Hamilton equals Schumacher F1 race win record following Bottas retirement

Lewis Hamilton finally equalled the great Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 grand prix victories after teammate and title rival Valtteri Bottas retired on lap 19 with an engine problem.

It meant that Hamilton, who initially trailed Bottas before the Finn made an error into Turn 1, was left in clear air to head home Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo to win the race and create his own piece of history.

Having arguably suffered huge slices of misfortune himself after race stewards deemed him guilty of infringements in Sochi and Mugello, it was perhaps fitting that Hamilton equalled Schumacher’s record in Germany, and he will surely now also equal his seven world titles by the end of the season.

“We had a good start up alongside Valtteri but understeered into the corner so tried to give as much room as possible, then he was in my blind spot so I didn’t know where he was so I didn’t know where he was after that,” said Hamilton after the race. “I moved wide to the outside, but he came back, he did an amazing job and I remember coming out of that corner and thinking ‘good on you man, I’m impressed, that was good’.

“Then, after that, I had to make sure I could hang onto him for as long as possible and I managed to look after my tyres really well and I could see he was graining his front tyres, so I knew the next couple of laps were the time for me to push then he had to lock up.

“But it was not an easy race at all. The Red Bulls were extremely fast, Max drove extremely well. The one placve and chance he had was at the restart and I managed to pull away, pull a nice lap but you could see their pace at the end, and we have a serious fight on our hands.”

In recognition of Hamilton’s achievement, Mick Schumacher, who was denied the chance to drive in Friday’s FP1 session due to persistent fog, presented Hamilton with one of his father’s Mercedes race helmets.

“Wow. I’m really honoured. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you,” added Hamilton. “I don’t even really know what to say. You know when you grow up, watching someone you generally idolise them in terms of the quality of the driver they are and what they continuously do year on year, race on race, week on week with their team.

“I remember playing Michael on a game called Grand Prix 2, I think it was. But seeing his dominance for so long I didn’t think anyone, especially me, imagined I’d be anywhere near Michael in terms of records, so it’s an incredible honour and it’s going to take some time to get used to it. A big big thank you and huge respect to Michael.”

It was a great start from Bottas, who fought off Hamilton on the outside of the opening corner, many cars running wide off circuit but without penalty as this wasn’t a designated track limits area.  Amazingly, all cars made it round without incident, for almost the first time this season. Of the trailing pack, it was also a good first lap for Nico Hulkenberg who gained three places up to 17th from last on the grid.

In a so far brilliant season that has seen action aplenty on track, it initially appeared that this would be one of the more processional races of the COVID-19 affected year. But with the colder circuit conditions having an adverse effect on the tyres and the threat of rain looming, drama was quickly forthcoming.

With tyre strategy even more critical in these colder conditions, Red Bull were first to roll the dice, Alexander Albon first of the big hitters to pit onto the mediums on lap 8 just before Ricciardo passed Charles Leclerc around the outside of Turn 1 and into fourth position.

Leclerc pitted for mediums on lap 11 just as teammate Vettel spun into Turn 1, the 2013 winner then reporting a flat spot. The action was, at last, starting to hot up. A big lock-up from race leader Bottas into Turn 1 destroyed his tyres and handed Hamilton the lead, the Finn having to immediately pit for medium tyres and a re-boot two stop strategy.

Suddenly, it was all going on, George Russell colliding with new longest-serving F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen into the treacherous Turn 1 and suffering terminal damage to put him out of the race.

Then, the big drama, as Bottas lost all power from his Mercedes, back-peddling down the field at a rate of knots before having to retire the car on lap 19. His first DNF of the season.

“Unlucky, you know. What can I say?” Bottas told Sky Sports after his retirement. “During VSC I started to lose power and it never recovered. It was quite a big loss of power, so it was something to do with the Power Unit. I have no details yet. So just unlucky.”

Hamilton pitted for mediums on lap 17 and on the same lap, a tangle between Daniil Kvyat and Albon saw the Russian lose his front wing. It meant a five-second penalty for Albon. But he didn’t even serve it as Red Bull retired the driver due to a technical issue. Drivers were suddenly dropping out, Esteban Ocon exiting the race with a brake issue.

It now looked as if Lando Norris was on for a second podium in F1 but then he too reported a loss of power and poor driveability, McLaren reporting a sensor problem. With Sergio Perez pitting for a fresh set of boots, Norris had no option but to pit himself, despite still reporting a loss of power. And the end came on lap 44 for the Englishman, pulling to the side of the track at the outside of Turn 6 and into retirement, his McLaren bodywork smoking.

Just when it appeared a walk to the chequered flag for Hamilton with Verstappen behind, a full Safety Car bunched the field up again as the leaders pitted for fresh tyres to take them to the end, Hamilton’s 11 second advantage reduced to nothing.

It meant for a barnstorming finish, Hamilton getting his tyres up to temperature to hold off Verstappen as Ricciardo came home third ahead of Perez, Carlos Sainz and Italian GP winner Pierre Gasly. Charles Leclerc was seventh ahead of the brilliant Hulkenberg as Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi rounded out the points scorers.

And although Hamilton took the plaudits for his record-equalling victory, it was arguably Ricciardo who could take home the prize as drive of the day.

“It’s been a while,” said Ricciardo afterward. “It actually feels like the first podium all over again. It’s been two and a half years or something and the feeling is really nice, it’s fresh so wow. Just so happy, and to see everyone as well. We’ve all waited a long time so, yeah I think everyone’s going to soak it up.”

Just as Hamilton gained his own piece of memorabilia for his achievement, so Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul will have a permanent reminder of Ricciardo’s achievement at the Nurburgring as Ricciardo gets to decide on the tatooo he has to get as part of a wager at the start of the season.

“It’s real. It’s going to happen. We’ll have to do some thinking now. But probably something to do with me but I think with a German flavour. This is the place we did it, so a little tip of the hat to something traditional in Germany as well.”

If that’s a hint, then expect Cyril to be displaying something not dissimilar to Avocado and Bratwurst!

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.