It’s been the subject of sporting conversations across the land this week. In the aftermath of Lewis Hamilton‘s seventh Formula 1 world title, is he now the greatest British sportsperson ever?
Hamilton made history on Sunday by equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time title record and few would bet against him sealing a record-setting eighth world crown next year.
People from all walks of life chimed in on the debate. Piers Morgan branded Hamilton ‘arguably the greatest [driver] the world’s ever produced’, while his former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg described the seventh title win as ‘one of the greatest achievements in sporting history as a whole’.
There have been calls for Hamilton to be royally recognised, too – something that would not be a surprise given his glorious achievements.
However, Ronnie O’Sullivan – arguably snooker’s greatest ever player – has questioned calls for Hamilton’s knighthood because he thinks that the Formula One world champion is not on a ‘level playing field’ with his competitors. He said: ‘It is fantastic for Lewis to win seven world titles, but if your car is going around quicker you can afford to make a few mistakes and still get away with it. It’s a bit like driving around smoking a cigar with one finger on the wheel!’
So, are Hamilton’s incredible records enough to be recognised as the greatest sporting Brit these isles have ever produced?
Sportsmail’s experts have given their take – with each one asked for three picks. Three points are awarded for top spot, two for runner-up, and one for third.
The votes have been added up and the overall winner is in. Has Hamilton done enough in his stellar career? Or can the likes of Bobby Charlton, Andy Murray or Steve Redgrave snatch the crown? Read on to find out…
Lewis Hamilton’s latest triumph has led to an intriguing debate over Britain’s best ever athlete
Hamilton claimed a record-equalling seventh F1 world title after his victory at the Turkey GP
1) Bobby Charlton
2) Lewis Hamilton
3) Sebastian Coe
Bobby Charlton was known around the world as representing the best of British. World Cup winner, European Cup winner, World Player of the Year and ambassador without equal.
Football is a global game with millions of participants so competition is far harder compared to any other sport – and Bobby reached the pinnacle having survived the Munich air crash.
While involved in a ‘minority’ sport, Lewis Hamilton can justifiably claim to be the greatest of all-time in his field, something not applicable to Ian Botham, Andy Murray or Nick Faldo.
A record number of world titles and race wins, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He could’ve been number one but the truth is far fewer people have tried Formula One than football.
Ex-England and Manchester United hero Bobby Charlton (R) represents the best of British
And finally Sebastian Coe. The Usain Bolt of his day, the global face of athletics in the late 1970s and 80s with world records galore, an epic rivalry with Steve Ovett and consecutive Olympic golds in the blue riband event, the 1500 metres.
Mo Farah fans may feel he’s surpassed Coe’s achievements but middle-distance events are far more glamorous and provides challengers from many more countries.
In lists like this, I do think the number of nations involved is relevant – football and athletics are popular in 200 countries, only a handful do rugby or rowing to an elite level.
1) Andy Murray
2) AP McCoy
3) Lewis Hamilton
It gets said that Andy Murray has ‘only’ won three Grand Slams, as if he has underachieved. It’s absolute nonsense. He’s played tennis in an era of the greatest ever players and consistently driven them to distraction.
He’s a wonderful ambassador, a double Olympic gold medallist and pushed his body to the limit, inspiring millions of people on the way.
Three-time major winner Andy Murray is a wonderful ambassador and has inspired millions
Tony McCoy did something similar in terms of physical demands and his 20-year unbroken reign as champion National Hunt jockey, winning Cheltenham Gold Cups, Champion Hurdles and a Grand National in a total of 4358 successful rides is beyond compare. His numbers and achievements are freakish.
Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, has made winning look easy when it is anything but. The most successful Formula One driver of all time deserves our eternal respect and credit.
1) Bobby Charlton
2) Lester Pigott
3) Ben Stokes
Listening to and reading about the stories of Bobby Charlton in recent weeks following his diagnosis with dementia, it reinforces what an extraordinary sporting life he has lived.
A survivor of the Munich air disaster, World Cup and European Cup winner and England’s greatest goalscorer for half a century. For me, Charlton is our greatest ever sportsman.
Charlton (L) won the 1966 World Cup and was one of England’s greatest ever goalscorers
Jockey Lester Piggott won the Epsom Derby nine times and rode over 4,000 winners – a truly incredible feat.
And I’ve included Ben Stokes on the back of his heroics last summer, for we shouldn’t have to wait another 10 or 20 years to appreciate just how inspirational they were.
1) Andy Murray
2) Lewis Hamilton
3) Steve Redgrave
My mind will always go to Andy Murray on questions like this. As an explainer of the methodology, I tend to forego anything from before my time, mostly on the basis that sport for me is about feeling and drama, and even if you can appreciate some of the drama of history, feelings are more complicated.
You need to have taken the ride, to have had the uncertainty, the not knowing if they could get it done. It’s about the tension.
The wonderful irrationality of believing events at Flushing Meadows or Wimbledon were somehow influenced by whether you were watching or not; the self-importance and delusion of believing you are their curse. Sport, it’s a weird dance. And within the confines of my lifetime, Murray has led us on weirder dances than any other Brit.
In 50 or so years, most folk will find it hard to truly get the scale of what he did by winning Wimbledon that first time in 2013. It will seem big – 77 years, Fred Perry, and all that. But it will be two dimensional. It won’t truly feel big, or immersive; not in the way that it does when you vividly remember how gallingly unbearable it was to watch.
And the realisation as you did that he was out in the middle of a court, living a pressure that would be a nightmare for any one of us, and has occasionally seemed to be for him too.
Murray was the first British man in 77 years to win the famous Wimbledon title in 2013
Wimbledon and Murray, it was all about the layers of context – the Perry thing, the expectations, the sense of public entitlement for a British contender that had grown via Tim Henman’s semi-finals.
Maybe it was predominantly shaped by the lack of live sport on terrestrial television which makes that fortnight a focal point of middle England and so much of the rest of it.
Maybe it was that he lost so many finals elsewhere and has never been sure thing, because he is an amazing tennis player in an era that also has the top three male players in history. Tough break, Ringo.
But to win what he won, and how and where, puts his achievements higher in my list than those of other British sporting heroes. Some, like the magnificent Lewis Hamilton, will have better numbers. Far bigger and better and more globally dominant. A history maker. But greatest is a subjective term and numbers are only ever part of it.
The manner and raw emotion of Murray’s victories puts him among the British sporting greats
And so I wouldn’t be able to make the same argument as some for Bobby Moore or Daley Thompson or Fred Perry or Max Woosnam (look him up – it’s incredible) or anyone else whose best came before my time or before I could comprehend it.
But sport without emotion isn’t so great and it’s awfully tricky to strike a bond with something you never saw or lived. No feeling created in a retrospective feature or book or broadcast is quite the same as that you might have in a given moment of watching something magnificent unfold, with all its undulations and surprises.
1) Bobby Moore
2) Dame Mary Peters
3) Lennox Lewis
Bobby Moore – our one and only World Cup winning captain at what is our national game, above all. Great footballer. Leader by example. Perfect gentleman. Fine ambassador.
Dame Mary Peters was a golden inspiration to generations of female Olympians. Defied terrorist death threats to continue living in Belfast and serving charities in Ulster.
And finally, Lennox Lewis is still the last undisputed world heavyweight champion. Still a charming, courteous, generous gentleman.
Bobby Moore was the captain of the England World Cup winning squad on home soil in 1966
1) Nick Faldo
2) Andy Murray
3) Lewis Hamilton
Nick Faldo won more majors than anyone else of his generation, and his era included players like Seve, Langer, and Greg Norman. The only player who has won more majors since is Tiger Woods. Played in a record 11 Ryder Cups.
Andy Murray was perhaps unlucky to play in the same era as three of the greatest players of all time – or maybe it inspired him. It was certainly inspiring the way he embraced the hopes of a nation each Wimbledon and unfailingly rose to the occasion.
Meanwhile, it is very difficult to judge how good Lewis Hamilton really is, given the hilarious performance disparity in F1 cars. If he wasn’t British, the story would be focused on how the obvious inequity had made F1 a standing, boring joke.
Nick Faldo won more majors than anyone else of his generation and played in 11 Ryder Cups
1) Bobby Charlton
2) Nick Faldo
3) Andy Murray
Football being the most important and widely-played game on the planet clinches it for Bobby Charlton. The driving force behind England’s greatest single team achievement – a winner of the sport’s biggest prizes on the biggest stages.
Again, Nick Faldo was someone who rose above the rest in a sport of genuine international dimensions, an individual pursuit at that. Three Masters titles, three Opens and 97 weeks at world number one elevate him above other contenders.
Andy Murray edges out Lewis Hamilton and Steve Redgrave, because he had no edge in equipment nor team-mates to assist in a global sport.
Two Wimbledon titles, a US Open, two Olympic golds and reaching world number one are among triumphs in an era when it was never harder to win.
1) Lewis Hamilton
2) Steve Redgrave
3) CB Fry
To be truly considered the greatest one must endure, and for their mutual ability to remain at the top for such lengthy stretches of time I cannot separate Lewis Hamilton and Steve Redgrave: a Formula One-high seven world titles; gold medals at five successive Olympic Games.
Neither are competitors in sports I follow but what sets them apart from the field is the longevity of their achievements. It takes an unyielding and remorseless devotion to practice and preparation to stay at the top for so long.
What sets Hamilton apart is the longevity of his achievements, having won his first title in 2008
My third choice is closer to home. Ben Stokes’s strength of character has allowed him to perform to elite global level when things have taken a turn for the worst yet his career – an odyssey of self-analysis as well as triumph – is only part way through.
So I have plumped for another freakishly talented individual who can lay claim to being sport’s premier all-rounder. CB Fry did it all: a dual international as Test cricketer and England footballer at the turn of the 20th century, he represented the Barbarians in rugby union and held the world long jump record amongst other feats, making him the most gifted British competitor of any era.
1) Bobby Moore
2) WG Grace
3) Daley Thompson
Hard, if not impossible, to look beyond England’s World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore in the national sport.
WG Grace was Victorian England’s first celebrity – think a more heavily bearded David Beckham before his time. And he basically invented modern batsmanship, playing forward and back, where previous batsmen had done either one or the other (mostly not very well).
He might have bent the rules occasionally, but his stats were so much better than his contemporaries’ that he’d have dominated his era anyway.
Andy Daley Thompson helped make athletics sexy, excelling in 10 events (OK, maybe not so much the 1,500 metres…). The image of his celebratory back flip during the pole vault at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics is one of the most joyfulf in British sport.
And he was black, an early role model in the decade of the Brixton Riots, when Britain’s African-Caribbean community was fighting for its life.
Daley Thompson excelled in 10 events and was a role model in the decade of the Brixton Riots
1) Lewis Hamilton
2) Tanni Grey-Thompson
3) Andy Murray
The most striking detail of Lewis Hamilton’s career is that in his most impressive season, he did not actually win the title. He missed out by a point in his debut campaign – but look at what he was up against. His McLaren team-mate was double world champion Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari had Kimi Raikkonen – the champion that year – and Felipe Massa, two strong, experienced opponents.
To fight tooth and nail with that trio in your first year in a Formula One takes serious temperament and skill, and Hamilton’s efforts that year showed us all what he would be capable of in the future.
Meanwhile, 11 Paralympic golds alone would grant Tanni Grey-Thompson a place in the pantheon, but she was also a trailblazer in the development of Paralympic sports, and an inspiration to those who followed her.
Tanni Grey-Thompson deserves a place among the greats with 11 Paralympic gold medals
Over her career she won a total of 16 Paralympic medals, including those 11 golds, held over 30 world records and won the London Marathon six times between 1992 and 2002.
The former Roma midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, used to say that one league title at Roma was worth 10 at Juventus. Given the structure of British tennis and the lack of success most of his predecessors had, surely a similar equation should apply to Andy Murray.
He managed to compete with Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic – three of tennis’ greatest – for most of his career, and also picked up two Olympic gold medals.
1) Alastair Cook
2) Bobby Charlton
3) Lewis Hamilton
First, a disclaimer: at 27, I am not old enough to have seen many of the greats on this list during their prime years.
Grainy footage and highlight reels can never do justice to the genius of players such as Bobby Charlton.
But in my lifetime, the most astonishing British sportsman I have seen is Alastair Cook. Over 12 years in international cricket, he scored more Test runs, more centuries and more 50s than anybody in English cricketing history.
Alastair Cook scored more Test runs, centuries and 50s than anybody in English cricket history
The mental, physical, and emotional strength to survive five-day cricket is monumental enough. To open the batting (and captain) with such mastery, over so long, is nothing short of extraordinary.
There are few more lonely and merciless places than the bear pit of Test cricket, knowing one lapse in concentration could cost you it all. The obvious caveat thrown at Lewis Hamilton is that every driver is reliant on his car. It’s unfair and should not diminish his achievements.
But it does, perhaps, serve to illustrate the incredible achievements of Cook, who headed out to bat armed only with a slab of wood. And an iron will.
And the winner is…
GREATEST SPORTING BRIT VOTES
1. Lewis Hamilton – 13 points
2. Bobby Charlton – 11 points
3. Andy Murray – 10 points
4. Bobby Moore – 6 points
5. Nick Faldo – 5 points
Lewis Hamilton! The Formula 1 driver polled a total of 13 points, seeing off competition from the icon that is Bobby Charlton (11 points) and tennis legend Andy Murray (10 points).
1966 World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore secured two top-spot votes but that wasn’t enough to get him into the top three overall. Instead, he’ll have to make do with coming fourth in our poll.
Golfing legend Nick Faldo secured fifth spot with five points, while grouped behind him to round off the top 10 were Sir Steve Redgrave (3 points), Alastair Cook (3 points), Dame Mary Peters (2 points), Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson (2), and AP McCoy (2).
Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe, Ben Stokes, Lennox Lewis, CB Fry, WG Grace and Daley Thompson complete the list selected by our reporters.
We’ve have had our say on the matter, now it’s over to you. Do you agree with our list? Join the debate in the comment section below and leave your own list of the top three greatest British sportspeople of all time.