How "calm" Hamilton eased Mercedes nerves en route to breaking Schumacher record
Lewis Hamilton achieved racing immortality at the Portuguese Grand Prix by notching his 92nd Formula 1 victory.
The six-time champion etched his name into the history books by moving one ahead of Michael Schumacher's tally to become the driver with the most grand prix victories.
On paper, the inaugural race at Portimão was simple and dominant but in reality, it was anything but easy.
Alarm bells rang early on as both Mercedes tip-toed around on lap one on medium-compound tyres that initially struggled to find their working range, whilst windy conditions, drizzle and cooler temperatures compared to Friday and Saturday made the afternoon anything but a breeze.
Yet somehow Hamilton emerged with a staggering 25-second margin of victory - the biggest this season - whilst team-mate Valtteri Bottas scrambled his way to the finish line.
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It was not just Hamilton's mercurial speed that thrust him towards his record-breaking win. Instead, according to Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin, it was his calm, collected side that was the guiding light.
"I think it was one of those days where you saw Lewis at his best," said Shovlin. "You know, the sort of more recent version of Lewis where he was reasonably calm when losing places off the start, he didn't take risks and acknowledges he was a bit cautious in those conditions, but he knew that it would all come back to him."
From the pitwall, it was a different story. Shovlin added: "I think we thought it was going to be more difficult than that and there were some points in the race that were pretty nervous, like the first few laps from the start.
"You could see we were struggling with the warm-up and in that stage, you don't know if it will all come to us and get the temperatures and get up and running.
"When you looked at the tyre temperatures, they just weren't building and you risk being trapped in this region where you cant generate the grip to generate the temperature to generate more grip.
"Valtteri sort of seemed to get that going a bit quicker, and with Lewis, it took a bit longer and it comes down to how much risks you take in those slippery conditions.
"I think Lewis was being a bit cautious but it was quite reassuring when we realised that we were actually quicker than the McLaren's because for the first few laps, it was a bit of a concern that we couldn't seem to reel them in."
Hamilton had previously conceded to being cautious at the beginning of the race, but the confirmation from Shovlin provides an interesting insight into the evolution of someone who has often abandoned such a characteristic.
We have known for some time that Hamilton is one of the greats. He has six world championships to start, is three shy of 100 pole positions, which is also a figure he will almost certainly score at some point next season in race wins.
Some of the qualifying laps he has produced over the years certainly rival, and on occasion even surpass the legendary Monaco lap set by his hero Ayrton Senna in 1988.
One of Hamilton's biggest perceived flaws over his years of dominance has been his temperament - rightly or wrongly being picked up for snippy, questioning radio messages when the going gets tough.
But his maturity and patience to allow the pace to come towards him all weekend was a mark of excellence and something we have rarely seen in the past.
In qualifying, he had the wherewithal to take an extra lap at the end of Q3 and work his tyres into an operating window that allowed him to snatch pole from Bottas, who had mistakenly opted for only one lap on his second run.
Then during the race, as Shovlin has mentioned, there was no panic at the start as first Bottas and then the surprising figure of McLaren's Carlos Sainz made their way past. And then, once comfortable, Hamilton engaged the switch to unleash his speed.
"He clearly had pace in hand a bit behind Valtteri, and as Valtteri started to struggle with the tyres," assessed Shovlin. "You saw that Lewis was suddenly up behind him, and with Valtteri struggling a bit with the balance, Lewis was able to make that pass.
"Then he just managed the race. His pace was incredible at times with how much he had in hand. I think it was one of those races that it was fitting to go to the top of the all-time winners' chart with a performance like that. But just impressive how calm he stays in what were really, really tricky conditions."
Another side of his burgeoning maturity, although one we have known for most, if not all of his time in the sport, is his humility and appreciation of the team aspect of F1.
As always, he complimented his team, apportioning a chunk of his success to the crew at Brackley and Brixworth.
Reflecting on his achievement, Hamilton said: "I think ultimately [I am] just very proud of the job that I felt I was able to do and the things I was able to overcome.
"But also the job we have done collectively as a team and it’s just reminiscent of the beginning when I joined the team, the decision I took to join the team and what we have done since.
"Did I think we would get to… I knew that we would win championships. Did I think we would win as many as we have? No. Did I think we would win this many races? Of course not.
"But it is a phenomenal time for us and the great thing is that it’s not just me that is living with the history, it’s the whole team, and I think everyone acknowledges and realises how much they are part of it, so I feel incredibly grateful to my team-mates."
It is clear to see team and driver have the type of close-knit relationship that encourages more success, motivation and hard work.
Over recent months, we have heard how drivers like Sergio Perez, for example, will choose a team and project based on the motivation an outfit's vision can provide.
Now take into account Hamilton has won everything he could possibly win and more and it shows how much he feeds off the environment created by Toto Wolff, James Allison, Shovlin et al.
But the relationship works both ways, as Shovlin explained.
"I think, with this [record] with Lewis, when you look at the names on that list, you can't believe that we have been part of it as a team getting him to the top of the list and his achievement is just phenomenal," he said.
"He doesn't show any signs of giving up or slowing down either. I suspect he is going to go and hit some more milestones.
"But just a phenomenal achievement, and the way he works and the way he is driven to win and driven to improve, to be honest, he improves by putting a lot of hours in outside of the car, trying to learn everything from every difficult day he ever has.
"When you see how he works, it is almost not surprising he has achieved it. A phenomenal amount of races."
With Hamilton almost certain to continue with the team next season and the regulations remaining somewhat stagnant, it is hard to see the combination not dominating again in 2021.
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