Unflappable Hamilton’s Schumi Run Fails to Lift F1
Mercedes and Hamilton have everything to race for
Even as Formula1 announced the next seven races after the recently concluded six, Lewis Hamilton’s blistering chase of Michael Schumacher’s records hasn’t quite roused fans to the belated season.
Off to a sputtering start in Melbourne when the first race of the season was called off on the eve due to the pandemic, Formula1 has slowly been rebuilding an itinerary for the season.
Lewis Hamilton has wasted little time since in building distance between himself and second man in the drivers’ championship Max Verstappen of Red Bull, expanding his lead to 37 points in six completed races.
Ferrari continued to lick their wounds from a slower car than anticipated, and a somewhat stuttering Charles LeClerc compared with his maverick season last year, and the deteriorating relationship with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who was unceremoniously dumped ahead of the restart.
At the Silverstone circuit it was all about tyre degradation and car management as Hamilton limped on the final lap to the chequered flag virtually on three tyres, drawing a comparison to the character Lightning McQueen from the animated movie Cars by one commentator.
By the second race, which was the 70th anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, twenty-two year old Verstappen showed his mettle once more, dashing Hamilton’s streak and revealing himself as the only worthy challenger to the Mercedes driver thus far.
Such was Verstappen’s momentum, that by the time the race moved to Spain the following weekend, his exasperation had left him fuming in his car as the team persisted with a longer strategy on tyres he felt he was done with.
“I’m losing so much time. Who cares if I’m put in traffic? I’ll easily pass them,” he was heard saying over the radio, his confidence in his overtaking skills as evident as his frustration for a team that left him out longer of the pits for a much needed change of tyres.
Verstappen was heard telling the pit garage over the radio later in the race, “How about we just focus on our race first instead of looking to Lewis?”
He had a point. After the sixth race, Hamilton was not only closing in on Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 race wins with his 88th, but also cleared the chequered flag a good 24.1 seconds before Verstappen, who finished second.
Hamilton’s domination of the unusual 2020 season, while phenomenal, failed to piqur interest in a sport being run cautiously amidst the pandemic. His 156th podium finish, one more than Schumacher, failed to entice sports fans, particularly after the drubbing of the popular Scuderia Ferrari who have failed to fire.
Apart from two podium finishes, LeClerc has had two did-not-finish to his name, making him a little less intense on the points table than Ferrari would have liked. Still, at 45 points to Vettel’s 16 for the season he has still outshone his teammate further revealing the wreckage in the aftermath of Ferrari’s decision to part with the former champion.
The annoying conversation that consumed Vettel towards the end of the race in Spain set chatter forth once more that Ferrari’s relationship with the German had hit an all-time low. Vettel was furious at not being given instructions on managing race strategy, explicitly stating the situation at one point, and asking for guidance, before reacting angrily when he felt he was being misled and worse, ignored.
With Formula1 confirming a further seven races including a return to old race circuits in Nurburgring and Imola as well as new prospects in Mugello and Portimao, slim though the chance, Vettel may just find a way to show his mettle as he looks for a seat in 2021.
For the others it might be too late in the day to challenge Hamilton, who has looked unflappable at age 37 even with the young guard all chasing him. It is hard to see him not matching Schumacher for seven world titles this season, or crossing Schumacher’s 91 race wins.
For Ferrari fans, it is a double blow. With their own drivers underperforming, LeClerc in the mix behind Hamilton and Verstappen, and Vettel all but absent as far as prospects are concerned, the need to keep Schumacher’s legacy in Ferrari’s hands has altogether failed.
And by Vettel’s own admission, the plan to delay Hamilton’s inevitable success was also failed.
Despite the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement that have become significant additions to the season, it is expected that Formula1 will announce more races in due course.
The toll on drivers and teams though remains an ongoing debate. With the season heading into its third triple-header, Verstappen talking about it having hit its limit of back-to-back races weeks go.
With the first of three races set to kick off at Belgium’s Spa Francochamps, the worst should be behind drivers and teams as far as a tightly packed race schedule goes.
That, though, does not mean that Hamilton will be letting up any time soon, raring as he is to go race after race. After all, Mercedes and Hamilton have everything to race for, fans or no fans!