Sebastian Vettel saluted his friend and rival Lewis Hamilton as the “greatest driver of our era” on Sunday after the Briton sealed his seventh world title at the Turkish Grand Prix.
The four-time world champion Ferrari driver admitted that, emotionally, he still regarded Michael Schumacher as the greatest, but hailed Hamilton’s feat in equalling his fellow-German’s record of championships.
“He is the greatest of our era for sure,” said Vettel, who finished third in Istanbul on Sunday to claim his first podium of a disappointing final season with Ferrari.
“I think it’s always difficult to compare.
“How can you possibly compare (Juan Manuel) Fangio or Stirling Moss to our generation? You can’t. Maybe we will be useless in those cars!
“Maybe they’d be useless in our cars because they’re way too fast. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. I think every era has its driver or drivers, and Lewis is certainly the greatest of our era.”
Vettel, who won his four world titles between 2010 and 2013 with Red Bull, said it was hard to shake the emotional ties to Schumacher, the German star who racked up his seven in 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Schumacher suffered a severe brain injury in a skiing accident in the French Alps in December 2013 after which he remained in a medically induced coma, in Grenoble, until June 2014.
Since then, the 51-year-old has remained under private treatment at his home in Switzerland.
“To me certainly, emotionally, Michael will always be the greatest driver, but there’s no doubt Lewis is the greatest in terms of what he has achieved,” added Vettel.
“He’s equalled the championships, he has more races won, he has a lot more pole positions. I think he’s done everything you can ask for.
“And today is the best proof. It’s a difficult race, a very difficult race to stay on track and two hours long — and probably, if we’re honest, it wasn’t his race to win and he still won it.
“I think, once again, he managed to pull something special out of that bag and, therefore, he deserves everything he has achieved.”
Hamilton’s decision to do a long stint on his only set of intermediate tyres demonstrated the tactical nous and accomplished tyre management which underpinned his victory.
Vettel, his nearest rival in 2017 and 2018, was the first man to congratulate him in parc ferme.
Asked what he said, he replied: “Well, I told him it’s very special for us because we can witness that history is being made.”
Hamilton’s former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg also paid tribute.
The 2016 world champion tweeted: “7 x World Champion – that’s insane. Massively deserved.
“Surely one of the greatest achievements in the history of sports. Congratulations Lewis and enjoy the celebrations with your family and friends.”