Briatore believes the level of competition Hamilton has faced is not even close to the level of the seven-time champion. But does the Italian have a point?
Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill, Fernando Alonso – the list of big names who raced against Schumacher in his F1 career makes for impressive reading.
Briatore gives this as his reasoning for suggesting Schumacher remains the superior driver.
“Michael was fighting with the big guys, like Senna”, Briatore told the F1 ‘Beyond the Grid’ podcast.
“You need to recognise that when Michael arrived, the competition was tough. You are talking about Nigel Mansell, you are talking about Senna.
“Now, is less, the competition. You have two drivers, three drivers….the competition is less than before. For Hamilton, again, nobody put the pressure on to him…he can walk away.”
These are strong words from Briatore, and they may come from the slight bias that Schumacher won his first two titles with the 69-year-old’s Benetton team, but is there any merit in his words?
In his debut season in 2007, Hamilton was paired with Alonso at McLaren. The Spaniard was at his peak in this campaign after winning world titles with Renault the two years previous. For Hamilton to finish level on points, and amidst the ‘Spygate’ furore, in his rookie campaign was a huge achievement.
Looking away from the comparative team-mates of Hamilton and Schumacher, both of whom often raced alongside drivers considered to be weaker, it is undeniable the German had more challenging rivals.
Even accounting for the fact that both Hamilton and Schumacher enjoyed dominant machinery from Mercedes and Ferrari respectively, the latter battling against fellow title challengers in Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Alonso.
The trio, racing for Williams, McLaren and Renault respectively, were all capable of winning races and it was not uncommon for championship fights to go down to the wire.
During his dominant period, Hamilton has only ever faced a sustained championship battle from within his own team, and then only in 2014, 2015 and 2016, losing out to Nico Rosberg in the latter.
However, it would be unfair to judge Hamilton solely on the other competition in the field.
It is not Hamilton’s fault no other team has been able to fully bridge the gap to Mercedes since 2014, nor that no driver has been able to consistently outperform their machinery to provide a sustained challenge.
For me, Schumacher is the greatest of all time, but I would concede that six-time champion Hamilton is drawing extremely close to being his equal.
The time that would turn my opinion could come in 2022.
With the new regulations and a completely new generation of cars, if Hamilton can defeat Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc with potentially equal machinery, he would have faced strong competition and won.
For the moment, Briatore’s statement remains true. Fast forward by a year or two, who knows?