Is Lewis Hamilton F1's G.O.A.T.?

Now he's a five-time world champion, the question has to be asked: Is Lewis Hamilton the greatest Formula One driver of all time?

It's not a simple question. Neither gut feeling nor raw statistics can give a definitive answer. But if you're having the conversation, you can no longer leave Hamilton out.

If he wasn't already among the sport's greats, he is now, and most excitingly of all, he is still at the peak of his powers.

A five-time champion

Statistically speaking, Hamilton's fifth world title gained him entry to an incredibly exclusive club. There have been 16 multiple world champions in the sport's history, but only two drivers before Hamilton have taken their tally to five, and both are very strong candidates for the title of F1's Greatest Of All Time (or G.O.A.T.).

Juan Manuel Fangio was the first to achieve the feat by winning his fifth title in 1957. It then took 45 years for another driver to match him, with Michael Schumacher taking his fifth title in 2002 before adding two more in 2003 and 2004, bringing his total to an unparalleled seven. Schumacher also holds the all-time record for race wins with a staggering 91 over the course of his career -- 20 ahead of Hamilton's current tally. But arguably the most impressive statistic still belongs to Fangio, who had a remarkable win percentage record of 46.15 percent. By comparison Hamilton has won 31.28 percent of the races he has entered, while Michael Schumacher managed 29.5 percent.

But statistics only tell you so much. Unlike most other sports, Formula One drivers are heavily reliant on their equipment for success. Sure, the top drivers usually end up driving for the top teams, but you only have to look as far as Fernando Alonso on F1's current grid for a case study in unfulfilled potential.

What's more, the machinery the driver relies on has changed so much in the 69 years of the Formula One world championship that comparisons between eras are near impossible. The cars of today are technological masterpieces that wouldn't fire up without cutting-edge computing power, while the cars of Fangio's era didn't even have seat belts. Perhaps it's that safety element that makes the achievements of yesteryear so impressive; it's one thing to win five titles, it's another to do it with the spectre of death chasing you through every corner.

And then there is the quality of the opposition. It's true that any sportsperson can only beat the opposition put in front of them, but some of the shine can't help but be taken away when the gaps to rivals are measured in seconds rather than milliseconds. All three of the names mentioned above won their titles in a mixture of dominant and less dominant cars and it's unlikely any driver would ever achieve five titles without that level of superior machinery at some point in their career.

To win a championship in a dominant car means just beating your teammate, which, depending on your teammate, can vary in difficulty. Between 2000 and 2004 Schumacher was pretty much untouchable and, like Fangio during the length of his career, benefitted from a clear hierarchy of having No.1 status over his teammate. By comparison, Hamilton went up against Nico Rosberg with equal opportunities between 2014 and 2016 and this year Valtteri Bottas was only roped in as his wingman once the Finn was out of the running. Of course, a lot depends on how highly you rate Rosberg and Bottas, but Hamilton has never been, nor ever asked to be, a de facto No.1.

Hamilton's crushing victory over Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel this year is also a sign of greatness. Neither Fangio nor Schumacher won a title while racing against another four-time world champion, yet Hamilton has made Vettel look ordinary this year. The performance advantage between Mercedes and Ferrari has ebbed and flowed throughout the season, but there is no doubt Vettel has underperfomed in his head-to-head battle with Hamilton. Perhaps Vettel's errors had more to do with the atmosphere at Ferrari than the pressure from his rival, but that should take nothing away from the clinical victories Hamilton strung together in the second half of the year.

What makes a true great?

For many fans, however, world titles will never be the true barometer of greatness in Formula One. For them, a true great transcends numbers on a page and becomes a legend in their own right. Hamilton's boyhood hero Ayrton Senna is unquestionably in the running for the title of F1's G.O.A.T. and also beat an eventual four-time world champion (and fellow G.O.A.T. candidate) Alain Prost in equal machinery in 1988. Of course, Prost got one back on Senna the following year and went on to finish his career with four titles to Senna's three, but the Brazilian's time was cut tragically short by his fatal accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. That adds a whole other element to the discussion, including whether Schumacher would have won titles in 1994 and 1995 with Senna on the grid. As a result, trying to draw comparisons based on statistics alone can quite quickly become fatuous.

And when you start to look beyond the headline figures there are a whole host of names that pop out. Alberto Ascari was hugely successful in the two years before the F1 World Championship was formed and had the second highest win percentage of all time (39.39 percent) when he died as a two-time world champion testing a Ferrari sports car at Monza in 1955. Sir Stirling Moss never won a title but beat Fangio to the 1955 Mille Miglia -- arguably the toughest race of them all -- in the same machinery. Jim Clark would almost certainly have won more than his two titles had he not died racing in a Formula 2 event in 1968, by which point he had the third highest win percentage of all time at 34.25 percent. Sir Jackie Stewart won three titles in his time in the sport while also kick-starting a campaign to improve safety in F1 -- a campaign that undoubtedly saved lives. Niki Lauda came back from the brink of death in 1976 and by the time of his second retirement in 1984 had added two more titles to the one he won in 1975. And those that saw Gilles Villeneuve in action say there has never been a more exciting or talented driver to watch, regardless of his lack of titles. This is by no means an exhuastive list and it could quite easily go on.

And then there's the impact a driver has beyond Formula One. Senna, Schumacher and Fangio all have legacies that stretch far beyond the confines of the F1 paddock and all three became household names in their own right. Fangio is less well known now, but was so famous in his era that Cuban revolutionaries kidnapped him in 1958 to help publicise their cause ahead of a revolution in 1959. As a sidenote, Fangio sympthised with his captors, saying afterwards: "This is one more adventure. If what the rebels did was in a good cause, then I, as an Argentine, accept it."

Times have changed since then but Hamilton has also become a global superstar in recent years. His personal brand is reaching new audiences every day through his association with A-List celebrities and his highly-publicised clothing collection with fashion label Tommy Hilfiger has seen his face appear on billboards around the world.

Over to you, Lewis

But perhaps it's still too early to talk about Hamilton as the greatest of all time, perhaps his greatest achievements are still ahead of him...

Based on his average win rate of ten victories per year over the past five seasons with Mercedes, both of Schumacher's once untouchable records -- 91 wins and seven world titles -- are within Hamilton's reach by the end of his current two-year contract.

So without being able to provide a definitive answer just yet, we'll leave the question with the man best placed to know what's in store.

Lewis, do you consider yourself F1's G.O.A.T.?

"Firstly I could never ever personally classify myself as the best," he answered in a press conference on Sunday evening in Mexico. "Obviously, within myself, I know of my abilities and where I stand but my dad always told me, since I was eight years old, 'do your talking on the track.' So I just try to let my results and the results from the things that I do outside of my sport create a decent opinion for other people.

"But there's still Michael. Michael's still quite far ahead in race wins so you can have to say he is still the G.O.A.T.. Fangio, I think, is the Godfather and always will be, from a driver's perspective. To do what he did at that time when everything was so dangerous... my respect is so high for him.

"I feel very honoured to have my name alongside his, that's for sure and naturally just every proud to have the Hamilton name up there. If I stopped today, the Hamilton name will always be there. If you could see how tough it was for us from the beginning and even this year, you know, there's still fighting with those obstacles and I'm still coming out stronger and stronger each year.

"I feel like I'm still driving with that fierce fire that I had when I was eight years old, which I love. So I'll keep going until that goes, which I don't think it's ever going to go but my bodyclock will run out at some stage."