That was before Lewis Hamilton started moving through the gears in his remarkable development as a driver.
In his 250th F1 race, Hamlton claimed his 84th win of his career, moving him just seven behind Schumacher’s all-time record.
With the prospect of Hamilton surpassing some of Schumacher’s records in 2020, F1 broadcaster and journalist Will Buxton believes the British driver is “redefining the sport.”
“Lewis is the only driver in history to have won a Grand Prix in every season he’s ever contested, no matter the machinery at his disposal, no matter the rivalries he’s faced on and off track,” Buxton told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.
“We talk about Michael, we talk about what he achieved. And those are records that were never supposed to be broken.
“And we’re now looking at Lewis thinking he’s about to match Michael next year, potentially. He will surpass very likely the records that Michael set and now we’re looking at who will break Lewis’ records. That’s how huge his achievements are. He’s breaking the records we thought were unbreakable.”
Getting better with age
Hamilton’s 2019 world title is his fifth in the last six years — in 2016 he finished second to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who then retired.
Buxton, who has known Hamilton since his early days in racing, thinks he’s seen a “different side” of Hamilton this year.
“If you imagine what it must be like to be any one of the other drivers here and see Lewis living his life outside of this sport, knowing that he turns up here every weekend essentially for fun, and he still eats them for breakfast.
“I mean, how disconcerting is that for the rest of the of the grid, but how incredible, how strong does that make a sportsman that they turn up with nothing to lose and they are at the peak of their game. How do you beat that? How do you beat somebody that’s just doing it for fun?”
And although his competitors will be relishing the day Hamilton decides to call it quits, they can have nothing but admiration for him.
“He consistently raises his level and they all see that, they all respect that because you don’t just turn up and win races,” Buxton explains.
“You have to work at it and even though we might look at it and say: ‘He’s just doing it for fun’ and I’m sure he is, you can be damn sure he’s working as hard, if not harder than anybody else on that grid to maintain that level.
“Because if you’re at the top, and if you have that level, consistently hitting that level has to be incredibly hard.”
Not in a rush
The iconic black horse on a yellow background and the striking red Ferrari car are powerful F1 symbols.
Racing for the Italian team has long been seen as the pinnacle of the sport and is something Hamilton has yet to attempt.
With only one year left on his contract at Mercedes, speculation about potential interest from Ferrari has gained momentum.
“I love where I am, so it is definitely not a quick decision to go and do something else,” Hamilton said in the post-race press conference.
“So it is only smart and wise to sit and think about what I want if it is the last phase of my career. For many years, I have never considered other options.
“We have been on our path and we are still on it and there is very little that will shift it from that. Naturally I want to keep winning. I can’t tell you what will happen going forwards.”