It was on October 1, 2006 at the Shanghai International Circuit in China that Michael Schumacher won what would prove to be the 91st and final Grand Prix of a Formula 1 career that was as spectacular as it was unprecedented in terms of achievement.
A relentless winning machine, Schumacher had surpassed Alain Prost’s previous high-water mark of 51 some five years beforehand and, by ultimately declaring at 91, he finished with just one fewer win than Prost and Ayrton Senna (41) combined, the similarly legendary two drivers directly behind him on the all-time winners’ list.
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Fernando Alonso, who would win that 2006 title from Schumacher for his second success in a row, was the sport’s new emerging star but he was only on 14 wins at the time Schumacher reached 91.
A 21-year-old McLaren protege making a big name for himself by winning the GP2 championship, the forerunner to what is now F2, but he was fresh from his maiden F1 test at Silverstone the previous month and not yet confirmed in a seat at the top table for 2007.
News of that McLaren drive would soon be made public, and it took the new British star all of seven races to start winning at the top level, but chasing down Schumacher’s 91?
“He would have never dreamt of achieving 91 wins, he would have never dreamt of having a similar career like Michael,” said Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s Mercedes boss, in a recent Sky Sports F1 interview.
“Certainly for a driver it must be very emotional if you achieve that.”
But, 14 years on from that final Schumacher success, and Hamilton has done just that by equalling a record that most had considered untouchable…
Schumacher and Hamilton compared
Different characters, different types of drivers, but the similarities between Schumacher and now Hamilton’s eras of dominance go beyond just their staggering winning numbers.
“The similarity is the fact that they both started their careers with one team, winning their first world championship, or championships in Michael’s case, and then took a risk,” explains Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok.
“Michael left Benetton, a team that was built around him, and went to Ferrari – took a year to say ‘hang on a minute this isn’t working for me’, then dragged people across like Ross Brawn.
“Lewis did a similar thing. He didn’t take the people with him from McLaren, but he took a risk – leaving McLaren to go to Mercedes at the time was a perceived risk. But wow, it’s worked out for him!”
When Hamilton shocked – and in some cases staggered – F1 by leaving a race-winning McLaren team in 2012 he was a one-time world champion with a very respectable 21 career wins, already marking him out as one of the sport’s legends.
But at that point of his career – six seasons and 110 races in – he was behind Sebastian Vettel’s statistical numbers among the current drivers, and had won nine races and one title fewer Schumacher at the same stage of their respective careers. And that’s before Schumacher and Ferrari had really kicked into gear.
Yet then came that game-changing move to Mercedes in 2013, one year ahead of the hybrid engine regulations that would elevate Hamilton’s new team to the status of F1 superpower.
Their star driver has entered a new stratosphere since then.
There have been 132 races in the current engine era – and the six-time champion has won 69 of then. That’s a staggering 52 per cent.
And not only has he maintained his unique career record of winning at least one race in every F1 campaign in which he has competed, Hamilton has won at least 10 races in five of those last six seasons, and on course to reach double figures again in this shortened campaign with seven in 11 so far this year.
Record-breaking victory number 92?
Consider that a sporting formality over the next month, probably as early as the next race in Portugal in two weeks’ time.
The first Formula 1 driver to three figures for race wins is barely less inevitable.
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