Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix will surely silence anyone who was entertaining even fleeting doubts as to his motivation to take another Formula One world title.
Determined and relentless, the champion delivered his best performance of the season with a fightback to victory serving notice that it is not just Hamilton’s talent that must be overcome but a relentless will to win, epitomised at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve by some superlative, courageous overtaking.
Last year at this race, Hamilton had dropped places from pole only to come back and take an imperious victory by 25 seconds from his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. He did not enjoy such an advantage this time but Portimão bent to his will just as surely after some gripping competition, during which he dropped to third and had to overtake both his main championship rivals to secure the win.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, his main title challenger, was beaten squarely into second, having had his chance when he passed Hamilton early on, only to blow it with a minor error shortly afterwards. It was an object lesson that to beat Hamilton he is going to have to match the world champion’s almost flawless performances. Hamilton now leads the Dutchman by eight points in the championship.
Bottas was third, as he was again unable to find the same performance level as his teammate around the swooping rollercoaster ride of this circuit nestling in the hills of the Algarve.
A clearly delighted Hamilton was invigorated by the competition. “I am massively excited and driven,” he said. “We all are a team to be in the fight with Red Bull. This is great, this is what we all live and breathe for, to get up and fight, to try and pull out the smallest bits of performance to be able to fight a great competitor.”
Nor did the 36-year-old play down how much effort and resolve he was expending in being pushed to a new level of performance. “None of us here are under any illusion just how hard it is for us out there, how close a battle it is,” he said.
“We all are giving everything in our day-to-day lives in order to be best prepared and deliver on the weekends. The pressure is immense between us all. I think it will be like this for the rest of the season, which will be incredibly exciting.”
Verstappen was disappointed but also acknowledged that the intense racing was just what the sport needed. “It’s what everyone wants to see but of course what I want as well,” he said. “It’s a good start and I hope it can be like this for rest of the season because that will keep everyone excited.”
With Mercedes and Red Bull looking exceptionally close in race pace, track position would be all and it would have to be earned and held with formidable intent. Hamilton displayed no lack of vim and vigour in sticking to his task.
Bottas from pole held his lead through turn one, with Hamilton and Verstappen slotting in behind. However, after a safety car, when racing resumed on lap seven, Bottas got away well but Hamilton was caught by Verstappen, who made a superb restart and threw a gutsy move round the outside to take second place through turn one. First blood to the Dutchman.
It was a fine piece of driving and he went on to hound Bottas for the lead but with Hamilton on their tail. The top three within one and a half seconds of each other were swiftly alone at the front of the field.
This was tight, high-pressure stuff and Verstappen felt it, making a mistake with some oversteer on lap 10. He called it a “little wobble”, afterwards but it was costly. Hamilton punished him ruthlessly, passing once again through turn one and ensuring it had stuck by turn three by giving the Dutchman no room to come back at him. A glorious riposte.
He kept the definitive blow for catching Bottas, however. On lap 20 he barrelled up with DRS on the start‑finish straight and, although he was at best only parallel with the Finn, with extraordinary commitment swept round the outside of turn one, where they approach at 200mph. It was a bravura move that took the breath away, the verve of a young Hamilton married to the experience and touch of a seven-times world champion.
With his place maintained in front of Verstappen, who had passed Bottas just after the pit stops, only a mistake was going to cost the champion the win and, with him still smarting from that tardy restart, another error would be unheard of.
With nothing to choose between them in pace, Verstappen could not close the gap and Hamilton did not give him any opportunity, driving flawlessly to seal another mighty win.
Verstappen made a late stop to go for and take the fastest lap but had his time deleted for exceeding track limits, giving Bottas the extra point; however, both knew it was but a bagatelle to the main event.
Hamilton had the honours, the championship lead and an undeniable sense of satisfaction that had truly been well earned.
“It’s a much different feeling when you are battling so closely with two great drivers,” he said. “It feels fantastic today, I am grateful and proud of the team.”
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez was in fourth, with Lando Norris another superb fifth for McLaren. Charles Leclerc was in sixth for Ferrari; Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso seventh and eighth for Alpine; Daniel Ricciardo was ninth for McLaren and Pierre Gasly was 10th for AlphaTauri.