Hamilton chases F1 record again as Schumacher’s son debuts

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Drivers arrive in the winners circle after the Russian Formula One Grand Prix, at the Sochi Autodrom circuit, in Sochi, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. Drivers from left, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, third place, Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland, first place, and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, second place. (Kirill Kudryavtsev, Pool via AP)

NÜRBURG, Germany (AP) — Lewis Hamilton’s bid to match the Formula One win record held by Michael Schumacher is back on, and he could achieve it in Schumacher’s home country of Germany.

Hamilton was chasing a record-equaling 91st win two weeks ago in Russia before his race was ruined by penalties for breaching an obscure rule on where drivers can practice their starts before the race. His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took the win.

That sets the stage for Hamilton to try again in Germany. He’ll have to do it in conditions which would have tested even Schumacher, who was nicknamed “Regenmeister” or Rain Master for his talent on wet tracks. Rain is likely on all three days and temperatures on race day may not reach 10 degrees (50 F).

Formula One is back at the Nürburgring, one of the most storied circuits in the series, for the first time since 2013. Officially, the German Grand Prix is on hiatus this year, and this race — a late replacement on the coronavirus-affected calendar — is called the Eifel Grand Prix after a nearby mountain range.

As many as 20,000 fans could attend, making it the best attended race of the season apart from the Russian Grand Prix.

NEW GENERATION

It’s been eight years since Michael Schumacher’s last F1 race, and now his son will officially be part of an F1 race weekend for the first time.

Mick Schumacher, 21, will take over Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo for the first practice on Friday. That brings him another step closer to a full F1 drive, possibly even next season. He already has experience of the paddock from racing in Formula Two, where he leads the championship, and doing demonstration runs in his father’s old F1 cars before races.

Mick Schumacher has said he sees his father as his idol, but he’s been keen to forge his own path. He started out in kart racing under the surname Betsch, his mother’s maiden name.

The Schumacher family’s life changed forever in December 2013 when Michael and the then-14-year-old Mick were skiing together in the French Alps. Michael Schumacher hit his head on a rock and sustained severe brain injuries which left him requiring constant care. The family is protective of his privacy and provides few details of his condition.

Mick Schumacher’s F2 title rival, Callum Ilott, will also drive in his first official F1 session on Friday, borrowing Romain Grosjean’s Haas.

GERMANY’S DECLINE

A young Schumacher could be exactly what F1 needs to reignite its popularity in Germany.

When Hamilton and Michael Schumacher last raced together at the Nürburgring in 2011, there were six Germans on the grid including then-world champion Sebastian Vettel. He will be the only German in Sunday’s race.

The likes of Nico Rosberg and Timo Glock have long since moved on, though Nico Hülkenberg lingers on the fringes. He was a two-race replacement when Sergio Perez tested positive for the coronavirus.

Despite Vettel’s four titles, he doesn’t command the same public profile in Germany that Schumacher did in his prime, and he hasn’t been followed into F1 by a wave of young German drivers. If not for the pandemic, there wouldn’t be a race in Germany this year.

Only two Germans have made their debut in F1 within the last decade. André Lotterer had a one-race cameo in 2014, and Pascal Wehrlein occasionally showed promise in 2016 and 2017 but is now Lotterer’s teammate in electric racing series Formula E.

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