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Hamilton’s 91st career victory equalled a record some felt might never be broken. He will move well beyond it before this season is over.
He is also now not very many races at all away from equalling Schumacher’s seven world championships. Hamilton’s victory at the Nurburgring put him 69 points clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with just 156 still available.
Hamilton spoke of being “humbled” by the moment, “proud” of the work he had done with Mercedes these last eight years, and the “honour” he felt at being presented with one of Schumacher’s old helmets by the German’s son Mick, himself poised to enter F1 before long.
Hamilton described Michael Schumacher as “an icon and a legend of the sport”. He reflected on the “journey” that had got him to where he is, and the people who had helped him along the way – particularly his father, Anthony, and Mercedes and McLaren, who backed him from the age of 13, long before it was clear he could become what he has.
It was left to the two men on the podium with him at the end of the race, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, to put some meaning to Hamilton’s achievement.
“Ninety-one wins – everyone thought that was almost impossible to reach,” Verstappen said. “So to be there now is incredible and I am pretty sure there will be some more victories coming his way and probably also championships. Just very impressive. And hard to beat.”
“Tip of the hat, at the very least,” Ricciardo said. “Ninety-one races is nearly five years’ worth of races. That gives perspective on how much success Lewis has now had. Michael as well.
“To do it week in, week out as well, and year on year – his career has been well over a decade – and to keep coming back and to show that level of consistency at the front is not easy.
“We understand that. You can have the package and car to do it but doing it every weekend when the lights go out is easier said than done. So, big respect.”
As Hamilton surveyed his career, one moment stood out as the key turning point that led him to where he is now – his decision to leave McLaren at the end of 2012 and join Mercedes.
Seventy of Hamilton’s victories have come since that moment, but it’s easy to forget now that at the time many questioned his decision, for McLaren back then were a front-running team, and Mercedes very much were not.
“I knew it was the right decision for me and I wanted to be part of the journey of growing with a team that was hungry for success,” Hamilton said. “But that was one of the most difficult moments.
“I have been a very loyal person. I had been with McLaren since I was 13 so to decide to leave a team that had given me a place in the sport was very, very difficult for me. And to call your boss and tell them you’re leaving was damaging and emotionally difficult.”
The decision was based on a belief that Mercedes would be best-placed to succeed at the start of F1’s new era of hybrid engines that started in 2014, and that’s exactly how it has turned out.
But it is one thing to have the right car, quite another to keep a period of success going for as long as Mercedes and Hamilton have been able to – maintaining relationships, keeping motivation without growing complacent, what his team boss Toto Wolff described as “the relentless push for perfection and tomorrow rather than looking back”.
“What impresses me the most,” Wolff added, “is as a human being he develops from year to year.
“The Lewis Hamilton we see today has nothing to do with the Lewis Hamilton I met in 2013, and what is most impressive is that someone who is performing on that level is still capable of getting better inside and outside the car every year.”
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