By Adrian Mann
Imagine that, something that seemed almost impossible during Michael Schumacher’s years of dominance in the early-to-mid 2000s, has happened about 15 years later. ‘Not in our lifetime’ many said when talking about the prospects of anybody breaking Schumacher’s gargantuan records.
And understandably so, at the time nobody seemed to be capable of accomplishing the feat. By the time Schumacher retired (for the first time) at the end of 2006, he had amassed an impressive tally of 91 race wins, 68 pole positions and seven world championships.
The Heir Apparent
When the German retired, a young Fernando Alonso seemed to be the heir apparent with two dominant seasons under his belt. In 2005 and 2006 the Spaniard won 14 races and two world titles. His next move was eagerly anticipated and it came in 2007 when he left Renault and joined a resurging powerhouse – McLaren Mercedes. Everything was set for Alonso to continue his winning streak.
However, Alonso’s team mate was the reigning GP2 champion, 22-year-old Lewis Hamilton, who was making his Formula 1 debut. In his very first year the young Briton managed to win four races, the same as Alonso, and finished the season ahead of his team-mate in P2, with the same number of points. Not to mention that Hamilton went into the final race of the season with 107 points, four points ahead of Alonso and seven points ahead of third-placed Kimi Räikkönen. If it wasn’t for a gearbox issue that relegated the Briton from P2 to the back of the grid and ultimately to P7, he could have very well won the championship in his debut year. A new superstar was born.
Alonso left McLaren at the end of 2007 and Hamilton went on to win next year’s championship. A new contender for Schumacher’s crown had emerged. However, despite a total of 21 victories over the course of his career with McLaren, he wasn’t able to win another championship by the time he left the British outfit at the end of 2012.
In the meantime, Sebastian Vettel seemed to become the man capable of going after Schumacher on the all-time scoreboard. From 2010 until 2013 the German amazingly amassed a tally of 33 victories and four drivers’ championships, in his dominant Red Bull. It is at that point that the winds in Formula 1 started to change.
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In 2012 Lewis Hamilton made a surprise decision and chose to leave McLaren and join an, up to that point, midfield outfit – the new Mercedes works team. Mercedes, who for years enjoyed a successful partnership with McLaren, decided to sell its stake in the British outfit and enter Formula 1 as a full-fledged works team. However it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. For the first three years Mercedes wasn’t exactly a winning team. The outfit finished fourth in the constructors’ championship in 2010 and 2011, but then dropped to fifth in 2012. It is at that point that Lewis Hamilton entered the picture. In 2013, with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes started showing signs of brilliance that will become its norm from 2014 onward. The team finished 2013 in P2 and the very next year, after a big F1 rule change, it left everyone else in the dust.
Hamilton beat Rosberg to win the 2014 championship and proceeded to repeat the feat on four more occassions. On his path of unprecedented success the Briton started shattering record after record, from most podium finishes to most pole positions, and now sits on the verge of surpassing the record for most race wins and equalling the record for most F1 drivers’ titles. There is no doubt that by the time 2020 comes to a close, he will do just that.
What seemed impossible around 15 years ago, is actually happening right now. Lewis Hamilton will statistically become the most successful driver in Formula 1 history and it will happen in our lifetime!
Another History Boy?
People are now saying we are not likely to see Hamilton’s records broken again “in our lifetime”. The person often mentioned as the Briton’s successor is 23-year-old Max Verstappen, who has so far won 9 races in his seven-year F1 career. The other driver people are talking about is another 23-year-old, Charles Leclerc. Ferrari’s wunderkind scored two race wins in only his second Formula 1 season and is hailed as a future champion. However, there’s a long way for both drivers to go, to even be mentioned as possible pretenders to King Lewis’ throne. It could be that the person to challenge these records has not yet entered Formula 1. He or she might not have even been born yet.
But, as we learned, history has a habit of surprising us and showing us that anything is possible. So is it likely that Verstappen, Leclerc, or somebody we’re not even considering yet, will rise up to break Hamilton’s future records? Naaah, not in our lifetime! 🙂
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