LONDON • Gerhard Berger has always rated Ayrton Senna in a league of his own, but Lewis Hamilton now ranks alongside the late Brazilian Formula One champion in his estimation.
The former Austrian driver, speaking ahead of the 25th anniversary of Senna's May 1 death, said that while his friend still led as a personality, given the legend that surrounds him, the similarities were clear in purely sporting terms.
He added that statistics were not the only way of measuring greatness as he preferred to go more by "feeling and watching".
Berger, 59, who partnered Senna at McLaren from 1990 to 1992, said: "Everybody asks me: 'How do you see this driver against Ayrton?' and I always, in all the years, say: 'I don't see anybody near to Ayrton'.
"For me, there were great champions like Nelson (Piquet), Niki (Lauda), (Alain) Prost, Michael (Schumacher), but there has always been one above - Ayrton.
"And now Lewis I see in the same league, the first driver I put on the same level as Ayrton."
Mercedes' Hamilton has 68 points and leads the standings by six going into Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The five-time F1 champion holds several records, including the most pole positions (84), and his 75 wins are second only to seven-time winner Schumacher's 91.
While Senna lifted three titles with McLaren and took home the chequered flag in 41 races, Berger feels he would surely have gone on to win more races had he not died at 34, the age of Hamilton now.
"The comparison?" said Berger, who won 10 races for Benetton, McLaren and Ferrari between 1986 and 1997, and now runs the DTM (German Touring Car) series.
"I see still Ayrton winning the game because in the end, he was such a charming guy and a personality. If someone loses his life and stays with us in the way of a legend, it's always something special.
"But I try to see it from a performance point. Lewis is going from one pole position to the next one, and Lewis is going from one race win to the next one.
"Just like Ayrton did."
He also described Hamilton as "outstandingly fast" and tipped him to break Schumacher's title record, adding: "It looks like he's just running the game in such a good way that he's unbeatable at the moment.
"Yes he's in the best car and best engine, but he also is the best. By far the best man at the moment. I would like to protect Michael's success because of such a tragedy (the German suffered severe head injuries in a 2013 ski accident).
"But when you put this (aside) for a moment, then Hamilton is a very special driver."