Lewis Hamilton smashed through Michael Schumacher’s all-time Formula 1 win record with a performance that encapsulated the status he has earned himself over the past 14 years. Hamilton crossed the line at the end of the Portuguese Grand Prix more than 25 seconds clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, the only man with the same awesome equipment the Briton enjoys, and still going away.
Hamilton had spent the previous hour and a half demonstrating exactly why he now finds himself in a position to move F1’s most impressive records into a realm never previously thought possible.
And after he did so, his rivals paid generous tribute to a man they know full well has earned every bit of his success.
“I am happy for him,” said Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, a four-time champion and winner of 53 grands prix. “He deserves every victory he had. I am sure he will get 100. I don’t think you can praise him enough.”
And Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the most successful so far of F1’s new generation: “Everyone knows he is very quick, but what has been a strong point is he is also very consistent and he very rarely makes a mistake. That’s why he got to these numbers so quick. It’s just very impressive.”
Bottas, somewhat befuddled by Hamilton’s superiority on the day, described it simply as “an amazing achievement”. “Hats off,” the Finn said. “Respect.”
‘We will look back and acknowledge how special he is’
When Hamilton took pole position on Saturday at Portimao, his 92nd victory always looked on the cards, but it was – for the first third of the race at least – tougher than many would have expected.
On the first lap, in cool temperatures and in a light shower of rain, the Mercedes drivers found themselves struggling for grip on their harder medium tyres, compared with those on soft tyres behind them.
Unusually, Hamilton struggled more than Bottas, who passed him halfway around the first lap after the world champion almost lost his car in Turn Six.
If it was a surprise to see Bottas pass Hamilton in slippery conditions, Hamilton was not concerned: “I was a little cautious through Turn Seven and I generally let Valtteri by and didn’t defend into Eight. He seemed to have more grip than me at that moment. I didn’t understand why but I was sure at some stage I would get there. I knew it was a long, long race.”
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz also slipped by – and then remarkably proceeded to pass Bottas for the lead on lap two.
It had been a stirring performance by Sainz, but it was only ever going to be a fleeting one, and soon, their tyres warmer now, the Mercedes were past, Bottas in the lead, Hamilton stalking him a couple of seconds behind.