Watch: Damon Hill on Lewis Hamilton: It's hard for anyone to beat him
Sir Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill were among the past Formula One world champions to pay tribute to Lewis Hamilton after the Mercedes driver broke Michael Schumacher’s record for the most Formula One Grand Prix wins in history.
Hamilton survived a frantic start to F1’s first ever race at the Algarve International Circuit as rain started to fall on the opening lap, which allowed McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to lead in front of Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton fell behind his Mercedes teammate due to a tentative start.
But once the race settled into a rhythm, Hamilton was able to pick off Bottas to reclaim a lead that he would not relinquish, with the championship leader building an emphatic 25.593s gap by the chequered flag to secure his 92nd career victory.
The win saw Hamilton pass seven-time world champion Schumacher’s record of 91, further strengthening Hamiltoon’s claim to being the greatest driver in the sport’s history, and puts him well on course to matching the German’s haul of world titles this season as he now leads by a huge 77 points with only five races remaining, meaning he can wrap up the 2020 championship as early as the Turkish Grand Prix in two races’ time.
"It's going to take some time for it to fully sink in, but you know I was still pushing flat out coming across the line,” Hamilton said upon breaking one of the few records that Schumacher had left over him.
"I'm still very much in race mode mentally. But yeah, I can't find the words at the moment.
“My dad is here which is amazing, and my step-mum Linda too, and my dog Roscoe so it is a blessed day.
"I could have only ever dreamed of being where I am today. I didn't have a magic ball when I came to Mercedes but here I am and as a team we are trying to make the most of it.
“I owe it all to these guys here and back at the factory for their excellent work. They’re continuously innovating and pushing the boundaries even higher. No one’s sitting back on this success, everyones pushing and that’s the most incredible thing to be surrounded by because it inspires you.”
Hamilton was the subject of plenty of debate over the greatest F1 driver of all-time when he tied Schumacher’s record two weeks ago in winning the Eifel Grand Prix, with three-time world champion Stewart claiming before the Nurburgring round that he did not even feature in his top three drivers.
But Stewart was quick to praise Hamilton’s achievement in winning more races than any other driver in history.
"I congratulate Lewis Hamilton on achieving the remarkable success in surpassing Michael Schumacher's record,” Stewart told the Press Association. "Lewis has had a hugely impressive career from his karting days to his association with Ron Dennis at McLaren and then of course the wonderful Mercedes-Benz.
“I take my hat off to him for his considerable achievements and I wish him well for his continuing career."
1996 world champion Hill, who battled Schumacher across three consecutive seasons until he finally bettered him in his title-winning year, added: "Well I guess I can't say I've beaten the best driver in F1 any more. I had a good run though. Thanks Schumacher and welcome Lewis Hamilton #GOAT #f1."
Hamilton’s triumph ahead of Bottas also puts Mercedes on the cusp of a seventh consecutive constructors’ championship, with a fourth one-two of the season putting them 209 points in front of Red Bull with only 220 left to play for, and team principal Toto Wolff was among those to pay tribute to his lead driver ahead of what looks certain to be a record-equalling seventh world title.
— Damon Hill (@HillF1) October 25, 2020
"92 race wins, who would have thought that (would happen) when we embarked on the project in 2013? It's almost a surreal amount of wins,” Wolff said.
"It's his absolute passion and energy in everything he puts into the sport. And the talent and ability - he's just standing out."
Hamilton cannot mathematically wrap up the title next weekend at Imola even if Bottas fails to finish, although a non-scoring weekend for the Finn and a maximum haul of 26 points for the 35-year-old Briton would put him 103 points clear with 104 points available, virtually guaranteeing a fourth consecutive world title.
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