Lewis Hamilton will attempt to earn the Grand Prix title.
This weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix will be held at the Suzuka circuit in Ino, Japan — in Honda heartland, and owned by the Honda Corporation.
The circuit will forever be associated with Jules Bianchi’s accident last year but it is also a circuit bracketed with the likes of Spa, Monza and Silverstone. It is a demanding track and a real test of both man and machine.
It might also be the scene of Lewis Hamilton emulating his hero Ayrton Senna in achieving the same number of GP wins.
That total of 41 eluded Hamilton at last weekend’s Singapore race but surely it is only a matter of time and the discussion of Hamilton being one of the F1 greats in driver terms will begin in earnest.
Is Hamilton a great in the tradition of Moss, Fangio, Senna and all the other accepted giants of the past? I never saw Juan Manuel Fangio (54 GP starts, 24 wins) race and not too much of Sir Stirling Moss (66 starts, 16 wins) but they are both high on the list of greats, as is Jochen Rindt (60 starts, 6 wins).
Pit those statistics against Michael Schumacher (306 starts, 91 wins) or Alain Prost (199 starts, 51 wins), Niki Lauda (171 starts, 25 wins) and the stats clearly do not tell the whole story.
On numbers alone, Schumacher is far ahead of any other. Try percentage of wins to race starts and Fangio comes out way on top with 47 per cent. Schumacher comes in at just shy of 30 per cent; Lauda just about clears 14 per cent. Fangio, Moss and those other 1950s and 60s drivers drove brutal, highly physical cars.
I dread to think what the FIA Safety Commission would make of cloth caps, T-shirts, goggles and sitting up in the cockpit in the fresh air.
Many, such as Moss and Jim Clark raced cars in other categories, something today’s top F1 drivers rarely, if ever, do.
In my opinion one of the greatest drivers was Chris Amon, yet he never won a F1 race. He is still held in the highest esteem by those in the sport as well as Ferrari and Honda. A great winner, no; a great driver, yes. Mario Andretti drove and won in a multitude of different disciplines and can truly be called a great.
Ayrton Senna, who was killed at the San Marino Formula 1 Grand Prix 1994. Picture/AP.
Without personal knowledge of many of the past greats, I look on those of my era in the sport and go beyond the simple numbers game.
A great driver is one who leads a team, who can enthuse people to follow him, who has a sense of gravitas. One who clearly has talent to burn, as well as speed that is jawdropping to insiders as well as outsiders.
One who can drive a car beyond its accepted limits and who consistently drives at the very edge of his abilities. For me there is only one who filled all those parameters. He does not top the statistics but would surely have if he had not been killed in 1994: Ayrton Senna.
I qualify that, apart from the reasons above, by saying I knew him, worked with him, saw how the man behaved, how he drove and how he treated people, and how he was able to conjure up something that enabled him to paint his particular artistry on the track every time he performed.
If Lewis Hamilton does match Senna for wins this weekend, is he one of the greats of our sport?
There is something holding me back from saying “yes” to that question.