Formula One ace Hamilton, 35, won a seventh world title at the weekend to equal the record of German legend Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton‘s stellar achievements have seen him widely hailed as one of Britain’s greatest sportspeople and triggered an immediate campaign to see him receive a knighthood.
But reigning and six-time world champion O’Sullivan, 44, admits he is among those who attribute some of Hamilton’s success to the high-performing Mercedes car.
And in one jibe O’Sullivan said his own career would not mean as much “if I had been playing with bigger pockets than my opponents”.
Hamilton is the red-hot odds-on favourite for the BBC Sports Personality award next month – with O’Sullivan, who may get a first ever shortlist nomination, currently fourth favourite.
Asked about Hamilton’s place in the pantheon of sporting greats, O’Sullivan, in action at the Northern Ireland Open today, said: “I think it’s difficult to say where he is.
“A lot of the sports I watch…the people that have done it, you have to look whether it’s a level playing field.
“If you have a car that is going a second a lap quicker than the other cars, in theory all he has to beat is his team-mate [Valtteri] Bottas – who seems to be comfortable and happy playing second fiddle.
“It doesn’t mean as much as say a sport like tennis with [Roger] Federer playing everyone on a level playing field, or [Eliud] Kipchoge running against everyone on a level playing field.
“Snooker is like that, too, with a level playing field. In boxing certain boxers avoid certain fighters so that makes it hard for them to have credibility unless they fought the best.
“That’s why you have to give credit to people like Tyson Fury because you know they won’t duck anyone and will fight anyone anywhere at any time. I just think sport is where there is no advantage.
“You don’t get to choose your opponent or have better equipment. So for me, Federer, [Rafael] Nadal, [Novak] Djokovic, Phil Taylor in darts, Tiger Woods, [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo…it’s there to see.
“I wouldn’t have felt as good about my career in snooker if I had been playing on a table where the pockets I was using were bigger than my opponent’s.
“At least in snooker everyone has the same equipment and it is totally a level playing field. I don’t choose my opponents or the table.
“It is fantastic for Lewis to win seven world titles, but if your car is going around quicker you can afford to make a few mistakes and still get away with it. It’s a bit like driving around smoking a cigar with one finger on the wheel!”
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