After growing up watching Michael Schumacher's triumphs on television, Lewis Hamilton now stands above him and alone in Formula One history with 92 victories.
Hamilton's comprehensive win at the Portuguese Grand Prix on Sunday also edged him closer to a seventh F1 title, the last of Schumacher's major records left for Hamilton.
“I could only ever have dreamed of being where I am today,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to take some time to fully sink in. I can’t find the words at the moment.”
On a rainy track in Portugal, he 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.
In fact, the only person to get close to him was his father, with whom he shared a long hug after the race.
Hamilton won his first 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.
“I didn’t have a magic (crystal) ball when I chose to come to this team," Hamilton said.
His dad, Anthony Hamilton, then filmed the scene on his i-pad as Hamilton stood on the podium while the crowd cheered him loudly.
“My dad is here which is amazing, my step-mum Linda is here,” an emotional Hamilton said. “I feel very blessed.”
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.
“Pretty painful, but I had to somehow get through it," Hamilton said.
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.”
Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said Hamilton's achievements will only really sink in when he's retired.
“In 10 or 20 years we’re going to acknowledge what a special driver he was," Wolff said.
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