Lewis Hamilton becomes F1’s all-time winner, breaks Michael Schumacher’s mark

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Lewis Hamilton became the all-time winner in Formula One, scoring his 92nd victory Sunday to surpass a record by seven-time champion Michael Schumacher that once seemed untouchable.

For the 97th time in his F1 career, Hamilton started on the pole position at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver fell to third place behind teammate Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz in the opening laps, but he rebounded to take the lead from Bottas on Lap 20 of 66 and controlled the second half of the race.

Bottas finished second, followed by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, who outbattled Sergio Perez for fifth in the closing laps. After leading the first five laps over the Mercedes drivers (his first laps led in 114 F1 starts), Sainz was sixth as Perez dropped to seventh (concluding an eventful race in which the Racing Point driver collided with Verstappen on the first lap).

“Wow, guys,” Hamilton, who overcame a leg cramp late in the race, said on the team radio. “I couldn’t have done this without all of you. Thank you so much for continuing to believe in me and strive for perfection.”

Joined by his father and stepmother for the victory celebration, Hamilton was cheered by a socially distanced crowd at the track, which marked the 28th F1 circuit where the series’ first Black champion has won. It was Hamilton’s eighth victory in 12 races this season.

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“The guys at the factory continue innovating and pushing the bar higher,” Hamilton said. “They just keep pushing. The reliability has been incredible. No one’s sitting back on success. Everyone is pushing, pushing and pushing. That’s the most incredible thing to be surrounded by because it inspires you. That collaboration, there’s nothing quite like it.

“It’s going to take some time for (the record) to fully sink in. I was still pushing flat out across the line. I’m still in race mode mentally. I can’t find words at the moment.”

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his record-breaking 92nd victory with his father, Anthony, after the F1 Grand Prix of Portugal at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images).

He finished more than 25 seconds ahead of Bottas in the largest margin of victory this season.

“I just had no pace today,” Bottas said. “I don’t understand why.”

With a runaway 77-point lead over Bottas and only five races remaining this season, Hamilton, 35, also is poised to tie Schumacher’s championship mark as well this season. He has spoken fondly of growing up as a Schumacher fan.

“I remember sitting at home watching the Grand Prixs and watching Michael win,” Hamilton said. “I remember going upstairs with my brother afterward, and we would play computer games together and I would be Michael. So it’s very, very surreal.”

When Hamilton tied Schumacher with 91 victories at the Eifel GP in Germany two weeks ago, Schumacher’s son, Mick, — who leads the F2 championship — presented a visibly moved Hamilton with one of his father’s racing helmets from his time at Mercedes.

“I was really honored by Michael’s family when they presented me with this helmet,” Hamilton said.

It was Schumacher’s retirement from Mercedes — and F1 itself — which opened the door for Hamilton to make what was then considered a risky move when he left McLaren to join the Silver Arrows in 2013.

“I could only have ever dreamed of being where I am today,” said Hamilton, who is expected to re-sign with the team in the next couple of months. “I didn’t have a magic ball when I chose to come to this team. Here I am and am trying to make the most of it every single day.

“Every single thing, we do it together, and that’s why you see the success we’re having. It’s a very blessed. day.”

Lewis Hamilton celebrates after taking the checkered flag in the No. 44 Mercedes AMG Petronas for his record 92nd victory in Formula One (Peter Fox/Getty Images).

The day belonged to Hamilton, and it appears inevitable that title No. 7 will follow suit. The only marks left then will be 100 victories and a record-setting eighth championship.

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.”

Sunday’s race marked the inaugural F1 race at Portugal’s 4.65-kilometer (2.9-mile) circuit known as Portimao.

The undulating track is known for its frequent elevation changes and where overtaking is expected to be difficult. It was the second new race of a season hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic after the Tuscan GP at Mugello last month.