An emotional Lewis Hamilton said drawing level with Michael Schumacher’s Formula One victory record is beyond his wildest dreams.
Hamilton took the 91st win of his career at Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix, 14 years and 10 days after Schumacher drove to his final victory in China.
For most it seemed inconceivable that Schumacher’s extraordinary tally would be beaten, but Hamilton can become the most decorated driver the sport has seen with a record-equalling seventh world championship almost certain to follow this year.
His landmark win at the Nurburgring moved him 69 points clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the standings with just 156 points available over the concluding six rounds.
Hamilton equalled the record at a venue 52 miles south of the Kerpen kart track where Schumacher honed his skill.
Little is known of the 51-year-old’s condition following his skiing accident almost seven years ago.
His son Mick, who was alongside him in the French Alps that fateful day, presented Hamilton with his father’s crash helmet in the moments after Sunday’s race as a present from the family.
Hamilton held the red lid aloft to a gracious applause from the 13,500 socially-distanced fans and then took the helmet on to the podium as he celebrated his historic victory.
“I grew up watching Michael winning all those grands prix and I could not fathom equalling him,” said the 35-year-old.
“Getting to Formula One was the first step of the dream and then emulating Ayrton Senna. But Michael’s record was just so far ahead.
“It is beyond my wildest dreams that I am here today having equalled that record and I just feel humbled by the moment. It has not sunk in.
“Michael is, and always will be, a legend of the sport and I feel very honoured to have one of his helmets.”
Aged 22, Hamilton claimed his first triumph in just his sixth appearance at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix after bursting on to the global sporting stage in a breakthrough campaign for McLaren. He has won at least one race in each of the 14 seasons in which he has competed.
Hamilton paid tribute to his father, Anthony, who worked four jobs to make it all possible.
“My first win will always be a standout moment for me because we can all understand what it is like when you are a kid dreaming to be in the sport,” added Hamilton.
“My dad and step-mum sacrificed so much to get me to Formula One so to be on top of the podium, I felt like I had finally reached the top of the mountain despite the adversity we faced. I will never forget that moment, looking down at my dad and making him proud.”
Hamilton was denied the landmark victory at his first attempt in Russia after he was penalised by the stewards.
And when pole-sitter Bottas held his nerve to keep the six-time world champion at bay through the opening two bends at the Nurburgring, it looked as though Hamilton’s drive into the history books would be put on hold.
But, with just 13 of the 60 laps on the board, Bottas locked his front-right tyre under braking for the first corner, allowing Hamilton to sweep around the outside of the Finn at the following left-hander.
Five laps later, Bottas was forced to park his Mercedes with an engine failure. Despite Max Verstappen, who again outperformed his Red Bull machinery to keep Hamilton on his toes, and a late safety car – deployed after Lando Norris broke down in his McLaren – it proved to be a straightforward triumph for the Stevenage-born racer.
He finished 4.4 seconds clear of Verstappen, with Daniel Ricciardo claiming his first podium for Renault.
Hamilton could now move one win clear of Schumacher in Portugal later this month. How much further can he go?
“Of course I can set goals and I will continue to charge on and see what is possible,” said Hamilton, whose current Mercedes deal is due to expire at the end of the year.
“I love the sport, the smell of it, the whole aura and atmosphere it creates, and it is going to be difficult to let it go.
“While I am older than these guys, I feel as young as them in spirit. That will change when I start seeing grey hairs, but for now, I am good.”
It was another sobering day for Hamilton’s one-time rival, Sebastian Vettel. The four-time world champion spun en route to finishing outside the points in 11th.
George Russell was taken out of the race by Kimi Raikkonen after the veteran Finn, in his record-breaking 323rd appearance, sent the Williams driver on to one wheel following a clumsy collision at the first corner.