Lewis Hamilton has won more Formula One races than anyone else.
Jackie Stewart was asked if this made Hamilton the greatest racing driver of all time.
He said no, you can’t say that – the greatest racing driver of all time was Juan Fangio.
Stewart is a man who should know, he was world champion three times.
Much earlier, Ferdinand Porsche had said Tazio Nuvolari was the greatest racing driver “of the past, the present and the future”.
But given that Hamilton has more wins than anyone else, why should there even be a debate?
Well, it’s because times are different.
Stewart was implying that it’s a lot easier now than it was then.
Tyres are fatter and grip the road much better, cars accelerate quicker, brakes are much safer, the gear change is on the steering wheel (you don’t even have to move your hand) and drivers now have “launch control”, which is managed by computer.
There are a hundred devices that make racing safer and easier than it was in Fangio or Nuvolari’s day.
But I’ve seen the view from the camera with Hamilton’s POV as he races.
I can’t even think at that speed, let alone drive.
It’s not so much driving as piloting a jet, so you can’t really compare it with the past.
In Nuvolari’s day, drivers had no crash helmets or safety belts, cars drifted round corners on opposite lock, tyres routinely shredded mid-race.
In Fangio’s day, drivers raced in short-sleeve shirts – by the end of the race, they were covered in oil, and deaths were frequent.
What Stewart means is that Hamilton, with all the technical advances of today’s cars, can’t be compared with real racing drivers.
And, of course, that’s true.
The same way you couldn’t compare Baron von Richthofen with a modern jet pilot, who flies by radar and fires missiles.
Stewart thinks that the car does much more of the work for modern drivers, and that will always be true.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good, it just means times are different.
Different times require different priorities, just as with advertising.
It’s tempting to look at the best of today’s creatives and compare them with the greats: David Abbott, John Webster, Helmut Krone, George Lois, Ed McCabe, Mary Wells, Bill Bernbach, Paul Arden, Sir John Hegarty.
And to think there’s no-one around who could hold a candle to any of them.
But is it a fair comparison?
They were working with account men like Frank Lowe, Tim Bell and Nigel Bogle, they were working with media guys like Mike Yershon, directors like Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson, and planning hadn’t even been invented then.
Of course it was easier to do great work, everyone wanted great work.
There weren’t hundreds of TV channels and big data and micro-targeting, and ad tech, and dozens of different platforms, and five campaigns shown at creative pitches.
What was wanted was quality not quantity, one fantastic ad not a dozen space-fillers.
It was, in fact, much easier in those days to do great work.
Sure the competition was tougher, but everyone was agreed on what they wanted, ads that made the public sit up and take notice.
I know the people working today may not have stood up against the greats.
But I’m not sure that if any of the greats had been working today, they would have been able to produce great work either.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three