RACE DEBRIEF

    Lewis Hamilton has been making history since he entered Formula 1 in 2007 – and 13 years later, he’s on the brink of matching one of the biggest records in the sport. Should he secure victory this weekend in Sochi, he’ll move onto 91 career wins, to equal Michael Schumacher’s tally…

    Hamilton is not one to talk about what things would mean to him; he’d prefer to achieve them and then give his view. So he kept his cards close to his chest when asked about equalling a record some felt would never be matched.

    READ MORE: Opportunity to match Schumacher’s 91 wins ‘doesn’t seem real’, says Hamilton

    “I don’t know what it would mean to me to be honest,” said the reigning world champion Mercedes driver. “Firstly I’ve got my work cut out. This is a track where Valtteri got his first win, he’s very quick at this circuit and the Red Bulls will be quick here as they were last year ,so it’s a real tall order to come into a weekend and win.

    “It’s going to happen at some stage as I’m not quitting any time soon. I can’t tell you how I am going to feel, or what it’s going to mean – or if it’s going to mean anything.”

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    Hamilton said he didn't know how breaking the record would feel

    Hamilton has immense respect for his team mate Valtteri Bottas. And speaking in Sochi about Hamilton being on the verge of his momentous achievement, it was clear that the feeling was mutual.

    “Obviously we’re taking about big numbers,” said the Finn of Hamilton’s win tally. “I was watching Michael and all the great heroes of the sport and it’s a big number. Obviously I’ll try to make it not happen this weekend, I’m here to win, but, anyway, it’s just a matter of time that Lewis will get that.

    “He’ll take some time after that to realise what he has achieved. I’m sure that when he eventually decides to do something else, he will have time to look back and think that’s pretty cool. They are massive numbers, and he should be proud of it.”

    READ MORE: Bottas looking to get upper hand over Hamilton at Sochi track where he scored first F1 win

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    There's plenty of mutual respect between Hamilton and Bottas

    Sebastian Vettel has been on the grid for almost all of Hamilton’s 90 wins, going head-to-head for many of them too – and he is full of respect for what his fellow world champion has achieved, even if Hamilton is on the brink of breaking a record set by Vettel’s hero…

    “I think it’s always been a number that has appeared impossible to reach,” said Vettel. “Now seeing the last years, and Lewis’ track record, he was getting closer and closer, and I think at this point it is a question of time when he reaches that.

    READ MORE: ‘Michael is still my hero’ – Vettel's mixed feelings on Hamilton closing in on Schumacher's record

    “On one hand, I will for sure be sad as Michael is still my hero, but on the other hand I will be very happy for Lewis. I think he deserves all the success he has had in the last years and is going to have this year. I don’t know if he is going to remain but I guess so, and the next years.”

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    Vettel admitted he had mixed feelings about Schumacher's record being broken

    Vettel’s team mate Charles Leclerc added: “I’m pretty aligned with what Seb said. Lewis deserves it. He has been extremely consistent throughout the years and has always been fighting for top positions.

    "On one side, it’s sad to see the Michael record getting beaten as obviously he has been a huge part of Formula 1, especially for Ferrari, but on the other hand it’s only deserved for Lewis and I’m happy for him too if he manages to do that.”

    George Russell was only nine years old when his countryman Hamilton took the first of his 90 Grand Prix wins, and was full of praise for the Mercedes driver, disagreeing with anyone who suggests his success is just down to the fact he’s had the best car for so long – Hamilton having won 69 of his 90 with Mercedes.

    READ MORE: Russell looking to bounce back in Russia from 'toughest' mental challenge of his career

    “What Lewis is on course to achieve – and I’m sure he will overtake all of the stats – is incredible,” said Russell. “He is a fantastic driver. He has been on it from the first day he jumped into a F1 car, and I have a huge amount of respect for him.

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    Russell, seen here during his time as Mercedes' reserve driver, said that Hamilton had made the best out of driving F1's leading car in recent years

    “The critics will say a lot of it is down to the car that he is in, but he’s always had a team mate when he has gone out there that nine times out of 10 he has outperformed and done a fantastic job.

    "I have a huge amount of respect for Michael Schumacher and a huge amount of respect for Lewis Hamilton. They are both greats. But I’ll be pleased for Lewis to see him take those 91 or 92 victories and live long into the record books.”

    READ MORE: Hamilton? Schumacher? Senna? Machine learning reveals the fastest F1 driver of the past 40 years

    Meanwhile, Hamilton says his fondest memory of meeting Schumacher was in Abu Dhabi when they exchanged helmets. “That was really big for me,” he said. “For him to take a moment out of his day to exchange helmets with me, that’s the most valuable helmet that I have. Otherwise, we never really had any deep conversations or anything like that. It was just pure admiration.”

    As Vettel and even Hamilton said, it’s a matter of when rather than if he equals the great seven-time world champion’s record. And it’ll be his helmet that a younger driver will one day cherish in the same way.