Ninety-one race wins and still going strong. Lewis Hamilton’s form has not faded - if anything he is a steelier and more determined driver than ever - and while Michael Schumacher retired for the first time in the 2006 season, ending his winning run, the Brit looks set to continue for years to come after equalling the record set by his predecessor at the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday.
The change in Hamilton’s public character over the years speaks to a maturity and determination that should allow him to earn yet more victories. If he maintains this level for the rest of the season, it will give him a durable legacy. One that looks as unbeatable as Schumacher’s once did.
His interest in music endures, but the lack of attention it garners now demonstrates a redoubled focus on his most impressive talent. He remains a celebrity, and not averse to attention, but he now puts the Black Lives Matter movement front and centre of his career.
Perhaps Hamilton’s most impressive talent is his longevity. There have been other champions throughout his career, with Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg beating him on occasions over the course of a decade. But Rosberg could not sustain a career after that point, and after defeating Hamilton he elected to retire. Vettel has remained in Formula One but his talent has been dragged down by Ferrari, while the Italian team have elected to start next season without him. Hamilton does not just have stamina, he has dominance.
History-maker: Hamilton levels Schumacher's incredible record
There was talk earlier in this coronavirus-blighted season that Hamilton might even be targeted by Ferrari. It would have been a chance for the greatest name in racing history to team up with the greatest name in Formula 1 since Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. It is testament to Hamilton’s talents and self-assuredness that he did not pursue a move. There are few drivers who could have turned down an approach from Ferrari, and fewer still who are unlikely to regret it. His attitude demands the best from those around him, and the Italian side simply can't be relied upon to give him that.
Listening over the course of last season and this, it is obvious beyond the wins why Mercedes are desperate to keep hold of him. Throughout races, even as he leads from the front, Hamilton cuts an affronted figure. He complains almost without interruption about the state of his tires. He complains about technical faults and what his car offers him. From his team he demands everything, and even when they finally hand over the car to him after days, weeks and years of testing, it is not good enough for him. This is a driver who leads not just from the front of the grid, but leads the engineering team.
In the throes of competition he might sound unreasonably demanding or petty, but once the race is over he is quick to pay tribute to those same colleagues he previously chastised. Hamilton has become part of Mercedes rather than just an employed driver. His performances and achievements demand respect but he gives that respect back to those who assist him.
Lewis Hamilton after winning the 2015 F1 World Championship at Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo
Image credit: Eurosport
At 35, retirement may not be imminent for Hamilton, but it won’t be at the back of his mind any longer. A record number of victories would be one metric for him to prove that he is the greatest ever, but there is perhaps an even more impressive achievement that he could work towards. He has already surpassed Juan Manuel Fangio’s five championships, but maybe there is another record to surpass. At one time, Fangio’s own record looked like it would never be beaten until Schumacher blasted through with seven of his own. Hamilton is on course to equal the German’s seven.
The sheer mental and physical strain that places on a person made it seem as if when he stood down, it would be almost impossible to rival. With Hamilton imperious, eight seems inevitable. Ten seems distantly possible.
To win more championships, he will have to withstand what will almost certainly be an improved Max Verstappen, whose aggression needs to be only slightly moderated before it becomes a real threat. Ferrari, too, can't underperform indefinitely. And the chances of Mercedes retaining their technical excellence have to wane at some point. Valtteri Bottas, his accommodating team-mate, may have a little extra in him as his desire for a win of his own grows.
None of these factors are easy to negotiate but Hamilton will have to see them all off. And you wouldn't put it past him. His record-equalling effort on Sunday suggests that while it may be a draining slog to get there, he currently has no equal.