For almost 20 years Michael Schumacher has solely held Formula 1’s all-time win record but this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix presents Lewis Hamilton with his first opportunity to match his once seemingly unattainable tally.
Schumacher equalled previous record holder Alain Prost with victory number 51 at the 2001 Hungarian Grand Prix and then moved clear at the next event in Belgium.
Across the following five years Schumacher raised the benchmark and retired at the end of 2006 having taken 91 wins, 40 clear of second-placed Prost
Hamilton made his Formula 1 debut a year later and won on only his seventh outing but his march into the record books truly began when he joined forces with Mercedes in 2013, replacing Schumacher, following the German’s win-less three-year comeback stint.
Since Mercedes’ emergence as Formula 1’s leader in 2014 Hamilton has only once failed to record a double-digit number of victories per season – when he claimed nine wins in 2017.
Hamilton ended last season with win number 84 and amid Mercedes’ pre-season supremacy it became a question of when, rather than if, Schumacher’s record would fall.
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed, and shortened, the 2020 season but Hamilton has remained on top of his game, taking six victories from nine so far.
It leaves Hamilton only one win shy of Schumacher’s tally of 91 and he has his first chance to draw level at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.
“It just doesn’t seem real,” said Hamilton at Mugello. “Obviously it’s ultimately a privilege to be in a position and have such a great team and a car to be able to deliver weekend in, weekend out.
“I just feel forever grateful to the people that continue to work hard, I’m just a link in the chain but getting the wins is not easy when you have a great driver in Valtteri [Bottas] pushing you the limit, weekend in, weekend out.
“But I never thought that I would be here, that’s for sure.”
History is on Hamilton’s side this weekend as Mercedes has never been beaten at the Sochi Autodrom, which joined the Formula 1 calendar in 2014.
Hamilton triumphed in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, with his streak interrupted by Nico Rosberg’s 2016 victory and Bottas’ maiden success in 2017.
Should Hamilton leave Sochi empty-handed then he ostensibly has another seven chances to equal, and overhaul, Schumacher’s record prior to the end of 2020.