Mercedes racer sets milestone with Portuguese Grand Prix victory
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton lauded Mercedes teammates after setting the Formula One most wins record with the Portuguese Grand Prix on Sunday.
His win lifted him one clear of German motorsports legend Michael Schumacher’s 14-year-old record of 91 triumphs after a thrilling inaugural F1 race at the Algarve International Circuit.
After a long hug with his father Anthony who, together with step-mother Linda, had witnessed his historic achievement, the Briton heaped praise on his Mercedes before joining his race engineer Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington and Bottas on the podium.
“I owe this and so much to all these guys here and the team at the factory,” said the Mercedes stalwart. “For their tremendous work, they are always pushing the barrier higher and higher. It is a privilege working with them… Working with them is inspiring.”
Hamilton fought back after an early scare, when he led but dropped to third after a rain shower, to demonstrate impeccable tyre management and flawless judgement as he claimed an eighth win in 12 races this year.
The six-time world champion finished 25.5 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen a familiar third.
Hamilton’s triumph added another unprecedented feat to his roster of records. He now has the most wins, a record 97 pole positions, a record 161 podium finishes and a record 45 consecutive points finishes.
The defending champion extended his championship lead over Bottas to 77 points.
A seventh world title, which would equal another Schumacher record, now looks all but inevitable with only five races remaining this year.
The 35-year-old said the race had been “tough” and he had suffered cramp.
“Yes, it’s a very physical sport and I had it in my right calf. I was lifting down the straights and it was painful.”
Charles Leclerc was fourth for Ferrari ahead of a surging Pierre Gasly after an excellent drive in his Alpha Tauri.
Carlos Sainz came home sixth for McLaren to beat Sergio Perez, who recovered from a first lap clash with Verstappen, to finish seventh for Racing Point ahead of the two Renaults of Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, in his final season at Ferrari, finished 10th.
On a cool and breezy day, with light rain forecast, an appreciative crowd of 27,500 were scattered around the new 90,000-capacity circuit, hosting the first Portuguese Grand Prix since 1996, as the drivers completed the pre-race ceremonial, including an anti-racism salute led by Hamilton, in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, taking a knee.
At the start, Hamilton led away from his record 97th pole while, from third, Verstappen passed Bottas before the Finn surged back to pass him and his team-mate to take the initiative.
As gentle rain fell, Hamilton slithered, while Sainz, on softs, found grip to take the lead, evading a Verstappen-Perez collision, which sent the Racing Point car spinning. Briefly, it was wild stuff.
In the “ice-rink”-like conditions, the Mercedes men, on mediums, needed time to warm their tyres before catching and passing Sainz on laps six and seven respectively.
By lap eight, Bottas led Hamilton by 1.8 seconds and Verstappen, third, by four.
Despite the blustery conditions, normal service was, it seemed, resuming.
Raikkonen, in his record-increasisng 324th race, was first to pit from softs to mediums, prompting a series of stops as grip diminished.
“Left front is dead, mate,” reported Verstappen before Hamilton echoed that sentiment within two laps.
Almost immediately, he set a fastest lap and by lap 20 had closed on Bottas, passing him with a bust of DRS on the straight. Verstappen pitted and re-joined sixth as Hamilton pulled clear.
All this left Hamilton leading his team-mate by 7.3 seconds on lap 30 with Leclerc third, adrift by 27 seconds.
Hamilton pitted after 40 laps, taking hards and slotting in behind Bottas who led again. The Finn suggested a switch to softs, but when he came in Mercedes gave him the white-walled hards.
For the Englishman, recovered from the early dramas, it was almost a Sunday stroll in the park.
He led by 12 seconds with 21 laps to go, with little more than light rain threatening his progress on another record-breaking day.