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today is Aug 12, 2022

In its 72 year history, there have been many great drivers in F1. However, despite many divided opinions and limitless Twitter rants, I don’t think one of them can be considered the best of the lot.

I know, it’s a bold statement for my first opinion piece but hear me out…

In many ways, F1 as a sport is completely unique. Unlike others, F1’s competitive landscape can completely change over the course of a single decade. Regulations change, technology advances and teams literally bend the laws of physics to give their drivers the best car possible – and this presents the F1 GOAT debate’s biggest flaw. 

An F1 world championship isn’t decided by the best driver; it’s decided by who has the best car. Of course, a driver still plays a part in their team’s success, but the variety in performance across the grid basically means that every F1 driver is only partially responsible for their own success.

Mercedes are a prime example. Lewis Hamilton, one of the best drivers F1 has ever seen, has gone from winning six world titles (and getting very close to a 7th) with Mercedes to being a mid-pack contender in the space of just one off-season.

Now, is this because he’s not driving as well? No, of course not. It’s because the car he’s racing in is physically incapable of winning races.

This is something that has even been acknowledged by Max Verstappen, who, in 2021, agreed that most of the drivers on the grid are capable of winning world championships, but they just don’t have the car to do it.

The advanced technology of today’s cars also completely destroys any chance of there being a “GOAT of F1”. Since there is such a massive divide between where F1 started to where it is now, it’s impossible to compare drivers across eras like you can in other sports.

Let’s take Juan Manuel Fangio, for example. Between 1952 and 1957, he won five F1 world championships with three different constructors. Not only was his car vastly slower and less advanced than the rocketships we have today, but he also smoked, didn’t wear a seat belt and didn’t even have a driver’s licence. So, how on earth would you even start comparing that to the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel?

It’s the same problem the other way around. Today’s drivers have access to a wide variety of science-fueled sports regimes designed to turn them into some of the most physically impressive athletes in the world. On the other hand, James Hunt could show up to Grand Prix whilst nursing a hangover…

Okay, too extreme, you say? Well, let’s fast forward all the way to the ’80s and ’90s. In this era, the cars were much more advanced and are a closer comparison to what we have today. But still, there far too many variables to even think about comparing the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost to anyone on today’s grid.

In this era, cars still ran with manual gearboxes, they were less reliable, and they still had little regard for driver safety.

In any era, drivers have had to be fearless, but in the last ten years, there has been a massive increase in driver safety precautions. Of course, there are still freak accidents, but it’s not as frequent as decades ago. So this surely has to play a part in a racing driver’s psychology and ability to perform.

Now, none of this is to say that drivers shouldn’t be applauded for their individual achievements. After all, seven world championships is pretty good going by anyone’s standards.

However, when you try and call an F1 driver “the GOAT”, you just end up playing an elaborate game of “What If?”.

What if Hamilton never went to Mercedes? What if Senna drove in 2021? How many titles would Michael Schumacher have if he was racing in 1952? These are questions that just cannot be answered.

So instead of trying to divide opinions or go on your next Twitter rant trying to answer those unanswerable questions, spend your time admiring what great talent we have right now and the bright future that F1 has ahead.