Hamilton eyes Schumacher's F1 record as Vettel and Verstappen chase
BERLIN – Only Michael Schumacher has won more Formula One world championships than Lewis Hamilton but the British driver, backed by his Mercedes team, can draw level with the German's record of seven this season.
Schumacher's title haul, not to mention his 91 race victories, seem unreachable until Hamilton and Mercedes clicked in such spectacular fashion.
Hamilton has 84 wins to his name and ending the year the undisputed - or as near to it as possible comparing eras - king of F1 is a distinct possibility.
Ferrari, led by either Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc or both, will resist, as will Red Bull. In that garage there is little doubt Max Verstappen represents their strongest hope.
"I hope the record doesn't fall," said the 32-year-old Vettel who won four titles with Red Bull but has had five years of waiting with Ferrari. "At the minute the job with the title is clear."
Vettel was outshone by the younger Leclerc last season and, out of contract this year, urgently needs to prove he is still a viable contender.
Too many errors and too few victories have marked Vettel's record recently and Leclerc could well be the Scuderia's best hope of a champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
"We all know how much talent Charles has," said Ferrari boss Louis Camilleri.
But to challenge Hamilton and Mercedes, Ferrari must provide its drivers with a capable car.
Last season they produced tremendous straight line speed, to the extent rivals complained - and were infuriated when the governing FIA closed the issue confidentially at the end of last month.
The 2019 Ferrari lacked downforce for cornering, however, a fatal flaw they attempted to resolve. Pre-season testing has left it up in the air if this has been achieved but the practice laps in Barcelona gave the impression Mercedes are faster.
If that is true will only be discovered on March 15 in Australia with the season-opening grand prix.
"We don't have a winning car for Melbourne," said Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto. "Others are currently quicker than us."
Hamilton, for his part, is focused only on his own car.
"I don't pay attention to anybody to anyone else through testing," he told Sky Sports.
"We literally just focus on our job and I have no idea what other people have been saying.
"I've been here a long, long time so I'm aware of people bigging us up and talking themselves down so that they can potentially overachieve unexpectedly or whatever.
April's Chinese Grand Prix has already been postponed because of coronavirus, a known unknown hanging over the whole campaign.
Vietnam has been brought onto the schedule and the Netherlands returns on what is still intended to be a 21-race marathon to late November.
Over such long seasons, Hamilton's talent has usually prevailed - only in 2016 did team-mate Nico Rosberg edge him out in the championship.
Current team-mate Valtteri Bottas is not at that level and if Ferrari struggle it could be Verstappen and Red Bull which offers the biggest threat to the status quo.
"Max attack to 2023," Red Bull described the 22-year-old's contract extension but they will hope it does not take that long to deliver success, especially when rule changes from 2021 could help sink the Mercedes ship.
Elsewhere, Racing Point have sparked controversy by producing a car broadly similar to the 2019 Mercedes and McLaren will hope to close in further on the top three after improving last year.
Renault, underwhelming since returning as a works team, face a crucial few months with their future in the sport up in the air while British team Williams will hope to return to being competitive after an embarrassing last campaign.dpa