Who will challenge Hamilton’s F1 record? - Andrew Noakes - Motoring Writer

Lewis Hamilton’s win in today’s Portuguese Grand Prix was more than just another step towards winning his seventh World Championship. It was his 92nd career victory, beating the record for World Championship wins held by Michael Schumacher since 2001. It’s a record that has been held outright by only eight drivers across the 70-year history of the sport.

Who were they? And who of the current (or future) crop of F1 drivers stands a chance of beating Hamilton’s new record?

F1’s record winners


1 Giuseppe Farina 1950

‘Nino’ Farina won only five World Championship F1 races but crucially his first was the first of them all, at Silverstone in 1950. He won again in Switzerland and Italy to take the inaugural championship and retain a share of the race wins record. He added two more victories, in 1951 and 1953, but by then his total had been overhauled by rivals.

He retired from racing in 1957 at the age of 51, and was killed in 1966 when his Lotus Cortina left the road and hit a telegraph pole on an Alpine road while he was on his way to watch the French GP.


2 Juan Manuel Fangio 1951-52, 1954-67

The Argentine maestro (above left, with Stirling Moss) won three World Championship Grands Prix in 1950 and three more in 1951 to set an early record for F1 wins. Ascari moved ahead with his run of success in 1952-53 but Fangio eclipsed the Italian with a string of victories for Mercedes-Benz in 1954 and continued to add to his tally up to 1957. He retired to Argentina to sell Mercedes-Benz cars, his record of 24 wins standing for a decade.


3 Alberto Ascari 1952-54

Ascari’s two race wins for Ferrari in 1951 were followed by a string of victories in 1952 and 1953, raising the record for F1 wins to 13 and netting him two world titles in the process. He then switched to Lancia but there were no more wins, only a dunking in the Monaco harbour after he misjudged a chicane.

A few days later at Monza in May 1955, he went out for an impromptu test in Eugenio Castellotti’s Ferrari 750 Monza, but the car crashed and Ascari was killed. The bend where the crash happened was renamed Variante Ascari in his honour.


4 Jim Clark 1967-73

The Borders sheep farmer who had enormous natural ability behind the wheel racked up a string of World Championship victories beginning in 1962. He nearly beat Graham Hill to the championship that year and made no mistake in 1963 with an unprecedented seven wins from 10 races. After a promising start to 1964 with three more wins his Lotuses let him down but he came back strongly in 1965 with six more victories and a second world title. In 1966 his sole victory came at Watkins Glen in the BRM H16-engined Lotus 43, the only time that bizarrely complex engine ever graced the winner’s circle.

The following year he took four more wins with the glorious Cosworth-engined Lotus 49 to equal Fangio’s record of 24, beating it in the first round of the 1968 championship in South Africa. But in April at Hockenheim his Formula 2 Lotus left the road and crashed into a tree, and the popular Scot was killed instantly.


5 Jackie Stewart 1973-1986

Clark’s great friend, the ‘wee Scot’ Jackie Stewart became the mainstay of the BRM team after Graham Hill left to partner Clark at Lotus. He won at Monza in his debut year, 1965, and at Monaco the following season, then endured a string of retirements. Things looked up at Matra in 1968 and he won three times, then in 1969 he added five more victories to take his first world title. Another title followed in 1971, now driving for Ken Tyrrell’s eponymous team. He equalled Clark’s record of wins at Monaco in 1973, then won in the Netherlands and in Germany to set a new record of 27 victories and take his third title.

He retired from driving at the end of that season, deciding not to take part in the last race of the year at Watkins Glen after the death of his team mate Francois Cevert in practice. He returned to F1 as a team owner with Stewart Grand Prix in 1997, Johnny Herbert winning a popular victory for the team at the Nurburgring in 1999. Since 2018 he has devoted much of his time to his charity Race Against Dementia which he set up after his wife Helen was diagnosed with the condition.


6 Alain Prost 1986-2001

Scored points for McLaren on his F1 debut in Argentina in 1980, then moved to Renault for 1981 and won the first of his 51 wins in that year’s French GP. He won his home race again the following year (above) but the turbo Renaults never had the reliability needed to mount a championship challenge. In 1984 he joined Niki Lauda at McLaren, losing out on the title to his team mate by just half a point. He won comfortably in 1985 from Ferrari’s Michele Alboreto then edged Nigel Mansell in 1986 to become the first winner of back-to-back championships since Jack Brabham in 1959/60, in the process beating Stewart’s record of wins. His third title came in 1989 after a fierce battle with team mate Ayrton Senna, following which he departed for Ferrari. After a winless 1991 and a year out of the sport in 1992 he came back with Williams in 1993 to win a fourth championship.

Prost then retired from F1, but four years later bought the Ligier team and ran it as Prost Grand Prix. After that failed he had a successful foray into ice racing, has been involved in Formula E, and remains an advisor to the Renault F1 team.


7 Michael Schumacher 2001-2020

After Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot found himself in jail in 1991 Schumacher was handed the drive, qualifying the Jordan 191 a rousing seventh but retiring on the first lap with a clutch problem. He was due to continue with Jordan for the rest of the season but was snapped up by Benetton instead, rewarding the team with three points finishes. His first win came at Spa in 1992, then he dominated the championship in 1994 and 1995 to win his first two world titles. He moved to Ferrari in 1996 and the red cars gradually improved. In 2000 he won his third title, and on his way to the fourth in 2001 he beat Alain Prost’s record of 51 wins – again at Spa.

It was a period of unprecedented dominance of the sport, resulting in five consecutive world titles and 91 race victories by 2006. Schumacher then retired, though he was in the frame to substitute for the injured Felipe Massa in 2009 and returned full time in 2010 for a three-year stint with Mercedes. Always combative, often excessively so, Schumacher was also an intelligent driver who could think his way to a win, had a talent for pulling out a fast lap when it mattered, and could deliver extraordinary performances like his second place in Spain in 1994 with his Benetton stuck in fifth gear. In 2013 he suffered a severe brain injury resulting from a skiing accident which has left him bed-ridden, a sad fate for an extraordinary if controversial champion.


8 Lewis Hamilton 2020-

Lewis Hamilton's record-setting success began in his debut season for McLaren in 2007. He finished on the podium in every one of his first nine Grands Prix, and he won in Canada and the USA. He very nearly won the world championship at his first attempt after a fierce battle with team mate Fernando Alonso and eventual winner Kimi Raikkonen. He made sure of the title in 2008, despite a bizarre stewards' ruling that lost him the Belgian GP. He continued to win races every year but his McLarens never again offered the consistent pace required to mount a championship challenge.

In 2013 he made a surprise switch to Mercedes, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher. Back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 laid to rest any doubts about the move. In 2016 he battled team mate Nico Rosberg for the title and only lost out after an engine failure while leading in Malaysia, becoming the only driver ever to win 10 races in a season but lose the title. He was back on top in 2017, then won two more titles with only occasional resistance from team mate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull's rising star Max Verstappen. The 2020 title seems to be his for the taking, and he looks set to become the first F1 driver to win more than 100 GPs. 

The challenge and the challengers

Hamilton has averaged six GP wins a year over a 15-year career, and he shows no signs of losing his hunger for wins. If he continues in F1 to the age of 41 (the same age Kimi Raikkonen is now) it’s possible that he could have a final tally of around 120-130 wins. Unless the F1 calendar suddenly expands to a race a week it's a record that will stand until the late 2030s at least.

Potential challengers need to have the talent to win, the combination of luck and judgment to get into the right team at the right time, and the longevity to sustain that success over a long enough period to tick off enough victories. Does that mean one of F1's existing race winners, or a rising star?

VettelSebastian Vettel is closest of the current drivers with 53 wins (more than anyone but Hamilton and Michael Schumacher) and is two years younger than Hamilton. If his new era with Aston Martin gives him a consistently competitive car over the next five years or so he could reach 100 wins – but by then Hamilton is likely to have pushed the record beyond Vettel’s reach.

AlonsoFernando Alonso returns to F1 in 2021 looking to add to his 32 Grand Prix wins, but even if he has immediate and sustained success – by no means a certainty – at the age of 39 it is unlikely that he would remain in the sport long enough to challenge Hamilton’s record.

VerstappenMax Verstappen has nine wins and is still only 22, and could challenge Hamilton’s record if he keeps going into the late 2030s, if Red Bull can sort out its uncertain engine supply and deliver competitive cars or Max can engineer a seat at another top team.

BottasValterri Bottas is 31 and has eight wins to his name. If he stays with Mercedes for the long term and the team keeps delivering competitive cars as they have in recent years he’s likely to add to that tally, but Hamilton’s record is too far away.

RicciardoDaniel Ricciardo is also 31. After a disappointing stint with Renault he moves to a resurgent McLaren for 2021, which might be just what he need to rack up wins and maybe even championships. But he has the same problem as Bottas: he'll need several years of utter dominance.

leclercCharles Leclerc is the heir apparent at Ferrari. Maranello would have to bounce back from its dire 2020 and return to its consistently competitive form that won Michael Schumacher five consecutive world titles. On recent performance it looks unlikely, but then it looked unlikely in 1996, too…

SainzCarlos Sainz came close to winning his first race at Monza in 2020 and if Ferrari can give him a decent car for 2021 it should only be a matter of time before he steps up to the top of the podium. But time is what he doesn’t have enough of: at 26 he could pass Schumacher’s tally of wins, given the right machinery, but with a strong challenge from Leclerc in the same car Hamilton’s final total will probably be out of reach.

landonorrisLando Norris has yet to win but he has had a string of points finishes in the improving McLaren. The team would have to keep on delivering, and he’d have to see off the challenge of the incoming Daniel Ricciardo, but at just 21 he has time on his side.

AlbonAlex Albon is 24 and has had a mixed first couple of years in F1 with Toro Rosso and Red Bull. It’s difficult to see him averaging the seven or eight wins he’d need while he’s in the same team as Verstappen, but he probably hasn’t done enough yet to secure a competitive seat elsewhere.

GaslyPierre Gasly emerged the winner of the chaotic 2020 Italian GP against the odds. At the age of 24 he might just have time to put together a career record that could match Hamilton’s tally, if he can get himself into a consistently competitive car. But that has to happen soon.

MickSchumacherMick Schumacher is yet to race in F1 but is tipped for a seat at Alfa Romeo in 2021. At 21 he has time to match his father’s achievements and challenge Hamilton’s, but his ability at the very top level is yet to be tested. He’d need a strong first year followed by an early promotion to the Ferrari team or a top seat somewhere else to make it happen.

OconEsteban Ocon has yet to step onto an F1 podium, though there’s no doubting his ability. A Mercedes race seat might be his in time, and that could be the route to considerable success, but by the time it happens Hamilton’s record might be out of sight.

So you’d say the men most likely are Verstappen and Leclerc, with Lando Norris and Mick Schumacher the outside bets. Whether any of them – or anyone else – gets close or not, it’s going to be fascinating watching them try.

Pictures: SHL BRDC, Daimler, Renault, Ford, Morio CC-BY-SA 4.0, XaviYuahanda CC-BY-SA 4.0, Alfa Romeo, Marc Alvarado CC-BY-SA 4.0, GOMW/Max Adams, 5W CC-BY-SA 4.0

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