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Sir Jackie Stewart says he has absolutely no issue with Lewis Hamilton, describing the record-breaking Formula One driver as the best of his generation.
Hamilton, 35, aimed a thinly-veiled dig at Stewart by claiming that the sport’s past greats always speak negatively about him.
His comments came in the wake of triple world champion Stewart, 81, saying he would not rank Hamilton as the greatest there has been.
“I get knocked by many people, particularly by older drivers,” said Hamilton after drawing level with Michael Schumacher on 91 victories at the Eifel Grand Prix. “They have a bee in their bonnet and I don’t know why.”
Responding, Stewart told the PA news agency: “I am not trying to diminish Lewis Hamilton and I hold his performances with incredible respect. He is the best driver of the present time.
“I am not knocking him down and I am disappointed he thinks that way. What do I have to gain from that? I am 81 years of age.
“I was asked what did I think about Lewis becoming the most winning driver of all time and if that made him the greatest there has been.
“I said it is very difficult to say that. The greatest I believe there has been is Juan Manuel Fangio, followed by Jim Clark. But even then, is it correct to say someone is the best?
“Is Lionel Messi better than Pele or Sir Stanley Matthews, who was the greatest of all time when I was a child? Is Roger Federer better than Rod Laver?
“They are different eras. You can say Lewis is the best of his time and that is not in any way demeaning towards him. He is doing one hell of a job, and he is his own man, which is different to Niki Lauda, different to Jackie Stewart, different to Jim Clark and different to Graham Hill.”
Hamilton is closing in on a record-equalling seventh world championship after his landmark victory in Germany moved him 69 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas with just six of 17 rounds remaining.
Lewis’ achievements are amazing but he is driving the finest racing car in the world and it has been that way for a very long time
- Sir Jackie Stewart
Hamilton has now won 70 races, and five of his six world titles, driving for Mercedes following his split from McLaren at the end of the 2012 season.
“Lewis’ achievements are amazing but he is driving the finest racing car in the world and it has been that way for a very long time,” added Stewart.
“I have got nothing against Fangio or Jim Clark, but when I beat their records I was very pleased I had done it. For me, they are still my heroes and I regard them as beyond me.
“Lewis made a terrific decision to move to Mercedes from McLaren. I take my hat off to him. He did the right thing.
“But is he better than Fangio who won his five titles with four different teams? Or is he better than Jim Clark or indeed Michael Schumacher? You simply cannot say.”