Hamilton hopes to mark 300th F1 race with 1st win of season

Source: Associated Press

Lewis Hamilton enters his 300th Formula One race at the French Grand Prix this weekend in the uncustomary position of chasing his first win of the season.

Lewis Hamilton during pre-season testing in Spain.

The seven-time world champion holds the F1 record with 103 victories and 103 poles, but the 37-year-old British driver also shares two records with fellow great Michael Schumacher: seven world titles and winning at least one race in 15 straight seasons. Schumacher won every year from his 1992 F1 debut through 2006, while Hamilton has one every year since his 2007 series debut.

But Hamilton is winless through the first 12 races of this season. He is inching closer to the top of the podium after three straight podium finishes since Mercedes ironed out ongoing issues with bouncing. F1 races Monday in the French Grand Prix.

“It’s been really positive to have some consistency. We’re constantly adding performance, we’re constantly progressing and there’s a lot to come,” Hamilton said. “In the last race (in Austria) we were only a few tenths (of a second) off the lead guys in qualifying.”

As for standout moments in his illustrious career, Hamilton selected his first F1 win in 2007, his first title in 2008, and winning on his home track at Silverstone.

“The whole realisation of reaching your dream is a very, very surreal experience and it is always going to be your first,” Hamilton said. “The amount of sleepless nights as a family that all of us had had, not knowing whether or not we would actually reach our goal, reach our dream, but never giving up.”

There have been intense rivalries, including last season when Red Bull star Max Verstappen clinched the title in the controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Hamilton also suffered a bitter defeat to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 and some tussles with Fernando Alonso in 2007 with McLaren.

When Hamilton faced Alonso, the Spaniard had already won his two F1 titles. He calls Alonso his toughest opponent "out of pure pace, I always say it’s Fernando.

"We had some good battles, I wish we could have more," Hamilton said. “I remember the task of being alongside Fernando when I was 22. I was so young mentally and of course, OK in terms of skill, but it’s a lot of pressure to go against a great."

Alonso agreed.

“He has been a tremendous driver and a legend. Back then probably no one thought that someone will be able to win seven titles like Michael,” Alonso said. “Congratulations for the 300 and hopefully another win soon.”

Hamilton sat out Saturday's first practice at the French GP as Mercedes used test and reserve driver Nyck de Vries in the car. de Vries finished ninth. Hamilton was fifth-fastest behind Mercedes teammate George Russell in the second practice.

Ferrari topped both practices. Charles Leclerc led first practice ahead of Verstappen and Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr, then Sainz was quickest in second practice ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen.