Lewis Hamilton cemented his standing in the pantheon of Britain’s all-time sporting greats by winning Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix – and then promised to continue to rewrite Formula One’s record books.
Only a fortnight after he drew level with Michael Schumacher on 91 victories in Germany, Hamilton etched his name into motor racing immortality with another virtuoso display at Portimao.
Hamilton took the chequered flag nearly half-a-minute clear of Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes to move to 92 wins and stand alone as the driver with the greatest number of grand prix victories.
Hamilton was an 11-year-old boy from Stevenage dominating Britain’s karting scene and winning the aptly named Champions of the Future series the last time a grand prix was staged in Portugal in 1996.
Little did Hamilton know then, that almost a quarter of a century later he would stand on the brink of clinching seven world championships – his triumph here moving him 77 points clear in the standings with just 131 remaining – and breaking F1’s all-time win record.
Lewis’ father Anthony worked four jobs to pave the way for his first son to start out in motor racing. How fitting that he was trackside here for the first time this season to witness his son’s most remarkable of feats.
Estranged for a number of years after Lewis sacked Anthony as his manager in 2010, they shared a long embrace after the race. Armed with his iPad, Hamilton Snr then captured the reaction of the 30,000 fans as his son held aloft an F1 winner’s trophy for a 92nd time.
Reflecting on his move to Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, Hamilton said: “I knew we would win championships, but did I think we would win as many as we have? No. Did I think we would win this many races? Of course not.
“I don’t believe in the saying the sky is the limit. It depends how much we want it, how much we want to continue to raise the bar. Going by our history together, we don’t sit back on our results. We keep working and keep elevating.
“I am 35-years-old and I still feel physically strong, but of course you wonder when it is going to tip over and when you are going to start losing performance. Judging by today, it is not yet.”
For the opening six laps, Hamilton’s bid for history appeared in grave danger following a bizarre start to the 12th of 17 rounds under overcast and blustery Algarve skies.
After taking pole on Saturday, Hamilton retained the lead on the downhill gallop to the opening bend, but halfway round the first lap he had fallen to third, passed by Bottas and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who started seventh.
A smattering of rain drops and cooler conditions meant Hamilton was off the mark in getting his medium-compound rubber up to speed, and team-mate Bottas, on the same tyres, was also struggling.
Indeed, by the end of a frantic first lap – which also saw Max Verstappen collide with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez at the fourth corner – Sainz, starting on the speedier soft tyres, had taken the lead.
The briefest of showers soon abated and normal order resumed, with Bottas retaking the lead on lap six and Hamilton moving past Sainz to take second the next time round.
Bottas appeared in control, but it was not long before Hamilton’s brilliance came to the fore. The world champion set a hat-trick of fastest laps and Bottas’ two-second lead had evaporated. Then, on the run down to Turn 1 on lap 20, Hamilton cruised round the outside of Bottas to lead the grand prix.
The Mercedes machine is in a class of one this year and with Hamilton at the wheel, he has no competition. Hamilton pulled in for his solitary change of tyres with 26 laps remaining before lapping the entire field up to Charles Leclerc in fourth. It was a devastating display.
Hamilton later revealed that he spent the concluding period of the race with cramp.
“I was coming out of the last corner and I got the feeling my right calf was about to pull and it popped,” he added.
“It hurt so much and I didn’t really know what to do. Every time I applied the accelerator the pain was there. I couldn’t stay off the gas so I had to keep going. It is mind after matter.
“It was pretty excruciating for a number of laps. I don’t know if the adrenalin takes over but I have a knot in my calf, and I will seek medical attention.”
Verstappen finished third ahead of Leclerc. Perez delivered a fine recovery drive to take seventh.