Monday, November 28, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Can Lewis Catch Michael?

Nico Rosberg took the World Drivers' Championship with a second-place finish to his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. One teammate jumped another in GP2. The top three drivers in GP3 entering the final weekend of 2016 scored a combined total of four points the entire weekend. Felipe Massa and Jenson Button said goodbye. So did José María López but in a different series and in a different country. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Can Lewis Catch Michael?
Lewis Hamilton may not have picked up his fourth World Drivers' Championship this season but his ten victories in 2016 has vaulted him to second all-time in Grand Prix victories with 53. He trails Michael Schumacher by 38 for the all-time lead.

Since joining Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton has won 32 times for an average of eight victories in those four seasons with a median of ten. If Hamilton keeps up on his median at Mercedes, he will surpass Schumacher sometime during the 2020 season but to expect him to win ten races a season for another four seasons considering he has had double-digit win totals for three consecutive seasons is unrealistic. As of today, only seven times has a driver had double-digit victories in a season. We would be asking Hamilton to have double-digit victories for seven consecutive seasons. What Hamilton has done already is monumental. Any more just adds to his legend.

With new regulations coming for 2017, Mercedes is still expected to be one of the top teams but to expect the dominance of the last three years to continue at the same rate seems highly unlikely. Formula One ebbs and flows and it is bound to slip away from Mercedes just as it slipped away from Red Bull after four consecutive drivers' and constructors' title and from Ferrari after the Schumacher-era of dominance at the turn of the 21st century.

With all that said, can Lewis Hamilton catch Michael Schumacher?

As stated before, Hamilton trails Schumacher by 38 victories. Schumacher's final victory was the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix and it came when he was 37 years old and just over four months away from his 38th birthday. Hamilton turns 32 years old on January 7th, four days after Schumacher's birthday. Let's say Hamilton races to the same age as Schumacher did in his first Formula One stint, that would mean Hamilton would run six more seasons and take him to the 2022 season. He would have to average 6.333 victories a season to catch Schumacher by the end of 2022. While that seems doable considering his last three seasons, it should be noted that prior to the 2013 season the most race Hamilton had won in a season was five in 2008 and his current average through ten seasons is 5.3 victories a year with a median of four victories.

If Hamilton reverts to four victories a season for the next six seasons, he would end 2022 with 77 victories, 14 behind Schumacher. If he gets five victories a season to 2022, he would be on 83 victories and within shouting distance of the all-time record.

Few drivers make it to 37 years of age in Formula One. Kimi Räikkönen is 37 years old and will turn 38 years old late in 2017. Felipe Massa and Jenson Button retired from the series at the ages of 35 and 36 respectively this year. Fernando Alonso will turn 36 years old next July but his future in Formula One is cloudy beyond 2017. Rubens Barrichello's final start came when he was 39 years old and Jarno Trulli was 37 years old when he made his final start, as was David Coulthard. It isn't so much can Hamilton race until he is 37 but can Hamilton remain at this top level for the better part of a decade or will the likes of Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Jr., Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne force him out of a top seat when he starts to slip in performance?

While the record for most Grand Prix victories is a daunting task for Hamilton, there are plenty of other records within his grasp and he is already at the top of many categories in the record book. He has 61 pole positions, third all-time behind Schumacher's 68 and Ayrton Senna's 65. He is third all-time in podiums with 104, two behind Alain Prost and 51 behind Schumacher and he has finished on the podium in 55.32% of his starts, behind only Dorino Serafini (who finished second in his only start), Luigi Fagioli (six podiums in seven starts), Juan Manuel Fangio, Nino Farina and José Froilán González. Hamilton has matched the record of 17 podium finishes in a season the last two seasons. Hamilton has scored the most points in Formula One history, although that is an inflated statistics as more points are awarded and awarded to more positions than any other era of Formula One.

Hamilton has led a lap in 99 grand prix; only Schumacher has more at 142 grand prix. He has led 2,990 laps; only Schumacher has more at 5,111 laps. He has won 32 times from pole position, only Schumacher has done it more at 40 times.

Regardless of whether or not Hamilton gets 91 victories or more, his name already covers the record books as much as the likes of Schumacher, Senna and Fangio. It is not likely Hamilton will reach Schumacher but he doesn't have to for his greatness will already be known.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Rosberg but did you know...

Pierre Gasly clinched the GP2 Series championship with a feature race victory and Prema Racing teammate Antonio Giovinazzi finishing fifth and sixth in the two races.

Charles Leclerc clinched the GP3 Series championship after title rival Alexander Albon retired in the first race from Abu Dhabi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about some of what happened from Abu Dhabi but did you know...

Alex Lynn won the GP2 sprint race from Abu Dhabi.

Nick de Vries and Jake Hughes split the GP3 races from Abu Dhabi

Gabrielle Tarquini and Mehdi Bennani split the WTCC finale from Qatar.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Supercars end its season on the street of Sydney's Olympic Park one final time.
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill features names such as Unser, Herta, Eversley and Braun.