Lewis Hamilton renews chasing F1 record as Michael Schumacher’s son debuts

Lewis Hamilton chasing Schumacher
Joe Portlock/Getty Images
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NURBURG, Germany — Lewis Hamilton will renew his bid Sunday chasing the Formula One win record held by seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, and he could achieve it in Schumacher’s home country of Germany.

Hamilton was on track for a record-equaling 91st win two weeks ago after starting on pole position in Russia before his race was ruined by penalties for breaching a 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 Nurburgring, 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.

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.

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 Nurburgring 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 Hulkenberg 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. Andre 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.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds