naturally it feels really amazing. It was a goal I set when I was a kid and I’m very close. It may or may not happen this weekend, there is still a serious challenge ahead of me but I am just grateful to be up there. It is a milestone I am approaching in my career. I’ve prepared as best I can to win this world championship so there is no extra pressure with this landmark, just lots to gain from coming here and performing well. I don’t feel particularly under pressure but if I was to achieve the same amount as Ayrton it would be very emotional.”
The landmark in question, not just matching the race wins, but also taking as many titles as Ayrton.
When Schumacher matched Senna’s total of 41 race wins at Monza in 2000 his reaction was pure emotion.
As a Senna fan I’m always uncomfortable with comparisons like this. The main reason for me is that he was my hero. He was the reason I became such a massive Formula 1 fan in the 80’s and 90’s. There is no hiding from it though. Senna is the drivers’ driver. Matching his achievements is a big deal, but it’s not the whole story. Taking emotion out of it there is another reason I’m slow to declare Hamilton Senna-esque. It does Hamilton an injustice. Hamilton is unique in what he brings to Formula 1. Like him or loathe him McLaren and Mercedes broke the mould when Hamilton’s raw speed and Hip Hop style took hold of Formula 1. He brings an entirely different audience to Formula 1.
He’s not peerless though and Formula 1 is blessed with another current driver who has already surpassed the records Hamilton is set to pass. Sebastian Vettel. So let’s add him for context. While we are at it lets add Prost and Schumacher too.
Some have recently targeted the quality of drivers on the grid. The fact is there have always been pay drivers and that will never change. What we do have though is two of the greatest drivers ever to grace the sport. Senna’s greatness may have been cut short, but if we look at the results for Vettel and Hamilton they are over the same, (and in Vettel’s case shorter,) timescale. So, as much as I resist it, there can be no denying that statistically, they are as successful as Ayrton’s, although his banzai qualifying laps would statistically appear to be without equal. That said, Vettel’s qualifying lap in Singapore was truly breath-taking. These are the type of laps that Formula 1 fans live for. Man and machine in harmony and yet absolutely devastating. If we were to label something as Senna-esque then for me it would be THAT lap which put Vettel on pole.
It’s easy to dismiss their domination as good timing. If you wanted to look at a phenomenal talent with utterly terrible timing you need look no further than Fernando Alonso. 2 times champion and very nearly 4 in his battle against Vettel and Red Bull in his time at Ferrari but drivers do not dominate without an equally dominant car, as has been shown in his and Button’s heroic efforts being constantly thwarted by the lethargic McLaren Honda this season.
Great drivers need great cars.
Vettel had a Red Bull that used Exhaust Blown Diffusers to their maximum. The pairing of Senna and Prost at McLaren was the most dominant team in the history of Formula 1, winning all bar the Monza GP that season when fate intervened and gave Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari a win. Even now Mercedes hasn’t dominated in such fashion. This is where Vettel has the opportunity for a second coming in terms of how he is viewed. It’s easy to dismiss dominating in one team. It’s quite different to leave the comfort of that team and rebuild another. Both drivers look set to move past both Senna and Prost. If we are lucky one of them might rival the phenomenal achievements of Schumacher. Even if they don’t the only regret I have about the drivers in Formula 1 right now is that these two aren’t in the same car.
Now that I’d pay good money to see.