Formula 1 Drivers with a Genuine Claim to Being Better Than Sebastian Vettel
Some interesting comments were made regarding world champion Sebastian Vettel in the wake of his claiming a fourth successive title.
Felipe Massa said the triumph put Vettel on par with Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, while Lewis Hamilton reckons he could become the greatest driver in the sport's history, if he is not already.
The immediate criticism levied at Vettel is that he has won four championships on the bounce while driving what has consistently been the fastest car.
Those who suggest he could not succeed without the might of Adrian Newey tend to easily forget Vettel won in a Toro Rosso, and might even have won in one of his first Grands Prix had he not rear-ended Mark Webber at Fuji under the safety car.
However, many would like to see Vettel in the second or third best car on the grid, and if he can hustle it to similar glory.
While it is dangerous to compare eras, we can make comparisons statistics-wise to Vettel's fellow greats by numbers. Though there is more to folklore than racking up statistics and records.
They say that every decade, someone great comes along. This is not a ranking, but rather a look back at history's finest.
So, stretching back to the 1950s, who could claim to be a better driver than Vettel, even if the statistics do not show it?
Fangio: F1's Original Superstar
A five-time world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio was incredible across stints with Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari and Daimler Benz.
His strike rate was phenomenal, and that marks him a legend even if his five titles (four of which were consecutive) already didn’t!
He won 41.4% of the races he started, qualifying on pole for 50% of those he entered. He finished on the podium 68.6% of the time, led almost three-quarters of the races he competed in (74.5%) and was the fastest driver in 45.1% of said races.
Claim Over Vettel: Five titles across four teams, Fangio's diverse talent was unquestionable
Clark: Two Is Not Enough
When Jim Clark won an F1 title (and he did so twice, in 1963 and 1965), he did so in style.
With seven wins in 10 races for his first championship and six in 10 for the other, Clark has to go down as an all-time great.
He should also have won it in 1962, but his car was too fragile, and the same goes for 1964 and 1967. Without doubt, he had the talent to merit being a five-time champion.
Clark holds the record for the number of Grand Slams for any driver. The ultimate mark of dominance, these are races in which you qualify pole and lead every single lap on your way to victory and fastest lap.
He also has the highest percentage of distance led in a single season, when he headed the field for 72.05 per cent of the 1963 season's distance.
Claim Over Vettel: When the car finished, it usually finished first. Clark's record is astounding.
Stewart: Boxing Clever
Twenty-seven times a race winner and three times a world champion, there is a reason Jackie Stewart is officially Sir Jackie Stewart.
Aside from being devilishly quick, and having an intelligence and awareness that garnered him great success while enabling him to stay alive, Stewart achieved something very, very few drivers have done in F1’s history: He won the world title while not driving the best car.
In 1973, the Tyrrells were second best to the Lotuses of Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson.
Yet Stewart boxed clever, winning five races on his way to the title before retiring at the end of the year.
Claim Over Vettel: Superb run to '73 crown in slightly inferior Tyrrell was the jewel in Stewart's triple crown
Prost: More Than Meets the Eye
Alain Prost enjoyed a glittering career that spanned over a decade in race-winning machinery, in which "The Professor" took full advantage.
Only his first and penultimate seasons failed to yield a victory, the former being McLaren’s catastrophic 1980 campaign and the latter being Prost’s tumultuous farewell year with Ferrari.
Still, 51 wins is a mark of Prost’s talent, and 41 fastest laps an indicator that he had much greater raw pace than he is given credit for.
Champion and runner-up thrice each during the 1980s, he returned for one final fling in 1993 and wrapped up his fourth title with Williams.
The 1986 title is worth remembering most, despite his controversial success against Senna in 1989.
Prost stole the 1986 crown from under the noses of the much more competitive Williams team of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in the final race of the season.
Claim Over Vettel: Remarkable longevity as an F1 powerhouse and a world title in the second-best car
Senna: The People's Champion
One of the successes that Ayrton Senna should be remembered for is the six wins he took between 1985 and 1987.
The Lotuses he had at his disposal were, particularly in the latter two years, generally uncompetitive, yet Senna squeezed the last drop of performance out of them and incredibly finished fourth, fourth and third in the standings, respectively.
His record in better machinery reflects his talent even further, with 27 wins in 64 races over the next four years even with Alain Prost as teammate for three of them.
Off the track, his legacy is indisputable. During his lifetime, he worked to help impoverished Brazilian children, which after his death in 1994 led to the founding of the charity that bears his name. The Instituto Ayrton Senna has since worked tirelessly to aid children across Brazil.
Statistics-wise, Senna heads the pack in two areas: He led 19 races from light to flag and qualified on pole eight races in a row over 1988 and 1989.
He is part of a rare group of triple world champions, and that his career was cut short is the only shame when casting your mind back over a superb career.
Claim Over Vettel: Captured the imagination, and left an incredible legacy, on and off the track
Schumacher: A Statistical Marvel
Michael Schumacher's F1 record is a frightening read.
The obvious headline-grabbers are seven world titles, 91 race wins and 68 pole positions.
He also ended with 22 hat-tricks (pole, win, fastest lap), has the most wins in a season (13 in 2004), 77 fastest laps and 221 points finishes.
Schumacher won 72 races for Ferrari after joining them at the worst time in its history.
He made that team great again, drove that team towards himself and by consequence was the engineer of his own dominance. That's what Vettel could achieve; though Red Bull's own formative years came before his time.
The thing is, it's scarily possible that in 10 years' time we will be referencing greater totals, amassed by Vettel. Until then, should it ever happen, Schumacher remains Vettel's conqueror in terms of numbers.
Claim Over Vettel: Spearheaded Ferrari renaissance and became the ultimate barometer for statistical brilliance