For the moment at least Lewis Hamilton is keeping his emotions strictly in check. He knows there is a job to be done before he can allow himself full rein to revel in what would be an extraordinary moment. The world champion can make history at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix with a win that would draw him level with Michael Schumacher’s record.
The German’s tally of 91 victories was expected to be untouchable but Hamilton, an athlete at the very peak of his powers, is in the process of redefining the Formula One record books. If he is on the top step at Sochi on Sunday then doubtless Hamilton, a consummate professional, will be able to truly consider and enjoy the import of a very personal success.
While he is not considering these history-making numbers yet, he acknowledged that Schumacher’s achievements had made a huge impression, as had the moment they shared in the German’s second to last race in Abu Dhabi in 2012.
“My first memory [of him] is probably when he won at Imola when Ayrton died. I watched his success from there,” Hamilton said. “I met him once the first time at the karting track he has at Kerpen and it was amazing as a kid to to be on the same track as him. I got a moment to talk to him. My fondest memory was in Abu Dhabi when we exchanged helmets. That was really big for me, for him to take a moment out of his day to exchange helmets with me. That is the most valuable helmet I have. We never had any deep conversations, it was just pure admiration.”
In Russia Hamilton recalled when Schumacher was told he had equalled Hamilton’s hero Ayrton Senna’s 41 grand prix wins at Monza in 2000 and broke down in tears. Hamilton might be equally touched when the enormity of his achievement sinks in but for now he is considering nothing but Sunday’s race.
“I do remember that moment,” he said. “As drivers there is a lot of emotion involved in what we do, with the love [of the sport] and the pressure and everything. I don’t know why I am the way I am, why numbers are not necessarily what I focus on. This weekend is not different to any other weekend for me. I have to work, I will have to work my backside off this weekend. I know how hard that is, I don’t think of anything else.”
This approach is entirely in keeping with Hamilton’s carefully controlled psychological process of never looking toward goals that have yet to be achieved and concentrating on the task in hand, one challenge at a time. It is a skill he has honed to remarkable effect in recent years and one he follows with rigid discipline. It has clearly paid off.
Schumacher won his last race in China in 2006, the year he retired for the first time. Hamilton followed immediately in his footsteps. He made his F1 debut in 2007 and won his first race at the sixth round that year in Canada. At the time it was unimaginable that he would go on to catch the German, yet in Russia he can do so and this season he will also surely match Schumacher’s record of seven titles as well.
He has every chance to equal Schumacher this weekend. Mercedes have not been beaten at Sochi since it was added to the calendar in 2014. Hamilton has had four wins since then and they looked very strong in practice once more. Valtteri Bottas topped the first session, with Hamilton in an unusual 19th after he was unable to set a time on the soft tyres, aborting his lap because Carlos Sainz went off in his McLaren. In the afternoon normal service was resumed. Bottas and Hamilton took a one-two, the Finn two-tenths up on his teammate, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo a full second back in third.
F1 also confirmed on Friday that the former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has been appointed president and CEO of the Formula One Group. He will replace Chase Carey, who is taking up a non-executive chairman role and will begin January.