Opinion: If Hamilton didn't know the significance of matching Schumacher, he does now

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He's done it, Lewis Hamilton has achieved what few thought possible and caught Michael Schumacher with his 91st Formula 1 win at the Eifel Grand Prix.

The race itself became a bit of a damp squib at the Nurburgring, as Valtteri Bottas' initial resistance collapsed in one mistake at Turn 1, clearing the path for his Mercedes teammate to go on and make history.

Even as Hamilton crossed the line though, for a while it felt like just another normal day in F1 in recent years, with the Lewis/ Mercedes combination in a class of its own.

But in parc ferme, that changed and the realisation of what Hamilton accomplished finally began to dawn on everyone, even the Briton himself.

All it took was the presence of Schumacher through his son Mick and the sight of a famous red helmet being awarded as an acknowledgement of what Lewis has achieved.

It was a powerful moment which proved that, even though the two drivers might have enjoyed near-identical success, Michael and the Schumacher name still holds a much greater significance than Hamilton in F1, and likely forever will.

But through the passing of a helmet, the moment of recognition also increased Lewis' stature to the highest level it has ever been, a level even he wasn't ready for.

“Having his family honour me today, I’m just incredibly humbled," he said holding the gift in his hands.

“I actually already have one of Michael’s helmets. One of the really, really special moments for me, in Abu Dhabi 2012, I went over to the Mercedes hospitality and met with Michael, and we exchanged helmets.

“That, for me, was a moment that I’ll never forget, to stand with someone that I grew up watching on TV, and having the honour of exchanging jerseys or helmets, it's what us sportsmen do, and it’s the highest sign of respect that you can really show.

"To have the legend of the sport do that with me was really special."

That tone, however, was in stark contrast to the one he had after reaching 90 wins after Mugello, as the Briton initially played down how he'd feel when the moment came that he would match Schumacher on 91.

"If it happens… 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," Hamilton commented back in Sochi.

“There are other and bigger issues happening in the world. Of course, it’s an honour, but that doesn’t really mean anything either.”

Then, after qualifying on Saturday, Lewis was equally dismissive about the significance of matching Michael in his homeland of Germany, at the Nurburgring, a circuit Schumacher won at five times in his career.

“Honestly it wouldn't make any difference, I’ve got my work cut out tomorrow," he said.

“It’s not something I particularly think about. If and when it happens, it’ll be great – but right now these two [Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen] are making it pretty hard for me. I’m enjoying this battle I’m having with these guys."

Now as someone who has watched F1 long enough to remember Michael setting his records in the mid-2000s, those comments, while perhaps honest, did appear to lack a little respect.

But in hindsight, it was simply Hamilton not understanding the gravity of what he has done and his comments later were certainly proof of that.

“It’s definitely not just another win,” he admitted. “Over this past hour or so, I’ve really tried to contemplate and realise what it is that we’ve done, and what I’ve been able to achieve.

“I would say for the next couple of days, that’s where my mind is going to be at. It’s hard to find the right words and to be able to compute exactly.

“It definitely is a special one. I called my dad and [step-mum] Linda and spoke to them. Definitely a lot of emotions today.

“But what I cannot do is drop the ball," he added. "I cannot take my eye off the ball for a second.

"Yes, I have a [points] gap, yes we've got these great wins, but the championship is still to be won."

And if Lewis was surprised by the reaction and the response he got to claiming his 91st win, that will be nothing compared to when that seventh F1 title is confirmed, potentially as soon as Istanbul.