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Why Lewis Hamilton matching Michael Schumacher’s record is so remarkable

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Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Nurburgring on Sunday brought him level with Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 career victories in Formula One. It’s a milestone many people thought would never be broken — Hamilton included — but it means the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix will always hold a place in the history books.

Witnessing history

It was the record that everyone thought was unbreakable.

When Michael Schumacher first retired from Formula One in 2006 with 91 wins to his name, he was so far clear of the previous record holder — Alain Prost on 51 — that it seemed unthinkable anyone could match him.

After all, it would require a driver to mimic Schumacher’s dominance at the top of the sport — something which seemed so unique to the combination of Ferrari and Schumacher in the early 2000s.

No one else had been so dominant for so long in Formula One up to that point, and there was no reason to believe anyone would be able to do it again.

But the great thing about F1 is that its competitors regularly achieve the unthinkable.

Just when you thought a lap record couldn’t be lower, it gets broken. Just when you thought a car design was perfect, it gets improved upon. Just when you thought a driver looked unbeatable, he gets beaten.

When Schumacher left Ferrari at the end of 2006, Fernando Alonso was the driver everyone was expecting to dominate. At the age of 25 he had 15 wins and two world titles to his name, and with Schumacher leaving the sport, the stage was set for the Spaniard to be his natural successor.

But to prove just how tough F1 is, a driver as competitive and talented as Alonso only managed to increase his tally to 32 wins over the next 12 years. He’s coming back for another go in 2021, but his career to date is proof that it’s so much easier for a driver to underachieve than it is for one to rewrite the records in the way Leiws Hamilton is right now.

Back in 2006, Hamilton had zero race starts (let alone wins) in Formula One. He’d just won GP2, F1’s feeder series, and it was clear he was destined for grand prix victories … but 91 of them? It just seemed like such an untouchable number.

Even Hamilton, who had won everything going in his junior career up to that point, saw Schumacher as untouchable.

“I just remember sitting on the couch with my brother watching the grands prix every Sunday, watching Michael storm ahead,” Hamilton said. “We used to watch the start and first half of the race, and then at the end me and my brother would go play a racing game upstairs and I was always Michael.

“He was phenomenal and that was when I was 13, 14, something like that.

“It’s crazy to think that today… of course, I did dream of one day being here, but it was beyond my wildest dreams to be reaching Michael’s win record and it’s very, very hard to describe how I feel right now.

“I’m tired from the race, my mind is blown and I’ve got a bit of a headache right now!”

But when he is able to take some time and focus on his achievement, Hamilton will realise the magnitude of his success. And it’s worth savouring the moment as in the coming weeks, months and years he will likely notch up win No.92, win No.95, win No.100…

Hamilton is a long way from being done with F1 and there really is no telling how far he will go. But just as was the case when Schumacher took his 91 victories, there’s also no telling who might be able to beat him in the coming decades.

To the tattoo parlour…

Daniel Ricciardo’s podium was a special moment for Renault as its first top-three finish since returning to F1 as a team in 2016. It also meant Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul will have to honour a pledge made ahead of last year’s British Grand Prix that he would get a tattoo when Ricciardo visited the podium in yellow and black.

“It’s real,” Ricciardo said when asked about the tattoo after the race. “It’s going to happen.”

“We’ll have to do some thinking now, but probably it will be something to do with me, but I think with a German flavour. This is obviously the place we did it. A little tip of the hat to something traditional in Germany as well.”

Abiteboul, who does not currently have any tattoos, said on Sunday evening he is more than happy to honour the bet. However, he hinted that he might take his time deciding what he lets Ricciardo put on him.

“I’m a man of my word,” he said. “I just need a bit of time to decide the size and the location.”

On a more serious note, Renault has looked very impressive lately. Of course the podium came thanks to misfortune for Bottas and with Albon once again underdelivering for Red Bull, but it’s hard to argue against Renault being the strongest car in the midfield right now.

The result felt like vindication for Abiteboul, who signed Ricciardo to a big-money deal, only to have the Australian opt to move to McLaren for next season — Renault has Fernando Alonso joining in his place next year.

When asked if there was added satisfaction that it was Ricciardo who claimed the podium, Abiteboul said: “Yeah, I think so. I think it’s really important to the team, to Daniel, to myself I guess also.

“I know we’ve been questioned about this decision of him joining us and also his decision of joining [McLaren]. So in both directions really. It was very important for everyone to keep the commentators at bay and show why it made sense at the time.”

More bad luck for Bottas

At the end of the first lap, it looked like Valtteri Bottas had the potential to keep Michael Schumacher’s record intact for another two weeks at least.

He had been the star of qualifying on Saturday — beating Hamilton by 0.25s in a straight fight — and, despite a slow start, managed to resist his teammate’s challenge in the opening few corners. The hard part, it seemed, was done.

But it says a lot about Hamilton as a competitor that nobody believed the race was over. Bottas looked solid in the first 12 laps, but Hamilton was starting to turn up the pressure and both Mercedes drivers had just received a message from the pit wall to up their pace.

To add to the pressure, the cool temperatures meant both drivers were in a constant battle with their front tyres to keep them in the right operating window and at the start of lap 13, a few spots of rain at the first corner tipped Bottas over the edge.

“For the lock up, I think the main cause was the drizzle,” he said after the race. “I really felt less grip under braking and immediately started to lock up.

“Of course, I was the first car approaching that corner, so for sure Lewis pretty quickly saw that I had a lock up and I’m sure he reacted to it. But that’s how it goes in tricky conditions.”

That lock-up meant he had to pit roughly 12 laps ahead of schedule, meaning he would need to adopt a two-stop strategy instead of the preferred one-stop. There was still race-winning potential in a two-stop, but not long after his unplanned tyre change, his chances took another hit when a Virtual Safety Car allowed rivals Hamilton and Max Verstappen to limit their time loss in the pits while the rest of the pack was moving at a restricted speed.

The final blow came when the MGU-H on Bottas’ power unit started misbehaving, costing him upwards of two seconds per lap when the VSC period lifted. Such a loss in performance made the situation irrecoverable and soon after he was forced to retire from the race.

Coming into the weekend, Bottas was 44 points adrift of Hamilton — a substantial margin but one that could still be overcome if Hamilton had been the one experiencing a race-ending failure. Now the gap stands at 69 points and there’s a high chance that he will be mathematically out of the running with three or four races remaining.

“I knew it was still all to play for even after that lock-up in the drizzle, but then came the engine thing and I couldn’t believe it,” he added. “I understand the gap to Lewis is now pretty big in the points, so I would definitively need a miracle, but, as always, there’s no point in giving up.

“I have to keep the bar high for me and keep trying. It’s just disappointing — that’s the best word.

Hulkenberg shows what he’s made of

On paper it might not look like much, but eighth position for Nico Hulkenberg in the circumstances is a remarkable result. Just over 24 hours before the race he didn’t know he would be taking part, as he was having a coffee in Cologne with a friend at around 11am on Saturday when Racing Point asked him to step in for the poorly Lance Stroll.

The first laps of his weekend were in Q1, the opening qualifying session, and the fact he qualified last was hardly a surprise. It would have been understandable if he had been a non-factor in the race as well, but Hulkenberg completed a well-executed race to take home four more points to add to the six he scored in Silverstone when he replaced Sergio Perez.

Hulkenberg’s performance saw him voted Driver of the Day. The German driver said the key was not focusing too much on external factors.

“Very happy with everything, to be honest,” he said after the race. “The start wasn’t great, as expected kind of, but then Lap 1, I managed to find two spots I think.

“And then I kind of just really focused on myself, just really trying to find the good rhythm for myself in the car, being on the limit, which kind of happened halfway through the first stint. Then I managed to make the tyre last, and I think a long first stint was key then to a successful result. Obviously totally unexpected but totally appreciated and really happy for that.”

With several seats still available next season, Hulkenberg has more than proved he deserves another chance in F1. He will undoubtedly have some interest in his services for 2021.

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How Brandon Lowe got his swing straightened out at exactly the right time

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ARLINGTON, Texas — This was for the Tampa Bay Rays. For the Silverback Tribe. Mostly, for himself. By now, Brandon Lowe understands how baseball works, how the game will gnaw at your psyche, taunt your process, asphyxiate your effort. It will remind you how hard it really is — and then troll you for giggles. Nothing in the world can humble a man quite like trying to meet cylindrical bat with round ball.

All those moments of doubt and exasperation exist to make days like Wednesday exponentially more satisfying. Before Game 2 of the World Series, Lowe was the disappointment of the postseason. By its conclusion, Lowe may have saved the Rays’ hopes at a championship.

About 700 miles from here, just outside of Nashville, a man was screaming so loud, he said, “I literally woke up the neighbors’ dogs.” For more than a half decade, Hunter Bledsoe has spent countless hours helping turn Lowe’s swing into a marvel of efficiency and power. And finally, after the struggles, the self-doubt, the weeks of frustration, here was Brandon Lowe being Brandon Lowe again, smashing two opposite-field home runs in a World Series game, piloting the Rays to a 6-4 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers that evened the series.

For the last three weeks, as the Rays bullied their way to the American League pennant, they had done so with their best hitter virtually nonexistent. Coming into Game 2, Lowe had gone 6-for-56 this postseason. In none of the Rays’ 15 games had he registered more than one hit. He struck out 19 times. He swung at pitches out of the strike zone. He made weak contact. It was like he’d had a Freaky Friday with the mailman and never switched back.

In truth, Lowe’s swing simply fell out of whack, and he needed time to understand that and fix it. Which in the middle of a World Series run against a juggernaut of a team like the Dodgers is no small feat, but then the entire story of Lowe’s career is about the emergence of unexpected excellence.

Thousands of players have taken at-bats in the World Series, and none has done what Lowe — rhymes with wow — did in Game 2: hit two opposite-field home runs. And lest you wonder what sort of leviathan Lowe is, what beastly kind of über-man possesses the strength to go oppo twice in a game, get ready for this: He stands 5 foot 10 and weighs 185 pounds. Rays manager Kevin Cash once said of Lowe: “He looks like Elf on a Shelf, but, man, can he hit a ball a long way and really hard.”

Wednesday was baseball Christmas for Lowe and the home runs his gifts. The first came in the first inning, when he was the second batter at the plate — still high in the Rays’ lineup, Cash said after Game 2, because “he’s shown over time that he’s a really good hitter, really good player and sometimes … you got to let them go through some tough patches.” Three innings later, he illustrated that the first-inning shot off rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin was no fluke. He tagged Dodgers rookie Dustin May for a two-run shot that extended the Rays’ lead to 5-0.

To think, of course, that either materialized as if dropped through a chimney could not be further from the truth. Last week, toward the end of the ALCS, as Lowe’s slump reached its nadir, he sent a video of his swing to Bledsoe and two others confidants, asking, simply, “What do you guys see?” Each responded with almost the same answer: Lowe’s posture, which is so vital to him generating such enormous power from such a small frame, had too much slack.

When he is at his best, Lowe uses the swing he honed with Bledsoe, who, with his brother Dustin, owns and operates the Bledsoe Agency. Their office building includes a sports-performance center where Bledsoe, a former SEC Player of the Year at Vanderbilt, leads offseason workouts that endeavor to build clients into better versions of themselves. When players at the facility hit a ball with 100-mph-plus exit velocity for the first time, they’re invited into an elite group Bledsoe calls the Silverback Tribe.

As he excelled at Maryland, got drafted by the Rays and ascended in the organization, Lowe understood how his natural gifts — his hips rotate with elite levels of force — made up for his natural size. Lowe’s best swing begins with him getting grounded. “Get the booty back,” they’ll say at the performance center. When the posterior positioning happen at the same time as Lowe’s front foot moving, his swing breaks.

That was the problem for most of the last three weeks. Not that one game necessarily sends Lowe into the diamond lane toward excellence, but, as Bledsoe noted: “Everybody who knows Brandon knows he can be really hot and carry a team. When that starts to happen, he’s as good as anybody in the game.”

However much that may sound like an exaggeration, it’s not. Around the halfway mark in the shortened season, nobody in the American League had accumulated more wins above replacement than Lowe. He was grounding himself with aplomb — butt back, no slack, energy building through the middle-third of his body. All that time spent with Bledsoe — from when he came in after his first minor league season and said “I’ve got to get better” to last winter, when three days after that All-Star season he started cage work to prepare for 2020.

“The reason Brandon has a cool moment like this is because of the fact that he’s unwilling not to,” Bledsoe said. “People can pout. They can blame. He just works, man. And at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, it’s a hard game. And you can trust in that. It might not be on the time schedule we want, but eventually it will pay off.

“Brandon’s a very calm personality. He’s extremely competitive. His care factor and care level are extremely high. He’s hard on himself because he wants to be successful. One of the things we talk about the most is having a plan so you’re never truly lost, never that far away. Baseball is really hard. It makes everybody want to quit at some point. When you get into that valley, if you have a plan, you know you’re never too far from climbing out of it.”

Here is Lowe’s plan: hit the snot out of the ball. That’s high up on the easy-to-say, tough-to-do list, but Lowe trusted the responses in the text, trusted the wisdom of the Silverback Tribe, trusted that Cash kept slotting him not just in the lineup but high in it for good reason.

“To say my mind wasn’t going different places during that kind of struggle would be lying to you,” Lowe said. “There were times when I wasn’t feeling too good, but that’s what so great about this team. As soon as I started dragging my feet, somebody was right there to pick me up.”

He returned the favor in Game 2 like he knew he eventually would, and he knew that because Lowe has done this before. When he arrived in the major leagues, he went 0 for his first 19. Transitioning to the big leagues is difficult enough. Convincing yourself that you belong amid the gnawing, the taunting, the asphyxiation — that’s entirely different.

Different, it would seem, suits Lowe. His path to the World Series was circuitous enough, his understanding of himself deep enough, that he can stare at 6-for-56 and lean on his psyche, rely on his process, bank on his effort. As far gone as he was, turns out it wasn’t that far. When that cylindrical bat in his hands met the round ball, he was the one doing the humbling.

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Will Dodgers be OK if Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin don’t contribute more?

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers were three days removed from a taxing seventh game of the National League Championship Series and needed Tony Gonsolin to give them as much as he could as their opener in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night. He provided four outs, but allowed a home run to the second batter he faced.

With the deficit at only a run and two outs in the top of the fourth, the Dodgers needed Dustin May to keep the game close and bridge the gap to their high-leverage relievers. He was charged with three earned runs and exited before the start of the sixth.

The Dodgers cycled through seven pitchers in their 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, evening the Fall Classic at one game apiece.

Given the state of their pitching heading in, a loss like this might have been expected. But it also reinforced a problem that could haunt the Dodgers in what remains of this final round — May and Gonsolin, the two young starters counted on to be multi-dimensional weapons in October, haven’t been effective enough. And whether it’s execution or inexperience or a product of their unconventional usage is anyone’s guess.

“I still trust them, I still believe in them, and they just have to make pitches,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ll look at the video and see what we can do better at, but they’re still gonna need to get big outs for us.”

May, 23, and Gonsolin, 26, combined to produce a 2.46 ERA in a combined 102⅔ innings during the regular season, placing themselves squarely in the thick of a deep field for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Since then, they have been charged with 13 earned runs on 15 hits and 13 walks in 16⅔ innings in the postseason and haven’t come anywhere close to a traditional five-day schedule.

When Gonsolin took the ball for Game 2 of the NL Championship Series — in place of Clayton Kershaw, who was scratched that morning because of back spasms — it marked his first appearance in 17 days. He was charged with five runs in 4⅓ innings. Five days later, he came into the top of the second in Game 7, gave up a leadoff homer to Dansby Swanson, then allowed the first three batters to reach in the fourth and was taken out. Three days after that, he opened Game 2 of the World Series.

May was effective as a multi-inning reliever early in the postseason, compiling three scoreless innings in the NL Division Series against the Padres and getting five outs late in Game 1 of the NLCS. But he gave up a run in each of his two innings as an opener in Game 5 and allowed the first three batters to reach as an opener in Game 7. Three days later, he was coming out of the bullpen again.

“It’s a big ask, to be quite frank,” Roberts said. “Right now, with the off-days, every team is gonna go down a starter, so that’s one thing. And so people have to adjust to certain roles. And when you’re talking about playing seven days in a row and how you can get as many outs as you can in the CS — yeah, these guys are in uncharted territory. Credit to them — they’re not making any excuses. They expect themselves to make pitches.”

The Dodgers traded Kenta Maeda, let Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill depart via free agency, and lost David Price after he decided to opt out of the 2020 season. And yet they still sported the second-best rotation ERA in the majors during the regular season. May, with his triple-digit sinkers, and Gonsolin, with his nasty sliders, were a major reason for that. They came on so strong that the Dodgers felt comfortable plucking from their starting-pitching depth before the non-waiver trade deadline, sending clubhouse favorite Ross Stripling to the Toronto Blue Jays so that he could finally solidify a spot in a major league rotation.

But May and Gonsolin haven’t come close to resembling the postseason weapons the Dodgers were hoping they would be.

On Tuesday, Brandon Lowe, who entered with a .107/.180/.161 slash line this postseason, homered off each of them. With Julio Urias saved for Game 4, Clayton Kershaw scheduled for Game 5 and Walker Buehler lined up to take the ball in Games 3 and 7, May and Gonsolin will likely continue on in uncertainty.

They’ll need to adapt quickly.

“It’s different, certainly,” Roberts said. “But I still, we still, need those guys to get important outs going forward for us to win this thing.”

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Lowe busts out with 2 HRs as Rays even Series

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Through all the struggles, all the moments when it looked like he should be dropped down in the lineup or out of it altogether, Brandon Lowe believed.

He had built himself into one of the American League’s best hitters, and no slump, not even one during the playoffs, could derail that. The Tampa Bay Rays kept believing in Lowe, too. And in Game 2 of the World Series, both were rewarded handsomely for their faith.

Lowe became the first player to hit two opposite-field home runs in one World Series game, and the Rays’ bullpen bent but didn’t break as they held on for a 6-4 victory Wednesday night to even the series at one game apiece.

The 26-year-old Lowe, an All-Star two years ago as a rookie and a down-ballot MVP candidate this year, had endured a brutal postseason: 6-for-56 with 19 strikeouts and not one multihit game among the 15 the Rays had played. And yet Tampa Bay never wavered — he sat only one game and pinch hit in it — confident that Lowe would find his swing.

“For better or worse,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Game 2, “we’re going to stick with guys we have a lot of faith in.”

He had, after all, figured out how to leverage his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame into one of the great power swings in the AL. With extra time spent analyzing video and recognizing flaws in his swing, he corrected it and saw the dividends early in Game 2.

Lowe, hitting in the No. 2 hole, punished a 95 mph fastball from rookie starter Tony Gonsolin out to left field, giving the Rays an early advantage. He piled on with a two-run shot off rookie Dustin May in the fifth inning, pushing the Rays’ advantage to 5-0.

In the meantime, Rays starter Blake Snell hadn’t allowed a hit, striking out two Dodgers in each of the first four innings. Following the fourth, Snell bounded off the mound, shouting into the expanse of Globe Life Field, to no one and everyone among the crowd of 11,472. He looked like his Cy Young-winning self, his fastball, curveball and slider confounding a group of Dodgers hitters who in Game 1 piled up eight runs through power, patience and proficiency wielding the bat.

The fifth ended Snell’s dreams of a no-hitter — and his night altogether. With two out, he walked Kiké Hernandez and served up a home run to Chris Taylor. After a walk to Mookie Betts and a single by Corey Seager, Snell’s night was over.

Nick Anderson wiped out the inherited runners by striking out Justin Turner, and though he allowed a solo home run to Will Smith and reliever Pete Fairbanks served one up to Seager, the cushion provided by Lowe stood as left-hander Aaron Loup recorded two outs and right-hander Diego Castillo the final out for the save. The win went to Anderson.

Lowe’s multihomer game was the 55th in World Series history, the seventh by a second baseman and the first by a Rays player. And it continued Tampa Bay’s trend of needing home runs to score. The Rays set a record with 28 home runs this postseason, and entering the World Series, nearly 72% of their runs had come via the longball.

The return of the Lowe who helped guide the Rays to the AL East title was a welcome sign for a Tampa Bay team whose offensive struggles were of paramount concern — particularly with the prospect of falling down 0-2 to the Dodgers. Lowe had hit .269/.362/.554 with 14 home runs in 56 games during the regular season and ranked just behind Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. in wins above replacement.

Now, after a Thursday off-day, the teams return Friday for Game 3 with the best pitching matchup of the series: Dodgers ace Walker Buehler against Rays stalwart Charlie Morton.

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