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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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View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!