If you still want proof that Lewis Hamilton can qualify for the Formula 1 GOAT, look no further than his performance in the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Forget it’s his 92nd birthday. The record of victories is – and it is only a number that will continue to grow as long as he drives in F1 – and instead focus on how he has overtaken, driven and expanded his 25-second lead over his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. In difficult and unstable conditions, Hamilton simply crushed the Bottas and showed a talent that, as Michael Schumacher saw it, surpassed the record of 91 victories.
Similar and often more spectacular performances can be found in Hamilton’s 14-year career, but Sunday’s victory came at just the right time to showcase the talent that is now weekly in history.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Lewis Hamilton has won more races than any other Formula 1 driver Joe Portlock/Getty Pictures
What made this victory so special?
Let’s start with the seemingly unshakeable counterargument that he only wins because he’s in the best car. It is true that the Mercedes is a class act, but we still have a useful barometer of the performance of Hamilton in Bottas.
It is fair to say that Bottas is not a candidate for a Formula 1 debate on the Goats, but he is a very skilled and talented driver. He has consistently qualified within a few tenths of Hamilton – and sometimes even ahead of him – but during the season he has been ahead of his teammate for four years in a row. The Grand Prix of Portugal on Sunday is a good example of this.
In the 19th round, Bottas takes the lead. He had the same strategy as Hamilton, and he had the same car with a very similar setup. But when the flag fell 47 laps later, it was on the third part of the lap – or a mile – behind Hamilton.
This hole and the way it was created tells you everything you need to know about the difference between a good driver and a good driver.
Difference between Hamilton and Bottas
Fault! The file name is not specified. Catching up with Lewis Hamilton at Waltery Bottas was easy, but his roots lie in his weekend work and 14-year career. Dan Eastitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 by Getty Images
Although this is not the most exciting story, the distance between the tires only depends on the temperature of the tires. Only by understanding what happened to the tapes can you fully understand Hamilton’s work, so hold on to that.
As far as the tires are concerned, Portimao was an anomaly. Normally drivers have a constant battle to keep their tyres warm, but in the Portuguese Grand Prix the temperature of the tyres was the key to success due to the slippery track surface and the relatively low temperatures on the track.
We do 90 percent of the races where tire temperatures are too high and people try to keep them cool, but here we are in the opposite situation in these cold conditions, which have been exacerbated by a little rain, explains Mercedes circuit engineer Andrew Shovlin. If you can generate temperature in your tyres, your traction will improve.
In the early laps you could see that we are struggling with the warm-up and at this stage you don’t know if it’s going to happen to us when we get up and run.
Look at Lewis Hamilton’s record victory in the 92nd minute. Formula 1 and the most confusing question in the sport – why Red Bull does not want to promote the canon Pierre Gusley.
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If you look at the temperature of your tyres, they just don’t build up and you risk getting stuck in an area where you can’t grip them to make them more comfortable.
At first glance, this scenario should emphasize Botswana’s strengths. The Finn’s natural driving style generates more heat in the tyres, which is one of the reasons why he often races on circuits such as Russia and Baku, where the surface of the track is slippery and the temperature is low.
No wonder he’s in eighth grade. Hamilton set the best first lap in turn one and passed Hamilton effortlessly.
Waltery seemed a bit hurried, and with Lewis it took a bit longer, Schowlin adds. But there is also the issue of the risk you take in these difficult circumstances, and I think Lewis was a little cautious.
This is proof of Hamilton’s supreme confidence that the race will continue. Even the transfer to Carlos Sainz, who generated high temperatures in the soft tyres of his McLaren at the beginning of the race and finished first, was associated with low risk when the DRS was used in the pit lane.
But during these early laps Hamilton used his innate ability to understand what tyres are needed and how to get the most out of them. Mercedes data showed that Bottas had a headache because of the temperature of the front tyres, but Hamilton adapted his driving style to support a greater load on the rear wheels and achieve a more balanced temperature on all four tyres.
He did this without any indication of the stand wall and took the initiative to identify the car’s weaknesses and adapt his driving style accordingly. After receiving the winner’s trophy, he said he wasn’t sure how much information he should disclose at a press conference after the game, but in the end he couldn’t resist sharing his opinion.
It’s no secret, I think today was the temperature of the tire, he said after the race. Throughout the race I had the feeling that, lap by lap, I was learning more about the track.
I have tried many different lines and discovered new ones that worked well. The wind direction today was very, very difficult – lots of crosswind, headwind and headwind – and there were certain positions that could be used to their advantage and others that were on the other side of the road.
I think the key is to have a tailwind that minimizes losses at these stages.
In laps 16, 17 and 18 Hamilton applied his knowledge of the early laps and set up a series of the fastest laps. The gap with his teammate narrowed from 2.3 to 0.4 as Bottas clearly struggled to hold the rear and by the time Hamilton was in 20th position, the overtaking race was already a formality.
Today is one of those days that we see Lewis at his best, Schowline added. And it was a fresher version of Lewis, where he lost places quietly in the beginning, took no risks and admitted that he was a bit cautious in these circumstances, but knew it would all come back for him.
He was far behind Valtteri, who thought the car was rather incoherent at the beginning of this legislature. When Valtterie started struggling a little with the tires, Lewis was suddenly behind him and when Valtterie struggled with the balance, Lewis was able to make that pass.
At first sight overtaking seemed easy, but it was the result of hard work over the weekend. Already on Friday, during practice, Hamilton recognised the problems that could occur during the race and worked with his engineers to find a solution to install the car.
I really focused on the set-up, he added after the race. It was less about qualifying than preparing for the races and I think I could go a step further today, probably better than before.
I just felt like I was getting faster during the race – but I had to keep up the pace on these tyres. That really was the key.
Schowlin offers a little more information about the Hamilton selection.
He talks about how he made sure the car wasn’t fitted with tyres that were too stiff on either side, he added. In qualifying it was more about warming up, to get some temperature there and in the race the left tyres really took a beating here, and it was a matter of not working too much on the front and rear, because then your balance only starts to deteriorate.
Lewis drives his tyres well, of course, and he knows exactly where to hurt them and how to keep the rubber on the tyres.
After overtaking he just drove the race and sometimes his pace was incredible – how much he had on hand. It was certainly one of his races where it was appropriate to go to the top of the all-time charts with such an achievement.
It is simply impressive to see how calm he has remained in really difficult circumstances.
The hammer has its advantage
Fault! The file name is not specified. Lewis Hamilton celebrates on a stage with his engineer Peter Bonnington. Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 about Getty Images
Hamilton was not the only one to benefit from the rise in tyre temperatures. From the first lap it was clear that the two McLaren, who finished first and third at the same point, and Kimi Raikkonen, who climbed from 16th to 6th place, also managed to get into the mix.
But there were few examples – perhaps Charles Leclerc at the Ferrari and Pierre Gasly at the AlphaTauri – of drivers being able to control the tyres on the track.
Hamilton’s 40-lap pit stop was actually earlier than expected because Bottas suffered from tyre vibrations. Vibrations are often a warning sign for an imminent tyre failure, so the Mercedes didn’t take the risk of endangering its two drivers.
At this stage of the race, Hamilton maintains a comfortable nine seconds lead over the Bottas, and although it is the Bottas that fought the most, Mercedes follows the usual procedure of moving the leading car first. Bottas went around later in ’41. Lap, but he ran into traffic, which continued to develop his position as Hamilton at a steady pace.
The gap between the two riders] was clearest in that hard crossing of the tires, Lewis was able to do it pretty well and fast, but Valtery was in a kind of traffic jam, which meant he had to run at their pace, not his natural pace, Schowlin said. At that time the difference in tire temperature was about ten degrees Celsius and you could see it in the lap time for almost a second.
The key to this difference in performance was the difference in temperature, which is why during the stages of the race you suddenly noticed a rather large gap between the two machines. But in terms of race time Valtteri lost quite a lot of racing time on a hard tire during this period, because he couldn’t go as fast as he would have done on warm tires.
Bottas asked for soft instead of hard tires for the last race, but with 25 laps to go all the data indicated that he would fight for the rest of the race.
We’ve done it on other occasions, but it’s always a difficult situation, Wolf said about Bottas’ other strategy. If you ask the primary driver to take the burden because you think it’s the right choice, and the other driver tries to convince you of the other, it’s very difficult to explain whether you practically cancelled the order. So we don’t want to interfere too much and even though we sometimes allow these calls, we were still convinced that a hard band is the best band.
All the data we saw on the other cars showed that the hard was above average and the soft one. And if you look at Esteban [Ocon] and Checo [Perez] there on the benches at the end, it didn’t work at all and was actually the weakest tyre at the end of the race. So we made a pretty firm decision, because we knew or expected that it would be the best band.
In the Hamilton race, everything was better than Bottas, and it was no coincidence that he did a better job of changing tyres and developing the race than his teammate.
It tells you a lot about the talent he has in reserve and his ability to adapt to any situation on the job. That makes him one of the… if not the best Formula 1 driver of all time, and that’s the main reason he’s won more Grand Prix races than any other driver.
If you look at the names on this list of winners, you can’t believe we were there as a team after reaching the top, Shovlin added. His performance is phenomenal and he shows no signs of failure or delay, so I think he will continue and take other steps.
It’s just a phenomenal achievement and the way it works; it strives to win and improve. He perfected his skills by sitting out of the car for many hours trying to learn from every difficult day he had.
When you see how it works, it’s not surprising that it worked. It’s a phenomenal number of races.