In a recent interview Stewart didn’t put Lewis Hamilton on his top three all-time great drivers list and said the Briton’s car and engine are now “so superior that it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field”.
Hamilton recently stated that “older drivers” continuously knock him and appear to “still have a bee in their bonnet”, which many interpreted as a direct response to Stewart. Now Sir Jackie decided to set the record straight and explain it wasn’t his intention to take digs at Hamilton.
“I am not trying to diminish Lewis Hamilton and I hold his performances with incredible respect,” Stewart told the PA news agency.
“He is the best driver of the present time. I am not knocking him down and I am disappointed he thinks that way. What do I have to gain from that? I am 81 years of age.
“I was asked what did I think about Lewis becoming the most winning driver of all time and if that made him the greatest there has been.
“I said it is very difficult to say that. The greatest I believe there has been is Juan Manuel Fangio, followed by Jim Clark. But even then, is it correct to say someone is the best?
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“Is Lionel Messi better than Pele or Sir Stanley Matthews, who was the greatest of all time when I was a child? Is Roger Federer better than Rod Laver?
“They are different eras. You can say Lewis is the best of his time and that is not in any way demeaning towards him.
“He is doing one hell of a job, and he is his own man, which is different to Niki Lauda, different to Jackie Stewart, different to Jim Clark and different to Graham Hill.
“Lewis’ achievements are amazing, but he is driving the finest racing car in the world and it has been that way for a very long time.
“I have got nothing against Fangio or Jim Clark, but when I beat their records I was very pleased I had done it. For me, they are still my heroes and I regard them as beyond me.
“Lewis made a terrific decision to move to Mercedes from McLaren. I take my hat off to him. He did the right thing.
“But is he better than Fangio who won his five titles with four different teams? Or is he better than Jim Clark or indeed Michael Schumacher?
“You simply cannot say,” concluded Stewart