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Race to 100: How Lewis Hamilton can become F1’s first pole centurion

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Lewis Hamilton’s flawless display through the Italian Grand Prix weekend is likely to go down as being one of the most significant of his Formula 1 career.

Not only did he deliver one of the most crushing wins of the season for Mercedes on Ferrari home soil.

Not only did he take the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time this year, taking a huge stride forward in his bid for a fourth crown.

But he also strengthened his case to be considered one of F1’s all-time greats by becoming the sport’s record pole position holder.

The record changing hands for just the sixth time in F1’s 67-year history, Hamilton surpassed Michael Schumacher’s tally of 68 poles by topping qualifying for the 69th time in his career.

The enormity of the result was not lost on Hamilton, a driver who grew up watching Schumacher, but the Briton has never been a man to rest on his laurels.

“You know, Vettel’s not far behind, so I’ve got to keep going,” Hamilton said after the session.

“I’ve got to keep extending it otherwise he might catch it, and so I’ll stick around for a while and try to make life hell for him.”

He’s got the record – but just how many pole positions can Lewis Hamilton end up with before his time in F1 is over?

If he continues at his current rate, passing the 100 mark and becoming F1’s first pole centurion is definitely possible.

MONTREAL – JUNE 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes celebrates securing pole position during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2007 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

THE ROAD TO THE RECORD

Hamilton’s chase to become F1’s pole position record-holder has accelerated dramatically in recent years, largely thanks to Mercedes’ domination in the V6 turbo hybrid era.

Always a good qualifier, Hamilton has not gone a season in his F1 career without scoring at least one pole position, with his strongest years at McLaren coming in 2008 and 2012 (seven poles in each season). Even in his debut campaign, he was on pole six times, his first coming in Canada (pictured above).

However, it was Vettel – who is now on 48 poles – who looked most likely to break Schumacher’s record at the end of 2013, sitting on 45 by the end of his fourth title-winning campaign. Hamilton, by comparison, was 14 behind on 31.

But Mercedes’ jump on the field at the change of the engine regulations in 2014 push Hamilton’s pole chase into hyperdrive. Seven poles in 2014 saw him draw close to Vettel before overhauling the German through 2015, taking 11 poles en route to his third world title. Had Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg not been such a closer challenger, he may have broken Schumacher’s record long ago.

2016 was a title-less season for Hamilton, but another 12 poles meant Schumacher’s record was easy prey, so long as Mercedes didn’t collapse on the change of technical regulations in 2017.

While Ferrari has been its closest challenger yet and been on a par in races, the Silver Arrows retained their edge in qualifying, with Hamilton’s eighth pole of the year at Monza being enough to give him the record.

Vettel certainly has a chance of surpassing the likes of Schumacher and Ayrton Senna (65), but if Hamilton continues at the rate he’s been going at, it’ll take a mighty effort to claw away the all-time record.

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 10: Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP with a commemorative helmet of F1 legend Ayrton Senna after he beat the previous record of 65 pole positions during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 10, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

HOW HAMILTON CAN REACH 100

The kids are back to school, but now it’s time for us to do some math.

Hamilton is now on 69 pole positions, and will undoubtedly add to this tally before the season is complete. Ferrari should be closer at tracks such as Singapore and Abu Dhabi, meaning a sweep of the remaining seven races is unlikely, and you cannot discount teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Say Hamilton adds another three or four poles onto his 2017 score, he’ll be onto 72 or 73. Let’s be conservative and go with 72.

To pick up another 28 poles before calling time on his F1 career will be a challenge. Hamilton is 32 and has one year left on his Mercedes contract, and has hinted he won’t stick around forever, having interests outside of the sport in music and fashion.

But staying on for at least another two years beyond 2018 is a sensible guess. He’d be 35 by then, and would certainly have time on his side given that most stretch into their late-30s before calling it a day (e.g. Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen).

Just as much hinges on how long Hamilton sticks around, his chase for 100 is also down to how competitive Mercedes can be. If it remains the team to beat and can continue to deliver the kind of qualifying edge it has this year despite Ferrari’s resurgence, he should manage it comfortably.

The fact there will be no seismic changes to the regulations until 2021 also works in Hamilton’s favor. As seen with Mercedes in recent times and Red Bull before that, teams often retain their advantage through regulation eras – they won’t drop off the map all of a sudden.

Mercedes is pushing to become the first team to win back-to-back titles across a regulation change this year, so again, it would be a surprise to see a collapse.

31 poles through the final seven races of 2017, then all of 2018, 2019 and 2020. It’s more than doable.

Taking our assumption Hamilton will take three more poles this year (again, it could be more), then he would require 28 poles across three years.

Were Hamilton to continue his record since the start of the V6 turbo era, he would just about reach triple-figures.

Since the start of the 2014 season, Hamilton has scored 38 pole positions. Adding on our presumed three for the rest of the year, that gives him 41 across four full seasons – an average of 10.25.

Keeping that record up, Hamilton would sit on 102 poles by the end of the 2020 season (or 103 if you want to round up).

Of course, Bottas could find another gear and begin to share poles out more evenly with Hamilton at Mercedes, much as Rosberg did in 2014. Ferrari could shake off its Saturday hoodoo and become a force once again. Red Bull might get its act together and also begin to draw poles away from Hamilton.

But on the same vein, Hamilton and Mercedes might become even more dominant. He might decide to keep on racing until he is deep into his thirties, giving himself more time to pull even further clear at the top of the record list.

The point is that Hamilton can reach 100. And much as Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 grand prix victories has been deemed by most to be unbeatable, Hamilton would have a pole record that would surely cement his place as one of F1’s all-time greats.

That is if there is any question about that status already.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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