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Column: Would Lewis Hamilton really retire if F1 schedule hits 25 races?

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In an odd way, Formula One’s bid to potentially increase the racing season eventually to 25 races, as well as Lewis Hamilton’s threat to retire early if that happens, may indirectly be pages ripped from the same playbook.

F1 on Wednesday’s announced it will add a grand prix event in Vietnam to the 2020 F1 season, increasing the number of races to 22.

No, wait a second. What about Miami Beach, which is also on F1’s radar for 2020? That would increase the 2020 season to 23 races.

Liberty Media, which purchased F1 last season, is definitely looking at increasing its overall schedule significantly in the next several years to increase profits and global exposure.

That’s where Hamilton comes in.

Or exits, if you will.

Hamilton said Thursday in Brazil that he might retire if F1 does increase the size of the schedule to 25 races per season.

“I am not going to be here if it gets to 25 Grand Prix races, that’s for sure,” he said. “It already feels like we are on race 25 this year, so I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think 18 (races in a season) was probably the best back in the day.

“I’m someone who really loves racing but the season is long. It’s a lot of commitment for all of us and a lot of time away from families, and the seasons are getting longer and the off time is getting shorter.”

But Hamilton’s threat to hang up his firesuit could be mitigated by his bid to eventually tie or pass Michael Schumacher’s F1 record of seven championships.

Given it likely will take F1 at least another three to five years to grow to that 25 mark, it also gives Hamilton the same amount of time he needs to match or exceed Schumacher’s mark.

Many have felt Schumacher’s seven championships was an unreachable record. But since Hamilton won his fifth championship two weeks ago at Mexico, becoming only the third driver in F1 history to win at least five titles (Schumacher and Juan Manual Fangio are the other two), suddenly Schumacher’s seven crowns seems within Hamilton’s reach now – especially given he’s won four of his five F1 titles in four of the last five seasons.

Face it, Hamilton is hot. And at 33 years old, he’s still in the prime of his racing career. There’s no reason to believe he can’t top Schumacher.

The 2018 season is already at a grueling 21 races globally. That means going from Australia to Russia to Montreal to Singapore to Dubai to Brazil to Austin – and 14 other global venues. Next season will be another 21-race slate.

Eventually adding four more races means the series will increase the schedule by just under another 20 percent. Oh, and should we mention that next season’s schedule will extend into December for the first time in over 50 years?

If F1 was a North American-based series like IndyCar, 25 races would still be grueling but not nearly as much as 25 worldwide races are from time spent traveling, as well as money spent shuttling not only team members but also all cars and associated equipment from one race to another, not to mention all the return visits between races to team headquarters primarily in Europe.

Would Hamilton truly retire if the schedule goes up to 25 races? Especially if he falls short of tying or breaking Schumacher’s record?

That is debatable. If you were Hamilton, would you give up your bid to shatter Schumacher’s mark – particularly if you win titles No. 6 and 7 before F1 would increase to 25 races?

Hamilton has long been a driver where accomplishments mean everything to him, particularly championships. And now that he’s moved into exclusive real estate with his fifth championship, it’s hard to imagine him giving up on a bid to overtake Schumacher.

Hamilton has never been the kind of driver that wants to share attention – or achievements – with anyone else.

Put yourself in his shoes. Would you rather leave a legacy as the driver who won the most F1 championships ever, or would you be happy simply known as being one of TWO drivers to win the most F1 championships?

Even if F1’s schedule does increase to 25 (or potentially even more) races, the answer is pretty clear: Hamilton isn’t going anywhere any time soon if he has a chance to set his mark as the greatest F1 driver ever.

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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.