Was Ayrton Senna a greater F1 driver than Michael Schumacher? Or were both of those worthies totally eclipsed by Juan Fangio?
Well, the answer has to depend on how greatness is measured, and that is precisely why there is no universal agreement among F1 fans.
Usually when attempts have been made to answer the question there has been total reliance placed on race statistics, which is fair enough except it does not factor in that drivers never compete in equal machinery.
For the purposes of this article I decided to approach the question of "who is or was the greatest F1 driver" from a "wisdom of the crowds" perspective. The wisdom of crowds, put very simply, is a sociological theory postulating that a large group of non-expert individuals will often reach more accurate decisions than a small group of experts.
Randolph Churchill had probably never heard of the wisdom of crowds when he said "trust the people" in 1884, but that is the gist of it.
F1 is a popular sport or it is nothing, it ceases to exist, so I claim justification in translating greatness to public interest, believing that greatness is an intangible that can never be directly measured.
But how could I measure public interest in individual drivers? In this Internet age there seems to be an obvious answer. I reasoned that the more search results returned by googling a driver's name, the more public interest there must be in that driver. The correlation would not be scientifically accurate, but must be at least a reasonable guide.
Here then is my list of results obtained late on the evening of Wednesday 21st December 2011.
1. Jim Clark 69,800,000 results
2. Graham Hill 61,200,000 results
3. Lewis Hamilton 60,400,000 results
4. Sebastian Vettel 27,300,000 results
5. Michael Schumacher 26,500,000 results
6. Jenson Button 20,000,000 results
7. Jackie Stewart 18,700,000 results
8. Mark Webber 17,200,000 results
9. Ayrton Senna 15,000,000 results
10. Felipe Massa 14,200,000 results
11. Fernando Alonso 9,180,000 results
12. Robert Kubica 3,370,000 results
13. Juan Fangio 400,000 results
For those who doubt the validity of my results, consider this. Jenson Button's fans, both of them, would surely not dispute that their hero is only one-third as interesting as Lewis Hamilton, now would they?
I rest my case.