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Hamilton Hopes to Mark 300th F1 Race with 1st Win of Season

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

The seven-time world champion has a record 103 F1 wins and pole positions. The 37-year-old British driver also shares two records with fellow great Michael Schumacher: seven world titles and winning at least one race for 15 straight seasons. Schumacher’s run was from his F1 debut in 1992 until 2006; Hamilton’s since his first season in 2007.

But Hamilton is without a win 12 races into this season. He is inching closer heading into this weekend’s French Grand Prix, after three straight podium finishes since Mercedes ironed out ongoing issues with bouncing.

“It’s been really positive to have some consistency come back in. 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.”

Hamilton selected his first F1 win in 2007, his first title in 2008, and winning on his home track at Silverstone as standout memories among many.

“The whole realization 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: last season Red Bull star Max Verstappen clinched the title in controversial circumstances at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP. 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.

“Out of pure pace, I always say it’s Fernando (who was the toughest opponent). 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, okay in terms of skill, but it’s a lot of pressure to go against a great.”

Alonso agrees.

“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 was sitting out first practice at the French GP later Friday, with test and reserve driver Nyck de Vries taking his place just for that run.

IN-FORM SCHUMACHER

Mick Schumacher is on a roll: after 31 races without scoring points, he aims for a third straight points finish.

The 23-year-old German feels the pressure has been lifted amid a difficult season. The way he crashed without pressure at the Monaco GP in May led to some criticism from Haas team principal Guenther Steiner.

Schumacher’s loss of form — 14th in Azerbaijan and another DNF in Canada — also led to questions about his F1 future.

He responded by placing eighth at the British GP and sixth at the Austrian GP two weeks ago. He showed increased confidence in both races, audaciously going wheel-to-wheel with world champion Max Verstappen and Hamilton.

Schumacher feels more comfortable in the car than earlier in the season.

“It’s just a matter of being consistent with what we’re doing. I think we always pretty much start off with a good set-up,” Schumacher said.

Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, a family friend, was driving behind Schumacher at Silverstone and cheered him as the finish line approached.

“I think Mick is on the right track . . . it’s great for him to show what he’s capable of,” Vettel said. “He had an unlucky start to the season. ”

VETTEL STAYING?

Vettel seems keen to extend his stay at Aston Martin.

His contract runs out at the end the year and, with an increasing commitment to environmental issues weighing on his mind, observers have questioned whether he will continue.

“I think there is a clear intention to keep going and we’ll see soon where we stand,” Vettel said. “I’m talking to the team.”

The 35-year-old German driver has only three top 10 finishes this season with a best of sixth place in Azerbaijan. He laughed off rumors linking him to McLaren next season, with Daniel Ricciardo’s future uncertain.

“I think Lando (Norris) has a contract,” Vettel said in his deadpan manner, before cracking a cheeky smile. “It’s just rumors.”

SPA OR RICARD?

Not a great result for the French Grand Prix: most drivers in an informal survey chose the Belgium Grand Prix when asked which of the two they would keep if they had a say.

Both races — at Paul Ricard in southeastern France and Spa Francorchamps in the Ardennes forest — are reportedly threatened with being replaced on the series.

Of the 10 drivers asked on Thursday, only Pierre Gasly — who is French — and Fernando Alonso, who drives for French team Alpine, chose Paul Ricard.

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