This win – Lewis Hamilton’s 97th – won’t be remembered at his most extraordinary, but as a demonstration of relentless, metronomic, rival devastating reliability, it will perform just fine.
With the Portuguese Grand Prix over, the man who knows Hamilton best, the only teammate to ever surpass him in a title race, drove across the paddock – bound for the airport – to pass judgment.
Nico Rosberg, the 2016 champion, stopped to tell Sportsmail what it must be like in the mind of Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver who was beaten to second place yesterday in the sun-drenched Algarve.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won the Portuguese Grand Prix and came from second on the grid
The Briton opened his lead in the top drivers’ championship to eight points
‘Only when you play against Lewis, in close combat, in cars that are about as fast as each other, do you really learn how good he is.
In a few years, we’ll look back and say that Max is an all-time great, one of the top 10 drivers in history. Yes, of course he could possibly beat Lewis this season, but he makes a few mistakes and he can’t afford to.
“He will have to be absolutely perfect to win the championship.”
Well, the Dutchman was not perfect this weekend and is therefore eight points back in the standings after three races. He exceeded the track limits in qualifying, his time was cleared and he started third. And yesterday he made a mistake getting into lap 11, allowing Hamilton to make his decisive move at 200 mph.
The seven-time champion let his Mercedes slide around the inside of Verstappen in the first corner and then kept the younger man at bay as he tried to reclaim the spot in the fourth corner. Hamilton stuck out his elbows, and that was his rival he faced.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen completed a great catch-up on Valtteri Bottas and claimed second place
LANDO NORRIS FLIES TO MCLAREN
Don’t change your reading glasses, Lando Norris is third in the world championships.
The 21-year-old Brit has now finished fourth, third and fifth for McLaren this season, leaving more richly paid stars in his slipstream.
So what’s behind his coming of age? “It’s just racing and golfing to me,” he half joked.
In fact, his wave is coming along too, though at a much lower level. Before traveling to Portugal, he got his best back nine – eight across.
About his racing, Norris said, “I work really hard with my engineers, on the sim, and I feel confident in the car. I have a better understanding of how to take care of the tires, when to push. At some point it will probably go wrong, but overall I feel like I’m in control.
‘This is my third season and experience helps. With Carlos (Sainz) going to Ferrari and Daniel (Ricciardo) coming in, I have a fresh start and more responsibility, and that helps me. ‘
On Sunday in Portugal, the Somerset-born racer climbed two places from seventh on the grid to be five points ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, while Ricciardo finished ninth in the afternoon.
Finally, as the race drew to a close, Verstappen came in for new soft tires in an attempt to set the fastest lap. He thought he had succeeded, only to wipe his attempt. He had crossed the line again. Small margins, small things.
“Lewis was phenomenal,” said Rosberg. “Of course these things can come into your head when you race against him.”
Verstappen, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat during the post-race press conference, said: ‘I don’t need Nico to make me realize how good Lewis is. I know he’s very good or you won’t win that many championships. ‘
There must be respect between all of them. Rosberg offered a fair stance, while Hamilton and Verstappen – at least for now – are in a friendly fight.
The story of Hamilton’s race was this: he started second, behind Valtteri Bottas, his teammate, who finished third. He was passed by Verstappen early on, but quickly avenged it in the manner described above.
Next in his sights was Bottas, who started on pole and was then the leader, but always so vulnerable.
Hamilton shot to the left in the braking zone at turn one and passed the Finn on the outside. He immediately put his foot on the ground and stretched out to form a belt he would never waste in the slightest.
Bottas, who was overtaken by Verstappen halfway through the race, finished third, although he enjoyed the consolation of setting the fastest lap on fresh rubber after Max’s foul cost him that point.
Hamilton has now won two races ahead of Verstappen’s this season, with the Spanish Grand Prix in the pipeline on Sunday in Barcelona.
“It is a great fight between Mercedes and Red Bull and it is clear that we will push each other to the last race,” said Hamilton. ‘We’ll be tired of each other by the end, I guess.
“None of us here have the illusion of how difficult it is out there and how close the battle is. We all give absolutely everything in our daily lives to be best prepared for the weekend. ‘
What else happened on the wavy track? Kimi Raikkonen drove lax in the back of his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo at the end of the opening lap and brought out a safety car. It was at the restart that Verstappen made his pass to Hamilton.
Verstappen seemed to be putting pressure on Hamilton, but the Mercedes ride was confident
It was another Brit who made an impression in Portugal as Lando Norris continued his rapid advance
The two men will play it out all season in what appears to be a closed fight, with neither Bottas nor Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez finishing fourth here, suggesting they will be involved in the final settlement.
“It has been really cool,” said Verstappen. ‘If you race with a driver who you know you can push yourself to the limit, and you trust each other, that’s great. With Lewis, I never thought I would crash. ‘
“ I say that, ” replied Hamilton. “We’ll keep it clean and sharp.”
Relive Sportsmail’s Ieuan Ivett’s live Formula 1 coverage of the Portuguese Grand Prix, including build-up, live updates and the result.