Is Hamilton best qualifier in history?

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Just 16 of the previous 68 races Lewis Hamilton started on pole have ended with him failing to be on the podium

Lewis Hamilton has broken Michael Schumacher’s career pole positions record by taking the 69th of his career.

The Briton moved level with the German seven-time world champion in Belgium last week and followed that up at the Italian Grand Prix with his eighth pole of the season.

BBC Sport takes a look at Hamilton’s record in numbers.

How often does Hamilton translate pole to victory?

Hamilton’s first pole position was at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix when he beat then McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso

Hamilton’s first pole position came in his sixth race – the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. He converted that into his first career victory.

Since then he has been on pole at least once every season he has competed in, with 2016 his most dominant year in qualifying, finishing fastest on a Saturday on 12 occasions.

Of the 68 previous occasions Hamilton has been on pole, he has translated it into a victory 37 times.

How does that compare to the other greats?

When it comes to turning pole positions into victories, Hamilton is up there with the best.

The Briton has a poles-to-win ratio of 54%. Schumacher won 40 of the 68 races he was on pole for – 58.82%, while Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna [29 wins from 65 pole positions] has a ratio of 44.6%.

Does pole always lead to podium?

Even if Hamilton does not manage to win a race from pole position, he rarely finishes outside the top three.

Just 16 of the previous 68 races he started on pole have ended with him failing to be on the podium.

Hamilton’s finishes after being on pole
Position Total
1st 37
2nd 7
3rd 8
4th 1
5th 3
6th 1
12th 1
DNF 10

Monza to Melbourne – Hamilton at his best

Monza, the venue for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, is one of the circuits where Hamilton has qualified on pole most in his career

There are very few circuits on which Hamilton has failed to take pole position.

The Briton has mastered a Saturday at least once on every track on the current calendar, with only poles at Magny Cours (France), Istanbul Park (Turkey) and Buddh International Circuit (India) eluding him throughout his entire career.

However, his best Saturday form has come at four grands prix – Australia, China, Canada and Italy – with six pole positions at each of the circuits.

Only in Canada has Hamilton managed to make that pole position count the most, winning six times there after starting at the front of the pack.

His worst pole-to-win record is in Australia, winning just one of the six times he has started on pole in Melbourne.

McLaren or Mercedes?

An obvious answer here.

Two of Hamilton’s three world titles have come while he has been at Mercedes, in 2014 and 2015, and it is with this team he has been the most dominant in qualifying.

He claimed 26 pole positions in 110 races for McLaren and 43 in 90 for Mercedes. That makes for an impressive strike rate of 47% while at Mercedes, compared to 24% at the team he started his career with.

Hamilton versus his team-mates

Hamilton has been team-mates with (left to right) Valtteri Bottas, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, Heikki Kovalainen and Fernando Alonso

The one thing a driver can expect if they link up with Hamilton is to finish second best in qualifying.

The 32-year-old has taken more pole positions than his team-mate in nine of his previous 10 seasons and is well on course to pip Valtteri Bottas to more poles this year. He leads the Finn 8-2 with seven grands prix weekends remaining.

The one season he has failed to take more pole positions than his team-mate was 2014, when current world champion Nico Rosberg secured front place on the grid on four more occasions than Hamilton.

Is Hamilton F1’s best qualifier in history?

BBC Sport’s chief F1 writer Andrew Benson

Hamilton is now officially the most successful qualifier in Formula 1 history, having broken the all-time record for pole positions.

As to whether that makes him the best qualifier in history – and by extension the out-and-out fastest driver – well, that’s another thing altogether.

For a start, statistics are an unreliable guide in many circumstances in F1, including this one. Michael Schumacher, for example, held the pole record until Hamilton broke it, and precisely almost no-one would say he was a better qualifier than Ayrton Senna, whose record the German broke.

Senna scored 65 poles and Schumacher 68. But the Brazilian won his in 162 races and Schumacher in 250 [ignoring the last three years of his ill-starred comeback]. So Senna’s percentage was significantly better [40.1% compared to 27.2%].

Hamilton’s is better than Schumacher’s, at 34%, but not as good as Senna’s – and Senna is only fourth in the all-time list in percentage terms behind Juan Manuel Fangio (an amazing 29 poles in 52 races), Jim Clark (33 out of 73) and Alberto Ascari (14 out of 33).

Even if it was just down to the numbers, it would not be possible to say who was the fastest – how can you compare drivers from such different eras when it’s hard enough to do with those who are racing at the same time?

But the quality of the machinery also comes into it. Hamilton’s career statistics have improved enormously since he joined Mercedes, whereas by contrast, Fernando Alonso’s have gone the other way in recent years. But that doesn’t make either more or less good than they already were.

There are, though, a couple of things you can say with certainty about Hamilton.

First, most would agree that he is the out-and-out fastest driver of his era. His best qualifying laps are things of awe and wonder, and it’s a privilege to watch him at work.

And second, he is up there with the very best of all time when it comes to qualifying speed. Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe, one of the few to have worked with both Hamilton and Senna, says Hamilton “undoubtedly” has Senna’s speed.

“Those great drivers are able to pull out an extraordinary lap,” Lowe says. “They can’t do it every Saturday but every now and again they just go out there and something really extraordinary is required and they produce a lap where you go, ‘Wow, where on earth did that come from?’ And Lewis is certainly one to do that, and so was Ayrton.”

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