Portimao, 25 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – World champion Lewis Hamilton rebounded from a cautious start to win the Portuguese Grand Prix for a record 92nd career success in Formula One racing on Sunday.
Hamilton, 35, started from pole but dropped to third in the opening lap as light rain began to fall at the first-ever race on the hilly Algarve International Circuit.
But the Briton was only managing his tyres better in the turbulent beginning, and never looked back once he reclaimed the lead in lap 20 to win far ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
It was Hamilton’s eighth win of the season and 92nd overall, moving him one ahead of former German great Michael Schumacher, who he had tied two weeks ago at the Eifel Grand Prix on Germany’s Nuerburgring.
“I could never have dreamed of being where I am today … It’s going to take some time to sink in,” said Hamilton who won his first race in Canada in his debut season 2007 and has been at Mercedes since 2013.
“I didn’t have a magic ball when I chose to come to this team and partner with great people, but here I am and what I can tell you is I’m trying to make the most of it every single day,” he said.
Hamilton’s father Anthony was among those celebrating with him, and Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff simply said via team radio “92, Lewis, 92,” before naming him “the best of all time” in an interview with Sky TV.
“When we started the project eight years ago we would have not dreamed that we could break Michael’s record,” Wolff said.
The latest success saw Hamilton further increase the championship lead to 77 points over Bottas – more than three race wins – as he further closes in on tying Schumacher on seven world titles with five races left in the season.
Hamilton won the start from a record-extending 97th career pole while Verstappen briefly moved into second before losing ground and making contact with Sergio Perez’s Racing Point who went spinning and required an early pit stop.
But the Mercedes duo started to struggle as some rain started to fall in a turbulent beginning, with Bottas getting ahead of Hamilton but McLaren’s Carlos Sainz then using the conditions to shoot into the lead on soft tyres.
The joy however only lasted until lap 6 as Bottas returned into first place, and Hamilton also got past Sainz in the following lap as their medium tyres finally were up to temperature.
And going into lap 20 Hamilton, who had done much better tyre management early on, was back in the lead as he flew past Bottas and steadily moved away from his team-mate – while Verstappen was back in third but far behind.
“Today was tough, it was all about temperatures. That was something with the setup, I pre-empted,” Hamilton said. “I should have tried to defend from Valtteri but I thought I’d come back later on, and that was what I was able to do.”
Further back, Racing Point’s Lance Stroll got a five-second penalty for a reckless passing attempt on Lando Norris of McLaren which saw them collide and another one for exceeding track limits too often (like several others) before becoming the only driver to retire late on an afternoon to forget.
Hamilton led by 10 seconds by the time the Mercedes drivers pitted, himself in lap 41 and Bottas in the next, with the Finn then briefly caught in traffic which added to Hamilton’s advantage.
Hamilton’s main concern until the end was the weather under threatening clouds and increasing wind but it stayed dry as he continued to rewrite the Formula One record books.
He finished a whopping 25 seconds ahead of Bottas who had dominated all three practice sessions but once again had to bow to his imperious team-mate as he admitted “I just had no pace today.”
Both Ferraris went into the points with Charles Leclerc fourth and Sebastian Vettel 10th, up from 15th on the grid. Pierre Gasly was impressive fifth for Alpha Tauri after starting from ninth.
The action continues next Sunday in Imola, Italy, which just as Portimao, the Nuerburgring and Mugello, Italy, was not on the original calendar. Hamilton will be fancied again there having won the other three races introduced amid the coronavirus rescheduling.