With the 2021 F1 season now approaching the date of its 5th Grand Pris of 23, which will take place in iconic Monaco on the 23rd of May, let’s look at the numbers of fastest laps ever achieved by drivers in the series.
Michael Shumacher’s career spanned 19 seasons, while Hamilton, who is already closing in on Shumacher’s record, has only driven for 9 full seasons.
At a glance, this appears as though Hamilton is a far superior driver – off of the basis of these facts he is clearly going to bypass Shumacher’s record – but there is more to consider.
Hamilton’s dominance and fast approach to the fastest lap record do, in part, reflect his calibre as a driver. But one has to consider the constant advance in the technology of F1 cars, the push with each season to build a better car.
Schumacher’s final season was in 2012, so he would have benefitted from a few of these, but just look at the amount of innovation that has occurred in F1 car design in the last 15 years that will have improved the lap times of drivers in that period.
Outside of these advances in car capabilities, it should also be considered that Schumacher was a pioneer of what has now become a norm for drivers; intense and specific fitness regimes.
The training that F1 drivers now engage in as standard, is specific to improving their reactions, coordination, stamina and endurance, and more.
Schumacher was renowned for his ability to produce fast laps at crucial moments in the race and for pushing his car to the limit for sustained periods of time. He was also noted for his ability to drive fast in wet conditions. This requires volumes more control, sensitivity, and reaction time than does driving in dry conditions. At a time when cars were not as advanced as they are now, or when the training of F1 drivers for these specific driving attributes was neither the norm nor the significantly more developed practice that it is today – it could definitely be argued that Schumacher was a much more skilled driver in his prime than Hmailton is today.
Still, I think of Kobe Bryant speaking on his distaste for people claiming he would beat MJ one on one:
I suppose this post is just to give deference to Schumacher. Figures alone can be deceiving. While it is clear from the figures in the chart above that Hamilton will surpass Schumacher’s record if he also races 19 seasons, there is no Hamilton without Schumacher, and the context can be pretty enlightening sometimes.