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Thoughts on the 70th Anniversary GP

Max Verstappen won the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix (Image: Pirelli)

Formula 1 celebrated its 70th anniversary on Sunday with a Grand Prix at Silverstone, scene of the first ever World Championship race in 1950. The race was won by Max Verstappen, with Lewis Hamilton second and Valtteri Bottas third.

The race was notable in many respects, a few of which I’ll cover here.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull shine

Until Sunday’s race, it seemed perfectly plausible that Mercedes could win every race in 2020. With 4 wins from the opening 4 rounds of the season, Mercedes had been challenged only by by their own reliability issues in Austria and Pirelli’s fragile tyres at the British Grand Prix.

That all changed on Sunday when Max Verstappen and Red Bull beat Mercedes fair and square. They were helped by warm conditions and softer compound tyres than had been used at the previous week’s race, But the win was in no way fortunate. The combination of Red Bull and Verstappen was simply faster than Mercedes and the win was richly deserved.

Mercedes are still the team to beat, but Red Bull have now firmly established themselves as challengers. Verstappen is 30 points behind Hamilton in the Driver’s Championship – while that’s a sizeable gap, it’s by no means insurmountable. If Red Bull can continue to make progress, Verstappen might even have a shot at the title.

Hamilton matches Schumacher’s podium record

Not long ago, it was thought that most of Michael Schumacher’s records would stand for many years to come, possibly even forever. Lewis Hamilton has had other ideas, and has been steadily rewriting the record books, in the process firmly establishing himself as one of the great racing drivers of all time.

On Sunday, Hamilton scored his 155th podium, matching Schumacher’s tally. Hamilton achieved the feat in his 255th F1 race, meaning he has stood on the podium in just over 60% of the races has entered. That’s an astonishing rate of success, even considering that Hamilton has always driven competitive cars in his F1 career.

It’s hard to imagine that Hamilton will not claim the podium record outright in the very near future, probably at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The next record in Hamilton’s sights will be Schumacher’s mammoth total of 91 Grand Prix victories. To understand just how massive that tally is, consider that it is just one short of the total wins of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost combined.

Hamilton currently sits second in the all-time win list on 87. With at least 7 races left in 2020, and probably more still to be scheduled, it is possible that Hamilton will become Formula One’s most successful driver by race victories this season.

Hulkenberg deserves a place in F1

On the Thursday before the British Grand Prix, Sergio Perez tested positive for Covid-19, which ruled him out of competing. That meant Racing Point were in a sudden mad dash to find a driver. Nico Hulkenberg came to the rescue, rushed to Silverstone and made it through all of the mandatory checks just in time to participate in FP1 on Friday. Despite having not driven an F1 car all season and not having driven the current Racing Point RP20 at all, Hulkenberg spent the weekend getting closer and closer to team-mate Lance Stroll’s lap times.

A failure on the car meant he was unable to take part in the race, a massive disappointment for him and the team.

But Hulkenberg’s work was rewarded the following weekend at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix when he qualified 3rd on the grid, faster than everybody except the two Mercedes drivers, and comprehensively beating team-mate Stroll. Some issues with tyre wear in the race meant Hulkenberg had to make an extra pit stop and he ended up finishing seventh, just 13 seconds behind Stroll.

It was a demonstration of Hulkenberg’s value to any Formula 1 team. After so smoothly slotting into Perez’s seat and delivering points for Racing Point, it seems likely that any team in need of a driver for 2021 will be knocking on Hulkenberg’s door.

Albon desperately needs a good result

Alexander Albon is in a pretty tough situation. He’s a young, quick, exciting driver in a good car, and while that sounds like a perfect combination, there’s one problem: his team-mate is Max Verstappen. Verstappen is arguably the quickest driver in the field, with the possible exception of Lewis Hamilton, and he is using every ounce of his speed to try to challenge Mercedes for race wins. In the process, Albon is being comprehensively overshadowed by Verstappen at just about every turn.

It’s a situation reminiscent of a young Michael Schumacher leaving his team-mates in his dust. Verstappen is world champion material and it will be difficult for anyone to match him in the same car. At last weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Verstappen won the race while Albon finished 39 seconds back in fifth place. That gap is largely a positive reflection on Vertappen rather than a negative one on Albon, but Albon might struggle to see it that way. He will not be happy until he at least matches his team-mate.

Albon so desperately needs a strong result. Can he finally stand on the podium at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix? It would provide him with a much-needed confidence boost.

Hamilton hunting Prost

Lewis Hamilton on his way to victory at the 2016 United States Grand Prix (Image: Daimler AG)

Lewis Hamilton on his way to victory at the 2016 United States Grand Prix (Image: Daimler AG)

This weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix could see Lewis Hamilton pull level with F1 legend Alain Prost’s tally of race wins. Prost took the chequered flag first 51 times in his illustrious career. Hamilton currently sits on 50 career wins in Formula 1, and shows no signs of stopping just yet.

During the course of his F1 career, Hamilton has accumulated records at a steady rate. He already has more wins (50) and pole positions (58) than any other British driver in the sport’s history (considering the number of British F1 drivers, the comparison is actually meaningful) and is equal with Jackie Stewart for most titles by a British driver (3).

In the overall standings, Hamilton lies third for pole positions on 58, after Michael Schumacher (68) and Ayrton Senna (65). If Mercedes remain competitive, it is possible that Hamilton could top the pole position list as soon as 2017.

A more significant record, though, is that for most career victories. Hamilton currently lies third in the overall standings, on 50 wins. Michael Schumacher leads the way by some margin on 91, with Alain Prost second on 51. It’s Prost’s second place that Hamilton seems sure to match, perhaps even in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Prost achieved his 51st win (at the time a record) in his 196th race entry. Lewis Hamilton (if he wins on Sunday) would match Prost’s tally in only his 186th race, 10 fewer than the illustrious Frenchman. It’s worth noting here that Michael Schumacher’s 51st victory came in just his 158th F1 race when he won the 2001 Hungarian Grand Prix. Also interesting to note is Schumacher and Prost each took their 51st win in the year they won their fourth World Championship (Prost in 1993 and Schumacher in 2001). If Hamilton wins the title this year, he will also match Prost’s tally of 4 titles.

Lewis Hamilton is only 31 years old and potentially has several F1 seasons remaining in his career. It seems virtually certain that he will equal Prost’s tally of wins, perhaps even this weekend. The next target is Schumacher’s mammoth 91 victories. How close can Hamilton get? Time will tell.

Rosberg heading for records in 2016

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Chinese Grand Prix victory (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Chinese Grand Prix victory (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg is currently leading the 2016 World Drivers’ Championship. Whether or not he wins the title this year, it seems inevitable that Rosberg will break at least one record this season.

With 6 races remaining (including tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix), Rosberg already has 8 wins in 2016. That’s already one more than the highest number of wins without winning the title in a season. Currently the record stands at 7 (Alain Prost in 1984 and 1988, Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 and Michael Schumacher in 2006). If Rosberg loses out on this year’s championship, he will certainly break this slightly unfortunate record.

A happier record that beckons for Rosberg is the most wins in a season for a first-time champion. Currently the record stands at 9, achieved by Nigel Mansell when he won his only title in 1992. Rosberg has 8 wins with 6 races remaining in the season and he is in fine form, having won the last three races in succession. It therefore seems probable that he will at least equal Mansell’s 9 wins, and likely that he will exceed that number.

One other record is possible, but unlikely. Currently the record for most wins in a season stands at 13 (Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013). If Rosberg wins all 6 remaining races this year, he will have clocked up 14 wins in 2016. It seems improbable that Rosberg will break this particular record, as it would require him to win 9 races in a row. It would not, however, be the first 9-race winning streak in F1 history – Sebastian Vettel won the last 9 races of 2013.

Rosberg qualified second for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, putting himself in a strong position to fight for victory and draw closer to the title and a record-breaking total of wins in 2016.

Hamilton on pole yet again in Hungary

Hamilton took his 9th pole position of 2015 in Hungary (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Hamilton took his 9th pole position of 2015 in Hungary (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Hamilton’s incredible run of pole positions continued as the reigning World Champion topped qualifying for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton now has nine pole positions out of ten races in 2015, and five poles in a row. Nico Rosberg completed the front row of the grid for Mercedes, the fifth race in a row that has happened.

Who can beat Hamilton to pole? So far only Nico Rosberg has done so this year, and on only one occasion. The rest of the season, Hamilton has seemed untouchable. In qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton lapped over half a second faster than team-mate Rosberg, which is a massive margin in equal equipment. Rosberg didn’t seem to be able to put together a clean lap, perhaps a sign of how hard he is having to push to catch Hamilton.

Hamilton’s five poles in a row equals the most consecutive pole positions by a driver currently racing in Formula 1. Fernando Alonso achieved the feat in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel has done it twice – in 2010-11 and again later in 2011. Hamilton still has a way to go to beat Ayrton Senna’s astonishing record of eight successive pole positions, set in 1988-89, but it is certainly possible that Hamilton might dethrone Senna a bit later in 2015.

In a sport as competitive as Formula 1, any small advantage can be the difference between winning and coming second. Pole position provides at least two such advantages – pole position is generally on the “cleaner”, more grippy side of the track, which makes for a better start to the race than second place; the pole-sitter also controls the pace of the warm-up lap, which allows him to maximise the preparation of his own car for the start of the race. Pole position is definitely the place to be at the start of a Grand Prix.

Tomorrow, Hamilton will start from pole position for the ninth time this season. For the ninth race in 2015, he will have the advantages that make his race start a little bit easier and therefore potentially faster. And the Hungaroring, where the race is taking place, is a track at which overtaking is notoriously difficult. It’s not quite as simple as Hamilton needing to just make a clean start to win the race, but it’s not far off that. If Rosberg can pass Hamilton on track, it will be an impressive move indeed.

Once again, Hamilton has set himself up to have the best chance of victory in a Grand Prix. That’s just one of the many reasons he’s currently the man to beat in Formula 1.

Hamilton closing in on pole records

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton is the reigning Formula 1 World Champion. He is leading the 2015 Drivers’ Championship and is the favourite to be this year’s champion too. One of the reasons for his current dominance is his qualifying performance. Hamilton has qualified in pole position for nine out of the first ten races of the season. That performance is remarkable, and could lead to Hamilton breaking some records in the not too distant future.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Hamilton’s qualifying record in 2015 is how much he has improved since 2014. Last season, Nico Rosberg had team-mate Hamilton soundly beaten in terms of pole positions over the season, taking 11 poles to Hamilton’s seven. In 2014 so far, Rosberg has just one pole position (in Spain), while Hamilton has had the top spot on the grid for every other race.

The record for most pole positions in a season is currently held by Sebastian Vettel, who was on pole an astonishing 15 times out of 19 races in 2011. Hamilton will need another seven pole positions this season to beat Vettel’s record. After this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, there are nine races left in 2015. If Hamilton keeps up his Saturday dominance, there is a distinct possibility that Vettel’s record could be under threat.

Given the dominance of the Mercedes team since the start of 2014, it looks like Hamilton is set to have many more pole positions over the next season or two. And that puts a more significant milestone within reach – Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions.

Hamilton is currently on 47 career pole positions (up to and including the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix), 21 shy of Schumacher’s record. There are not enough races left in 2015 for Hamilton to challenge the record this season, but it could be within reach as soon as the end of 2016 if Mercedes can produce another dominant car for next year.

At just 30 years old, Hamilton still has potentially quite a long career in Formula 1 ahead of him. Even if he finds himself in less than dominant cars for a few seasons, it is still likely that he will ultimately beat Schumacher’s qualifying record.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Sebastian Vettel (currently on 45 pole positions) will get there first.

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