Martin Brundle: In praise of Lewis Hamilton and delivering the Portuguese GP verdict
"What Lewis continues to achieve is a Herculean effort and an outstanding performance by any metric for any sports person in history, in my opinion"
Last Updated: 27/10/20 6:53am
The newly resurfaced and dramatic Portimao race track, along with a little rain, served up a remarkable first few laps as the drivers struggled to find grip and confidence.
Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton fell to a cautious third place, while after a great opening lap first Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, and then Valtteri Bottas in his Mercedes, took turns at leading.
Kimi Raikkonen, from 16th and the 'dirty' side of the grid, meanwhile made up 10 places in what was surely one of the greatest opening laps in F1 history.
A textbook study for budding racing drivers which will endure in perpetuity, the 41-year-old's catlike reactions were truly impressive.
Hamilton didn't panic, and when he was ready he seized the lead and simply took off to win the race by the biggest margin this year of 25.5 seconds. Along with fastest lap, he took the full 26 points to surpass Michael Schumacher's tally with his 92nd race win.
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It was a masterful performance on a day when getting heat into the tyres was the challenge and so he could let the car go to an extent, rather than endless tyre management.
One of his finer drives among many.
A relatively small number of us have been privileged to race Formula 1 cars. It's hard to become an F1 driver, and to remain one for several seasons. It's a mighty challenge to score points, podiums, victories and world championships, to keep yourself mentally and physically in good shape.
To stay on top of the ever more complex technology. To take the knocks and disappointments, endure the politics, survive the crashes, and witness the tragedies. To endlessly tolerate the most intense spotlight.
What Lewis continues to achieve is a Herculean effort and an outstanding performance by any metric for any sports person in history, in my opinion.
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Bottas had dominated every practice session and most of qualifying until the one segment which mattered most, the top-10 shootout in Q3. At which point Hamilton chose to fuel up and have two stabs at a final banzai lap to steal pole position and demote Bottas to the dirty side of a slippery grid.
Poor guy. If Hamilton wasn't around he'd be a megastar, instead, he just has to take questions on basically what went wrong. I find it uncomfortable to interview him immediately after a race, looking in his eyes to see a mix of fading adrenalin and disappointment, trying to find the right words to tread a middle ground of celebrating another podium while he's been trounced again by his team-mate.
If you're going to have to fight Hamilton then it might as well be in the equal fastest car, but if Lewis re-signs for multiple years then Valtteri will surely have to look elsewhere on the grid for his own self-esteem and motivation.
He asked for different tyres to Lewis at his one and only pit stop to at least try something in the final phase. It would have been a mistake as it happens, but he was denied by the team anyway which must be infuriating.
Max Verstappen once again had to play best supporting role to the Merc maestros despite a contrary tyre strategy, and not having the speed in the car to do any more than just annoy the Merc boys for a while. He also lapped his team-mate Alex Albon, who then proceeded to hang onto Max's tail and matching his personal fastest lap in the race, although Max wasn't in the greatest hurry I suspect in his lonely third place.
Albon has the speed but not yet the qualifying delivery or consistent racecraft, and it's leaving him on very thin ice as the team are effectively fighting with one arm behind their back.
The McLaren/Racing Point/Renault scrap is the battle which keeps on giving, now with just six points separating those teams. And Pierre Gasly's simply tremendous form and speed mean he joins in too for AlphaTauri.
The DRS zone down the pit straight was too powerful and we saw a number of straight-line overtakes. Lance Stroll arrived so fast behind Lando Norris that he had to turn an avoidance into an overtake around the outside of turn one. In the chaos, he pinched Norris to the apex and they touched, the damage to Stroll's Racing Point eventually meant that he was the only retiree of a chaotic race.
It ruined Norris's race too, with front wing damage, and Stroll received a five-second penalty to which he added another five seconds for track limit infringements before he retired. He's had a rough time since a sizeable shunt knocked him out of the Tuscan GP four races ago.
Sergio Perez was spun around by Verstappen on the opening lap which I thought was a touch naughty on Max's part but the Stewards seemed happy enough. Sergio pitted at the end of that first lap and then proceeded to drive beautifully up to fifth before pitting on lap 45 of 66 for a set of soft tyres, which didn't actually help much as he dropped down to seventh when passed by Gasly and Sainz.
He stayed ahead of the Renaults who had a difficult weekend on this surface and layout. On this occasion, it was Esteban Ocon, who waited until lap 54 to pit in the hope of more rain or a safety car, who impressively finished ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Charles Leclerc was outstanding for Ferrari yet again, bringing his steed home in fourth, albeit 65 seconds behind Hamilton. Ferrari are definitely regaining some ground although Seb Vettel could only muster a lapped 10th.
He must be counting down the days now before heading to new pastures, but he'll have to do a much better job than this to prevent the inevitable and potentially unfavourable comparison with the on-form Perez who he is replacing. The Racing Point/Aston Martin (heavily Mercedes influenced) car should suit him better though.
I didn't meet or hear of anybody inside F1 who wouldn't be happy to race this venue again, although I'm not sure where the normal promoter's sanction fee would come from. I hope you enjoyed it too. There was plenty of side-by-side action, challenging blind crests, and more than a few skirmishes.
These new and revisited circuits are lighting up our compressed and heavily European-based 17-race calendar. Next weekend is another old school track at Imola which I expect the drivers will love, followed by Istanbul, one of the very best of the 'new' circuits.
With five races to go and a maximum of 130 points on the table, Hamilton is 77 ahead, just under three GP's worth in his pocket.
Get ready for more Michael Schumacher comparisons and feisty GOAT arguments pretty soon now.
Watch the next Formula 1 race live only on Sky Sports F1 this weekend as Imola returns to the sport after a 14-year absence with the Emilia Romagna GP. It's a two-day event with Sunday's race underway at 12.10pm