Hamilton has two, Senna has three, Vettel has four. The stark reality of F1 World Championship wins puts Vettel ahead of the other two. Race wins, for the time being, also puts him ahead of Senna and Hamilton, with himself on 42, Senna on 41 and Hamilton on 40.
Of course, if all goes to plan, Lewis Hamilton will eclipse Senna’s (and Vettel’s) number of race wins, with the superior Mercedes car, and win his third world championship, drawing him equal with the Brazilian on that front. However, it is a mark of the nature of both Hamilton and Vettel’s dominance, and the sense of just how much more Senna had to give before his untimely passing, that means both still race in the shadow of Ayrton Senna.
Sunday’s Singapore GP was supposed to be about Hamilton drawing level with Senna on race wins, considering his dominance of the whole 2015 F1 season so far. However, due to Mercedes’ problems in getting the tyres in the optimum window of performance, from Saturday qualifying onwards, they looked shockingly off the pace. A 5th place grid position for Hamilton, while Vettel himself took pole position, was a shock to everyone. The race itself followed a similar vein, with Hamilton unable to move up from 5th before he was forced to retire with engine and power problems, and Vettel leading from start to finish to take his third win of the season.
Sebastian Vettel won his four world titles in the most superior car, with a teammate in Mark Webber who just wasn’t as fast as him
The manner of Vettel’s victory felt startlingly familiar, albeit with some slight details changed. Gone was the blue livery of Red Bull, in was the famous red of Ferrari. The dominance, the ability to control a race and keep his closest competitor, in this case, rather ironically, Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull, at arms length. The dominance of Vettel as he won four consecutive world titles was in evidence again at Singapore, where has now won four of the eight races held in F1 there.
And therein lies the problem.
Sebastian Vettel won his four world titles in the most superior car, with a teammate in Mark Webber who just wasn’t as fast as him. His dominance was built upon superior mechanics in regards to the Red Bull cars he manned. Being out-raced continuously by teammate Daniel Ricciardo compounded his struggles in 2014, when the Red Bull was not the fastest car on the grid. The old argument that, had he had a faster teammate, or even a close competitor in an equally fast car, he may not have won those titles has always dampened Vettel’s successes slightly.
Hamilton’s raw pace and ability to throw himself into a corner have always drawn comparisons with Ayrton Senna
Hamilton’s second (and what is very nearly a third) world championship was equally built upon the dominance of the car underneath him, and his ultimately superior pace to his teammate, Nico Rosberg. However, Hamilton faced a 2014 where he was often chasing Rosberg due to mechanical failures and other problems out of his control. That Hamilton managed to win the title, and so comfortably in the end, suggests a greater mettle than that of both Rosberg and Vettel. It is the same with his 2008 world championship win, where he was challenged all the way by the equally fast Ferrari with Felipe Massa at the helm. Hamilton’s raw pace and ability to throw himself into a corner have always drawn comparisons with Ayrton Senna, with Hamilton himself admitting that Senna was his idol while growing up. Very soon, it appears that Hamilton will emulate his great hero and be a three-time world champion.
Senna, however, won his three world titles at a time when another contender for the greatest driver ever was racing, and often in the same car as Senna. The rivalry between Ayrton Senna and four-time world champion Alain Prost is well-documented. That Senna was able to win the world title at McLaren with Prost as his teammate is a testament to just how fast he was.
Drivers such as Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piguet and Gerhard Berger were all part of a strong generation of drivers, in which Senna managed to rise to the top
Even when Prost left for Ferrari, Senna managed to eclipse him, winning the 1990 World Championship in equally spectacular fashion. And it wasn’t just Prost who Senna was facing in that era. Drivers such as Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piguet and Gerhard Berger were all part of a strong generation of drivers, in which Senna managed to rise to the top.
It was only his untimely death in 1994 that meant he didn’t achieve more. Despite being in the inferior Williams for the 1994 season, in which Michael Schumacher won his first title in the mechanically superior Benetton, Senna would have been among the favourites for the title for the next few years.
Ultimately, both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have not yet done enough to be placed on the same level as Ayrton Senna. It is questionable even as to whether 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher truly tops the legendary reputation of Senna. Lewis and Sebastian still have a long way to go.
Images courtesy of The Telegraph and Sky Sports
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