Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen: “We cannot imagine what the new record will be before Lewis decides to retire”

October 12, 2020January 6th, 2022

IT has been really impressive to watch Lewis Hamilton match Michael Schumacher’s 91 Grand Prix victories at Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix. To win one Grand Prix is not easy, so to repeat that so many times over 14 years in Formula 1 is a very special achievement and one that Lewis has every right to be proud of.

To win races and a World Championship requires many things, including a great car, strong teammate and excellent team of people to support you, and Lewis has benefitted from all of those things at Mercedes. But you also have to perform yourself, because no matter how good your car is, you have to do the driving, operate the systems in the right way, execute the right strategy and, most importantly of all, be a really good racing driver.

Lewis’s ability to deliver victories, and then to repeat them over time, starting at the age of 21 and continuing now that he is 35, is no easy task. I know how much energy it took to win the title twice, and when I stopped racing in Formula 1 I knew it was the right moment – at 33 – so no one should think that what Lewis has done is simply a question of having the best car. It requires ability, fitness, application and focus to keep on winning, and clearly Lewis has found the way to do that. 

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I was very happy to see Mick Schumacher present Lewis with one of his father’s helmets at the end of the race. The Schumacher family is very strong, and Michael is a formidable competitor who will be the first person to recognise Lewis’s achievements, so it was a good moment for Mick to represent him and acknowledge the record of 91 race wins being matched. 

We all now expect it to be broken very soon, and we cannot imagine what the new record will be before Lewis decides to retire. Michael, of course, still holds records such as the most wins in a single season – 13 – and his place in history is assured, but Lewis is right there with him at the top of the record books.

Having a strong teammate has been important throughout Lewis’s Formula 1 career, from Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen to Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and now Valtteri Bottas. Valtteri had a very strong weekend at the Nurburgring, putting together a pole lap that was 0.3s faster than Lewis and racing brilliantly at the start to defend from Lewis and lead the race.

It’s easy to make a mistake while leading, however, particularly when it has started raining, and Valtteri’s lock-up at turn one on lap 12 gave Lewis an opportunity which he took. Although he later retired from the race with engine failure, Valtteri can look back on the weekend with a great deal of satisfaction because if he can out-qualify and race Lewis in this way it will benefit both him and the Mercedes team.

Max Verstappen shows that Red Bull Racing has continued to make progress with their car development at the weekend, a strong performance which again produced a second-place finish – but close enough to Mercedes to give them some concern. With Honda announcing that it is withdrawing from Formula 1, we must hope that the Japanese company continues to give both its teams full commitment for the rest of this year and throughout 2021 because realistically Red Bull remains the only serious threat to Mercedes next season.

Renault’s first podium since its return to Formula 1 in 2016 has taken longer than they hoped, but Daniel Ricciardo has continued to push hard and it was good to see him back on the podium. Fernando Alonso will have been happy to see his new team making so much progress this year because he will be hoping for podium opportunities next year when the team rebrands as Alpine F1. On the basis of the improvement in performance by the team this season he is right to be optimistic.

Two drivers who I want to mention from the weekend at Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg. Kimi started racing in Formula 1 when Lewis was only 16 years of age, and his new record of gaming 323 Grand Prix start shows that his enthusiasm for racing in Formula 1 has not changed. He has a great fanbase, for course, and although his Alfa Romeo team has the same challenge facing Ferrari in terms of engine performance, he continues to enjoy the challenge.

The challenge facing Nico on Saturday and Sunday was something special. Two months after he returned to Formula 1 with Racing Point it is difficult to imagine what it is like to be asked at 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning to jump back in a Grand Prix car and qualify without any practice. To score World Championship points in the race shows how fit and committed Nico is and, with Sergio Perez finishing fourth, what a good car the Racing Point team have. 

All racing drivers dream of getting the call to drive in Formula 1, even while drinking a coffee on a Saturday morning. Who knows, if Zak Brown at McLaren wants to call me with an opportunity, I might give it a go. I am only a little bit old than Kimi after all!