• Lewis Hamilton is on track to bag his seventh F1 championship.
• His next win will match Michael Schumacher's tally of 91 victories.
• But there's one record Hamilton can't beat.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za
As Lewis Hamilton eases towards his seventh and arguably his most unconvincing Formula One championship driver's title, previous all-time records set by Michael Schumacher are falling one by one.
Should Hamilton take another expected win on Sunday at Sochi, he will match the German's record of 91 victories, while earlier this year surpassing the former Ferrari ace's record of the most podium positions and most points finishes earned in his career.
In semblance of the Schumacher regime, Hamilton's record-harvesting comes in a fallow period for F1; marked by mature regulations allowing limited technical innovation, the absence of serious competition, a team built around a lead driver, driving the fastest and most reliable car – which all contrive to create enduring dynasties of dominance.
Which inevitably leads to an overstatement of the gravity of their achievements.
Michael Schumacher taking one of his six victories at Spa-Francorchamps (Hoch Zwei / Getty Images)
Although Hamilton's seventh driver's title, which will be won before the season's end, will match Schumacher's record, there's one accomplishment that the Mercedes driver will never better: the number of championships won with different engine manufacturers.
Both of Schumacher's non-Ferrari world championships were won with Benetton; his 1994 crown came courtesy of Ford power; followed by Renault in 1995 before his spell of supremacy at Ferrari between 2000-2004.
Before Schumacher, one has to look as far back as Alain Prost to find another multi-engine F1 champion, having scored his four titles with Porsche power (1985-1986), Honda (1989) and Renault (1993). But the boss of them all is Juan Manuel Fangio, who won his five world championships with four different cars – Alfa Romeo (1951), Mercedes-Benz (1954-1955), Ferrari (1956) and Maserati (1957).
Compare that to Lewis Hamilton, who's never won a championship without power from any other than Mercedes. Even his debut title-clinching 2008 McLaren MP4-23's Mercedes FO108V was built at High-Performance Powertrains at Brixworth in the UK – the same Mercedes affiliate responsible for every engine of every other F1 car Hamilton has ever driven in his career. And what of his fellow multiple champions, such as Vettel, Alonso, Häkkinen or Senna? That'll be one engine manufacturer for each, too.
Lewis Hamilton. (Image: GettyImages/Albert Gea)
The latter-day absence of sufficient manufacturer representation places both F1 as a conflation of sport and business, along with the value of the champion driver's ultimate achievement – at a discomforting existential intersection.
The evil espousal of the 2008/09 global financial crisis, followed by the turbo-hybrid era has wreaked devastation upon the credibility of sporting excellence in F1. By the advent of the millennium's second decade, Honda, BMW and Toyota had all pulled out of F1, leaving Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes as the sole heirs tasked with powering the entire grid. The post-cash crunch fallout has made vanity projects such as motorsport unjustifiable to corporates; which, combined with the prohibitive cost of success in F1's hybrid period has continued to keep them away; bar Honda, which joined in 2015.
Hybrid engine failure
Once F1's new competitive order had established itself in the latter half of the past decade, Lewis Hamilton could not be faulted for his desire to stay with the team that had aced the new engine formula with such devastating effectiveness – or to stay away from those, such as Ferrari and Red Bull – who have been able to display flashes of brilliance, but were seldom able to mount a consistent title challenge.
But F1's choice of hybrid engines as a defining direction in an attempt to lure more road car manufacturers has been an abject failure. Had there been more competitive teams represented by more manufacturers, the record books could have read differently today.
There's also the question of what makes the most complete driver. True champions are consistently fast; habitually outperform their car; convert adversity into opportunity; and have mental reserves throughout the race, weekend and year to observe and calculate every advantage before seizing it.
Then there's adaptability – an intangible that's the cherry on top of a multi-champion's CV.
(Photo by Bongarts/Getty Images)
Undeniably, the most complete drivers can win with more than one type of car. To what god-like status would Ayrton Senna not have been exalted if he could drive and win in a Ferrari – as indeed he was planning when he met its former chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, in the week before his death at Imola in 1994?
Or the messianic-like following Lewis Hamilton would enjoy if he took a twilight title with the Scuderia?
Ironically, the very lack of Hamilton's lack of career choices that has bestowed upon him such mercurial success are the same ones that will ultimately pin an asterisk next to his records, which through circumstance alone are unlikely ever to be exceeded.
Looking to the future, with the current engine formula in lockdown until the end 2024, none of its rivals are likely to find a silver bullet that could unseat Mercedes, by which time Hamilton will be retired; contemplating what he would have done differently if he could do it all over again; and what other company car should have been in his garage – other than a Mercedes.