PORTIMAO – British driver Lewis Hamilton made Formula One history on Sunday, winning the Portuguese Grand Prix for a 92nd career victory to move one ahead of German great Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton finished nearly 25.6 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and 34.5 clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen for his eighth win of another dominant season. He also took an extra point for the fastest lap to extend his huge championship lead to 77 points over Bottas with just five races left.
Hamilton won his first F1 race in 2007 and first title the following year. But his career really took off when he replaced the retired Schumacher at Mercedes in 2013. Hamilton added five more F1 titles and the runaway championship leader is now set to equal Schumacher’s record of seven.
“I could only ever have dreamed of being where I am today,” an emotional Hamilton said. “It's going to take some time to fully sink in. I can't find the words at the moment.”
Shortly after crossing the line and celebrating with the team's mechanics and engineers, Hamilton paused to share a long hug with his father, Anthony Hamilton, who then filmed the scene on his i-pad as Hamilton celebrated on the podium while the crowd cheered him loudly.
Then it was time for the traditional Champagne spraying, although Verstappen and Bottas had the last word this time, as Verstappen poured the bottle over Hamilton's head and Bottas sprayed him good-naturedly in the face with his.
Hamilton took a record-extending 97th career pole position, starting ahead of Bottas and Verstappen on a track being used for the first time in F1.
McLaren's Carlos Sainz Jr. briefly held the race lead and then Bottas led until Hamilton passed him on Lap 20.
After that Hamilton coasted to the finish line and into the record books.
The only thing that did trouble him was a bout of cramp in his right calf muscle, but that did little to deter him.
Plenty of mask-wearing fans sat in the stands around the undulating 4.6-kilometer (3-mile) circuit in Portimao. The track has frequent elevation changes and notably caused drivers problems with grip —among them Charles Leclerc but the Ferrari driver did well to finish fourth in an uncompetitive car. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly made a great late overtake on Racing Point’s Sergio Perez to take fifth place.
Hamilton made a hesitant start while Bottas was overtaken by Verstappen only to gain the position back and then overtake a surprisingly cautious Hamilton as rain started falling.
“I had a huge oversteer,” Hamilton said. “I backed off massively.”
But Sainz Jr. zoomed up from seventh to first on the quicker soft tires, until Bottas passed him on Lap 6, Hamilton did so on Lap 7 and Verstappen on the next.
Perez had a lucky escape at the start when he made contact with Verstappen and flew sideways off the track, without getting hit by another car. Kimi Raikkonen went from 16th to sixth with some typically daring moves but the 41-year-old Finn started to drift back while, up ahead, Bottas led until Hamilton overtook him.
Racing Point's Lance Stroll made a reckless move on the left of Lando Norris and went off track after clipping the McLaren on Lap 19. Stroll was given a 5-second time penalty.
Hamilton’s speed advantage was such that he was soon well clear of Bottas, whose rear right tire was graining. He perhaps gambled on Hamilton losing tire grip himself, but the gap was 10 seconds when Hamilton pitted for new tires on Lap 41.
Bottas came in on the following lap and when he came out he was caught in traffic and struggling for rhythm.
The day belonged to Hamilton, and it appears inevitable that title No. 7 will follow suit.
After which, the only thing left will be 100 victories on his way to setting another record for titles.
His first win came in Canada, 13 years ago, when driving for McLaren, and the team sportingly sent Hamilton a Tweet featuring a bottle of Champagne and the words “You never forget your first.”
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