Mark Webber has suggested Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is the best qualifier Formula 1 has seen since Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton this year clinched his fifth world title, a battle Webber believes was largely won as a result of strong performances in qualifying.
Though Ferrari took the fight to Mercedes throughout 2018, the Scuderia’s challenge was found wanting as Hamilton chalked up 11 race wins and became the first driver in F1 history to score more than 400 points in a season.
The Mercedes ace also claimed 11 pole positions and was absent from the front two rows on just one occasion, when hydraulic pressure saw him stop on track at the end of Qualifying 1 in Germany.
Even still, his average starting position of 2.48 was the best of the bunch; Sebastian Vettel, who snared five pole positions and had a worst starting position of ninth, recorded an average starting position of 2.62.
With 83 poles to his name already, and two years left on his current contract, it’s entirely possible that Hamilton will become the first driver in F1 to reach 100 pole positions.
“In qualifying – I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again – he’s the best since Senna. I mean he is better than Michael (Schumacher) over one lap,” Webber told Speedcafe.com.
“Arguably he is definitely the best in the last, getting on for 40 years.
“He’s up there with Ayrton on one lap.
“Lewis doesn’t go off the road much on Saturdays but he’s had this devastating turn of speed when he needs to turn it on.”
Prior to his retirement from F1 at the end of 2013 Webber raced wheel to wheel with Hamilton.
It gave the Australian a first-hand appreciation for the skills which have thus far netted the Englishman 73 race wins.
By contrast, Senna won on 41 occasions after taking a then-record 65 pole positions, albeit from 162 races versus Hamilton’s 229.
“I don’t know what his real weaknesses are, that is why he is so dangerous,” Webber said.
“He has definitely had the measure of Sebastian (Vettel) of late.
“We know he is as strong as Fernando, so he’s been hard work for all of us over the years and that’s why he’s got the track record that he has.”
Provided Hamilton can stay motivated, Webber suggests there’s more to come from the 33-year-old, perhaps even eclipsing Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles.
“He is one of the greats (and) he’s not finished yet, so he can be at the top of a lot of the statistics, which is incredibly, incredibly impressive feat,” Webber suggested.
“He could go all the way, especially if he gets (his sixth world championship) next year.
“I think that’s going to be a big indication of whether he’s got the motivation to try and get past Michael, which obviously will be eight.
“Have the next three years on the bounce, a lot of people probably would have switched off by then.
“To watch the record happen would be incredible but there is a lot, a lot of racing to be done.”
Hamilton is currently tied with Argentinian legend Juan-Manuel Fangio, a man many regard as the greatest driver to have competed in F1, in second on the list with five world titles.