2020 Eifel Grand Prix Report: Hamilton Wins to Match Schumacher Record
Records are there to be broken.
It was a historic day, at a fittingly historic circuit, as Lewis Hamilton won at the Nürburgring and, in doing so, matched Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 91 race wins. The World Champion had to work for this momentous victory, overcoming an in-form team-mate, tricky conditions and a safety car.
Valtteri Bottas had taken an impressive pole on Saturday and kept up that gutsy approach on Sunday as, after Hamilton had made the better start and taken the inside line at the first corner, he kept his foot in whilst running well wide and somehow held onto the lead. Hamilton later mentioned how much that had impressed him.
The Finn kept the lead for 13 laps but, as his tyres began to suffer and Hamilton started to exert more pressure, he locked up into the first corner and dropped behind his team-mate. The flat spots on his tyres meant he was forced to pit and change to a two-stop strategy. That may well have worked out in his favour, but a VSC after George Russell's retirement gave Hamilton and Max Verstappen a cheap pit stop and then Bottas's day went from bad to worse as a suspected MGU-H failure brought about his retirement. A 69-point deficit in the championship standings is now looking fairly insurmountable.
Insurmountable was a word often used about Schumacher's records, though, and here we are.
Once his team-mate had retired, Hamilton set about keeping the feisty Dutchman in the Red Bull at arm's length and opened out a lead of around 10 seconds, whilst looking likely to lap every other car in the process. That was all cancelled out by a safety car on lap 44, however. It was another debatable call where a VSC would probably have sufficed and, once the lapped cars had been allowed to pass and catch back up to the field, Hamilton and Verstappen were at a significant disadvantage. In the freezing conditions, high up in the Eifel mountains, their tyres were now far too cold, having sat behind the safety car for a needless amount of time.
They would just about hang on at the restart - the Mercedes DAS system being thoroughly utilised for the first time - and, from there, Hamilton's win looked secure. Behind the two frontrunners, Daniel Ricciardo held off the challenge of Sergio Pérez to finally earn that elusive podium for Renault. It has been a long time coming - Renault's last podium was nine years ago - but Cyril Abiteboul's trip to the tattoo parlour can now be booked. In all the excitement, the Aussie even forgot to do a 'shoey', much to his horror when this was pointed out later on...
Carlos Sainz found himself in fifth on a weekend where he had struggled with the latest aerodynamic updates, whilst team-mate Lando Norris returned to his 2019 levels of luck with an engine issue denying him a shot at the podium. He nursed the problem for a long time before the anti-stall kicked in, leaving him powerless and, ultimately, sat in a deckchair.
Further back, Pierre Gasly took an opportunistic sixth ahead of Charles Leclerc, who once again outclassed team-mate Sebastian Vettel all weekend. Nico Hülkenberg earned driver of the day in eighth after getting an even later call than he had for his previous substitute role in Silverstone. Lance Stroll seemingly developed a stomach bug and was unable to participate so the Hulk rushed to the Nürburgring just in time for Q1. He unsurprisingly qualified last with absolutely no practice but recovered incredibly well on race day and made yet another great case for a race seat in 2021.
HülkenBack. (Photo: Nico Hülkenberg, Twitter.)
Romain Grosjean defied a sore finger to score his first points of the season in ninth and Antonio Giovinazzi held off Vettel for the final point, after having been hampered by the timing of the safety car.
ANOTHER TOUGH DAY FOR ALBON
Alexander Albon was slightly closer to Verstappen in qualifying - albeit half a second back and behind the Ferrari of Leclerc - and in a decent position to achieve the minimum that Red Bull really want from him. That is, being in fourth so that they can put more pressure on Mercedes in terms of strategy and potentially pick up the pieces from any misfortune out front.
But again, it was not to be.
A lock-up on the first lap led to an early first pit stop and, yet again, it would have to be a recovery drive from there. Having made it back into the top 10, he needlessly cut across in front of sister-team-mate Daniil Kvyat; that lost the Russian his front wing and earned Albon a five-second penalty. He was very fortunate to escape without a puncture.
A few laps later he caught the other AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly and, whilst attempting a pass into the first corner, locked-up again, very nearly spearing into the side of the Frenchman and then radioed in saying, "they race me so hard". Martin Brundle's retort in commentary of "Welcome to Formula 1" sums it up really.
Albon and Gasly nearly collide. (Photo: www.motors-addict.com.)
Albon was forced to retire shortly after as apparently a stone had punctured his radiator. The awkward nature of the radio message conveying to him that he would be retiring, combined with the poor race to that point, has led to some theories that he was retired mid-race out of 'embarrassment' or to be fired.
Whilst that seems highly unlikely, it is not looking good for the Anglo-Thai driver. With Hülkenberg and Pérez both available next year and persistently proving their worth in tricky circumstances, it seems it is only Helmut Marko's insistence upon hiring strictly from within the Red Bull driver pool that is keeping him in a job.
HOW HIGH CAN HAMILTON GO?
With Hamilton now looking more certain than ever to secure a seventh world title by the end of the year and thus match another Schumacher record, how high can he raise the numbers that will be etched next to his name when he leaves the sport?
The next obvious landmark is 100.
100 poles could well happen this year and 100 wins is starting to seem a certainty at some point next year, considering the level of dominance shown by the Silver Arrows and the lack of evolution between this year's cars and those of 2021. Some even talk of 10 world titles. But the new regulations in 2022 make anything from then a total unknown at this point and Hamilton is yet to officially sign a contract even for next season.
Wherever the high-tide marks settle, they may well look insurmountable as Schumacher's did before. But, as the great man himself said, "records are there to be broken". Maybe it could even be his son, Mick, who breaks them. For now, let's just enjoy that we are witnessing history being made and great moments like Mick handing over a gift from the Schumacher family to Hamilton to honour his achievement.