Record Breakers: Enhancing or Hindering Sport?

12th October 2020

It once seemed like an untouchable feat, yet on a grey and chilly Sunday afternoon in Germany, Lewis Hamilton took victory at the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix and achieved the previously unthinkable; matching Michael Schumacher’s all-time win record of 91 Grands Prix.

Michael’s 21-year-old son, Mick Schumacher, presented Lewis with one of his Father’s helmets after the race, fittingly one from Michael’s final season with the Mercedes team in 2012. The helmet will be added to Lewis’ collection built over 13 years in Formula 1, which already includes his childhood hero, Ayrton Senna.

On the eve of Lewis’ victory attempt, Mick Schumacher told the media that “one sentence my Dad always used to say was records are there to be broken”. Yet such a period of dominance naturally leads to a growing sense of discord amongst some fans and commentators of the sport, who consider it “boring” or weaker for the lack of competition.

But when a sport is dominated by one person, or one team, it begs the question; does it enhance or hinder the sport?

Only a handful of sportspeople ever get given the moniker of ‘greatest of all time’ and attain a genuine aura of invincibility within their sport. Michael Schumacher was certainly one of them during his period of dominance with Ferrari between 2000 to 2004, and Lewis Hamilton is well on his way to matching, and possibly surpassing, this achievement.

The critics will argue that Hamilton has benefitted from driving the best car in the field for so long. However, his fans will say that he has leveraged on the maximum advantage and has a mutually beneficial relationship with Mercedes that has driven them both to success. In any case, shouldn’t the best driver of a generation be driving for the best team?

This isn’t just a Formula 1 conundrum either. On Sunday alone, two other sportsmen made headlines for breaking records and led commentators to ponder the same question.

LeBron James won his fourth NBA Finals MVP award, becoming the first player to earn the honour with three different teams. The sport’s pundits couldn’t help but compare him to Michael Jordan, and whilst he currently trails Jordan’s six Finals MVP trophies, he has led every team he’s played for to a championship win, something that no other has done for as many teams.

In France, Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the French Open and in doing so, matched Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slams. Not only that, but Nadal becomes the first man in history to win six Grand Slam titles over the age of 30.

After his win, Nadal said “win here means everything to me. It’s not the moment, honest for me I don’t think about the 20th [title], equalling Roger on this great number. For me, today is just a Roland Garros victory.”

The sentiment sounds remarkably similar to Lewis at the Nürburgring yesterday:

“I remember watching Michael winning all those races when I was a kid and playing racing games with my brother and choosing to play as Michael,” said the six-time Drivers’ World Champion.

“I dreamed of being there myself, but I don't think anyone and especially me, imagined another driver getting anywhere near Michael's records. It was beyond my wildest dreams to be equalling his number of race wins and it just shows that dreams can come true. It's an incredible honour and something that will take some time to sink in.”

Some detractors will see these words as falsely modest, downplaying an achievement that they must have craved. But instead, shouldn’t we just celebrate these moments for the remarkable sporting achievements that they are?

It’s so easy to reduce it all to numbers and to value the act of matching records rather than the sustained effort involved in getting there. It’s hard to imagine each sport without these dominating personalities but they will not be leading forever and, for now, we should enjoy the quality of the sporting prowess produced by the greatest of their era. We have many more years to debate their impact on the history books.

Photo credit: Lewis Hamilton is presented with Michael Schumacher’s helmet at the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix. © Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

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