Lewis Hamilton and his father Anthony

Portugal GP - Stat Wrap

By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman

When it comes to race victories, Michael Schumacher is no longer the most successful driver in Formula 1 history.

Having held the all-time wins record for longer than any other driver that preceded him, Schumacher was deposed on Sunday, 19 years after he surpassed Alain Prost’s previous mark of 51 wins at the 2001 Belgian GP.  That achievement was followed by an additional five years during which he redefined the very meaning of success in Formula 1, and by 2006 he had claimed 91 wins, a record that would surely stand for generations….

Yet here we are, only 14 years later, and a driver who had not even made his debut when Schumacher last took a victory has now surpassed the German’s numbers in almost every category in F1.

Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd career win is yet another all-time record to place alongside the ones he already holds for podium finishes (161), pole positions (97), front row starts (156), points scored (3687) and races led (159).  The only major records that now elude him are Schumacher’s fastest lap total of 77 (Hamilton is short by a comparatively-large 25), as well as his 5,111 laps led, although he’s closing in fast (he now trails by just 135 and could beat that by season’s end).

For now at least, Schumacher also has one more Drivers’ Championship than Hamilton, but those days also look numbered after Hamilton won on Sunday by the largest victory margin in 2020 (25.592 seconds).  After also snapping up the fastest lap bonus he now leads the championship by 77 points, an advantage that no driver has ever squandered since the current points system was adopted ten years ago.

On a bad day for Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, his second place did at least guarantee the championship cannot be decided at Imola next weekend (a Hamilton maximum and Bottas non-score would still leave the Englishman 1 point short of being certain).  Including Mugello last month, this was the second time in the last four Grands Prix in which Bottas led every practice session, only to then see Hamilton take pole and win the race.

Making that statistic doubly frustrating, had Bottas replicated his Q2 performance in Q3 on Saturday he would have been on pole position.  It might not have changed the race result, but it would have at least given the Finn a psychological victory in the face of Hamilton’s avalanche of success.

Sunday was the fourth 1-2 for the Mercedes team this season, and these days no Mercedes 1-2 is complete without Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in third place.  The Dutchman duly obliged once again in Portimao.

What seems like a frivolous statement is actually starting to become grounded in fact.  The Portuguese Grand Prix was the sixth time that Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen have finished first, second and third respectively.  This is now the second-most common finishing order in world championship history, with the only more commonly-occurring result being a Hamilton victory from Nico Rosberg, with Sebastian Vettel in third (occurring 8 times between 2014 and 2016).

Portimao saw the top four finish in the same order in which they started, which was excellent news for Charles Leclerc, who continues to impress in the recalcitrant Ferrari SF1000.  He qualified fourth for the second race running, although there were still low raceday expectations given his experiences at the Nurburgring, where he lapped up to 2.5 seconds per lap slower than early leader Bottas in a car that clearly had no business being that high in the field.

Refreshingly, the Ferrari lived up to its qualifying performance this time around, with Leclerc giving the Scuderia their first top four finish since the 70th Anniversary GP, seven races ago.

The top five was rounded out by Pierre Gasly, who extended AlphaTauri’s scoring streak to nine consecutive races – longer than they ever managed in their history as either Minardi (1985-2005) or Toro Rosso (2006-2019).

Gasly’s reputation has been rehabilitated after a string of consistent performances this season – a consistency slightly overshadowed by his shock win at Monza – but in a remarkable coincidence he has scored 63 points in the first 12 races this season, the exact same number that he scored for Red Bull in the first 12 races last year…. after which he was so unceremoniously dumped.

One of the most unusual – and yet, welcome – sights of 2020 was that of Carlos Sainz’s McLaren passing Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes halfway around the first lap, before also dispensing with Valtteri Bottas sister machine shortly thereafter, putting Sainz into a stunning lead by the end of lap two.

Yes, much of it was down to a sprinkling of rain causing the Mercedes duo to lose temperatures in their medium compound tyres, but the fact remains that Sainz and McLaren led four of the opening five laps – the most led by any McLaren driver in any Grand Prix since Jenson Button led six laps in Shanghai, seven and a half years ago!

Alas, it was not to last, as once the Mercedes got their tyre temperatures the pecking order regressed toward the mean.  Sixth place may have seemed a disappointing result in the circumstances but it was the fifth time that Sainz has finished in the top six this year, closing the gap on Racing Point to just two points in their battle for third in the Constructors’ Championship.

Racing Point retain third place for the time being, but Sunday was perhaps another example of the team slightly underachieving relative to the obvious pace of their RP20 chassis.  After qualifying fifth, a first-lap tangle with Max Verstappen sent Sergio Perez spinning to the back of the field, but a refusal to give up saw the Mexican driver rise to seventh place by the flag, netting Driver Of The Day honours in the process.

Perez has now scored in his last 16 consecutive race starts, the best run of his F1 career.  He certainly had a far better weekend than teammate Lance Stroll, who would be the sole retirement of the race after a collision with Lando Norris, an almost identical incident to the one in which he was involved with Max Verstappen during FP2.  For an array of reasons, Stroll has not scored a point since finishing on the podium at Monza four races ago.

Renault arrived in Portugal on a high after Daniel Ricciardo finished third at the Nurburgring to deliver the team’s first podium finish since Malaysia 2011…. or was it Belgium 2010?

The discrepancy was created by Renault selling their F1 team to Genii Capital after the 2010 season, but as the chassis continued to be a Renault in 2011, it is a matter of personal preference as to whether or not you consider 2010 or 2011 to be their last podium (in an e-mail to this writer, Renault indicated their preference for 2010).  Either way, it had been a long time coming!

Portugal was to be a more modest weekend, but Esteban Ocon received a timely boost by beating Ricciardo in a race for the only the second time in 2020 when they have both finished, although he still only has half the points of his teammate this season (40-80).

Ocon’s season may have been slightly underwhelming to-date, but it has been a lot better than Sebastian Vettel’s disastrous campaign.  The four-time world champion is one of only four drivers who has not completed a single lap in the top three positions in 2020 (along with the Williams drivers and Romain Grosjean).

Vettel had never finished tenth in a Grand Prix prior to this forgettable campaign, but Sunday was the fourth occasion in which he has finished in that position in 2020 – only finishing higher than that twice all year.  The German must be mightily relieved that his 2021 plans are already in place….

Portugal proved to be a popular addition to the calendar in this unorthodox season, 24 years after hosting its most recent event at Estoril in 1996.  That gap tied the longest interval between consecutive races in the same country with…. Portugal (!)

By coincidence, the nation was previously absent from the calendar for the same length of time between the 1960 event in Porto and the 1984 race at Estoril.  If all goes to plan it won’t hold the record for much longer, with the Netherlands set to return after a 36-year absence in 2021.

A third and final race on Italian soil beckons next weekend as the circus makes its first return to Imola since 2006, giving Lewis Hamilton an opportunity to win on a 29th different racetrack in his F1 career.

As if he needs more records….!