World championship leader Lewis Hamilton says his job at Mercedes is to be the team’s “rudder” like Michael Schumacher was to Ferrari, after equalling Schumacher’s Formula 1 win record.
Hamilton won the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring to draw level with seven-time world champion Schumacher on 91 victories and was awarded one of Schumacher’s 2012 crash helmets after the race by Michael’s son Mick.
Like Schumacher, Hamilton’s success has been underpinned by a sustained run of championship-winning form from his team, although Mercedes has surpassed Ferrari’s greatest achievements at the height of the Schumacher era.
Though Schumacher is often praised for his leading role in turning around Ferrari’s fortunes after joining in 1996 and finally ending its title drought in 2000, Hamilton is more prone to criticism for benefitting from Mercedes domination of the V6 turbo-hybrid era.
Hamilton has been credited by senior Mercedes personnel for his contribution towards the team sustaining its success, particularly as its engine advantage was eroded and F1 underwent major aerodynamic rule changes.
“I have not turned Mercedes around. Michael did not turn Ferrari around – as much as I love Michael and he is a legend, it wasn’t just him” :: Lewis Hamilton
Asked by The Race about the view some people have on where success in F1 comes from, Hamilton said that he has learned it is not just down to one individual and that the dynamic between driver and team is crucial.
“Years ago, I remember when they talked about Michael, turning Ferrari around,” he said.
“The fact is it’s not one individual. I have not turned Mercedes around. Michael did not turn Ferrari around – as much as I love Michael and he is a legend, it wasn’t just him.
“There’s so many people in the background. What they did is the collaboration.
“I think the thing with a driver like Michael and I, our job is to kind of be the rudder.
“You’ve got this huge powerful force behind you with such intelligence. But a computer in numbers, it will tell you that the perfect car is so and so, but when you apply the human element, which is myself or is Michael or other drivers, our job is to steer it.
“I think there’s something that the computer can’t simulate. And that’s feel, that’s yaw, that’s the feeling of the car turning and pitching and all these different things.
“Our job is to steer the team in the right direction and point them in the right direction to progress forward. And our job is to continue to elevate and push and hopefully inspire those guys that you work with.”
Hamilton said there are “spectacular” individuals in his team and “remarkable people” throughout the F1 paddock.
“We all have these tools,” said Hamilton. “It’s how you use them, how you apply them, do you let your ego get in the way?
“There are some people that just won’t listen, because sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees.
“But the great thing with this team is I have not faced that once. If I ever have and there may be one example, we hashed it out.”
“It’s hard for people to perhaps fully understand how hard it was for him to have got those 91 wins” :: Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton said that comments about the role he plays or the dependence on machinery is “not always a nice thing to hear, but I’m not mad at it”.
“What I do know is that those that often say those things or make those comments, they just don’t know,” Hamilton added.
“And I think in general in life, we often can sometimes give the wrong opinion on something when we don’t have the full facts. We don’t have the full knowledge of how it really is.”
Hamilton has now earned 70 of his 91 victories with Mercedes since joining from McLaren in 2013, and is on course for his sixth title with the team.
That will match Schumacher’s other leading record of seven championships in total.
Hamilton indicated he now has a greater appreciation of the enormity of Schumacher’s original achievement.
“Everyone knows that he is an icon and a legend of the sport, what he achieved in so many areas,” said Hamilton.
“But pushing the limit in terms of the physicality side, being the fittest driver at the time. And what he did at both the teams that he was at, particularly at Ferrari was just remarkable.
“It’s not a bossing thing but collaborating with a large group of people who are incredibly intelligent, way, way more intelligent than I” :: Lewis Hamilton
“That number is so big, and it’s hard for people to, when it’s so far away, perhaps fully understand how hard it was for him to have got those 91 wins.
“To deliver, weekend in, weekend out, year on year on year, and stay so in shape, and so precise.
“I understand that now, more than ever. And I can only tell you that it doesn’t get easier from your first win to the 91st.”
Hamilton said matching Schumacher’s record had not sunk in by Sunday evening, and though he had played down the achievement beforehand he admitted it is “definitely not just another win”.
He said he expects to take some time in the coming days to process his milestone.
Hamilton also paid tribute to Mercedes and individuals like Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug for the support he was given as a young karter, during his rise through the single-seater ranks and eventually the opportunity to drive for McLaren aged 22.
He talked about “working as hard as I could to make sure that they didn’t regret the decision”, then cementing his ties with Mercedes by moving to its works team in 2013 – which has transformed his career to Schumacher-equalling heights.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the modern-day Hamilton is “nothing” like the driver that joined in 2013.
“I don’t know how I knew it so well but I knew it was the right thing for me,” said Hamilton.
“I didn’t know how long it’s going to take us to win. But I loved the idea of working with the guys.
“I wish you could see the changes I did from the first day in the seat fitting, the things that I get involved in the background to change, which has helped, which I’ve done every year with the team to work with a group of people.
“It’s not a bossing thing but collaborating with a large group of people who are incredibly intelligent, way, way more intelligent than I.
“But creating an understanding and collaboration and working towards a common goal, that’s for me the proudest thing that I feel like I experience through that time.”