Lewis Hamilton saved perhaps his most crushing career victory for when it counted. The Brit finished 25.5 seconds ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to win the Portuguese Grand Prix at Portimao to become the most victorious driver in Formula One history.
Despite dropping behind Bottas at the start, Hamilton took the lead for good on Lap 20 and never looked back, as the 2020 F1 season’s first big crowd of 25,000 looked on.
Just two weeks after matching Michael Schumacher, Hamilton now stands alone in the record books. Hamilton’s final mountain to climb as F1’s most successful driver could be settled as early as next month with his near-certain seventh world championship.
The Brit’s victory moved him 77 points clear of Bottas with just 130 points to remaining. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished third ahead of Ferrari’s freshly competitive Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton said afterwards: “It is going to take some time to fully sink in. I cannot find the words at the moment.
“I could have only ever dreamed of being where I am today. I didn’t have a magic ball when I came to Mercedes, but here I am, and as a team, we are trying to make the most of it.”
Portimao’s Algarve Circuit might not be a familiar name to many F1 fans, but those who have seen it (or experienced it at speed come away impressed with comparisons to some of the best circuits in the world.
Like the original 14-mile long Nurburgring Circuit, 80% of the track is blind, requiring a car to be placed precisely so before reaching the crest of the many fall-away corners. Adding the cooler temperatures of the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend and the Algarve Circuit represented the trickiest venue of this highly unusual season.
Lewis Hamilton stunned Valtteri Bottas by grabbing pole position after the Finn had led every practice session and then Q3 after the first runs.
Valtteri Bottas found his groove first with a 1m16.986s that he had set on the softs, leaving Hamilton 0.087s short.
Hamilton gambled on hard rubber, leaving the pits with over four minutes of Q3 remaining, which he used to take provisional pole with a 1m16.934s.
Bottas wrestled back the top spot with a 1m16.754s, with Red Bull’s Verstappen, still on the softs, also getting ahead of Hamilton.
However, the Brit had a bit of speed still hiding up his sleeve as he jumped from third to pole with a 1m16.652s. Max Verstappen qualified third, ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
As the cars lined up under the overcast and blustery Algarve skies, a light rain began to fall on the outer regions of the circuit. Sensing a chance at catching a “cautious” Hamilton at the start, Bottas set up aggressively, pointing towards Hamilton…
At lights out, Portimao spectators and TV fans witnessed what F1 has always promised but rarely seen… six laps of fierce wheel-to-wheel combat.
Hamilton retained the lead on the downhill surge into the opening bend, but halfway around the first lap, he fell to third, passed by Bottas.
The smattering of raindrops increased, and the cooling conditions gave no grip on Lap 2. Hamilton visibly struggled to bring his medium-compound rubber up to speed, with team-mate Bottas, on the same rubber, in the same precarious boat.
Their lack of grip left the door open for McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, up from his seventh starting spot on the speedier soft tyres, to take the lead! Meanwhile, Verstappen had collided with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez in the fourth corner.
Indeed, as the rain increased, Kimi Raikkonen charged from 16th place up into the top six, while Norris sliced up into fourth now and closed onto the back of Hamilton.
The briefest of showers soon abated, and with the Mercedes medium tyres coming up to speed, the standard order started to resume, with Bottas retaking the lead on Lap 6 and Hamilton moving past Sainz to take second place on the next lap.
At that stage, Bottas appeared in control, but it was not long before Hamilton’s brilliance came to the fore. On Laps 17, 18 and 19, Hamilton set a hat-trick of fastest laps and Bottas’s two-second lead evaporated.
Then, on the run down to Turn 1 on Lap 20, Hamilton pounced, cruising around the outside of Bottas to lead the Portuguese Grand Prix.
For the next nine scintillating laps, Hamilton opened up a seven-second lead over the Finn. With that, any chance Bottas had of stopping Hamilton from rewriting F1’s record books evaporated with the rain.
The 2020 Mercedes is in a class of one this year, and with Hamilton at the wheel, he has no competition. The Englishman pulled in for his solitary change of tyres with 26 laps remaining before lapping the entire field up to the rejuvenated Ferrari of Charles Leclerc in fourth place. It was a devastating display befitting this tremendous British talent.
A very aggressive Pierre Gasly who had been able to keep his softs alive early as the McLarens faded from their high opening positions, took his AlphaTauri to fifth ahead of early leader Carlos Sainz.
Despite his accident with Verstappen on the first lap, Perez turned in a spectacular recovery drive, dragging his Racing Point up from last to finish seventh. Renault’s Esteban Ocon took his medium tyres to Lap 53 before pitting, bringing him a well-earned 8th, in front of teammate Daniel Ricciardo in ninth. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took the final point in 10th.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, who missed the last race with an illness later diagnosed as coronavirus, endured a miserable afternoon.
First, he was penalised five seconds for crashing into Lando Norris at the first corner – relegating the young Canadian way down the order – before being handed an additional five-second penalty for exceeding track limits. His Racing Point team later retired him from the race.