A report by Rebecca Clancy for The Times of London.
Lewis Hamilton battled a poor start and “excruciating pain” to claim victory at the Portugal Grand Prix to become the most successful race winner in Formula One history.
Yesterday’s victory in the Algarve was the 35-year-old’s 92nd of his career and came only two weeks after he had matched Michael Schumacher’s long-held record of 91 race wins.
It is now surely only a matter of races until Hamilton will match Schumacher’s only surviving record of seven world championships, as he now holds a commanding 77-point lead over Mercedes team-mate and nearest rival Valtteri Bottas in the championship with five races remaining.
“Today is beyond my wildest dreams,” Hamilton said.
“It doesn’t matter how many Sundays we do this, it’s always a challenge. None of this has been easy. It’s been such a privilege to work with you all.
“I’m thinking of Michael today, I will forever have the utmost admiration and respect for you, it’s truly been an honour to be mentioned in the same sentence as you.”
The 27,500 fans in attendance at the race gave Hamilton a standing ovation to mark this historic achievement.
Hamilton thanked his team members but the biggest hug was reserved for his father, Anthony, who has been by his son’s side throughout his career and was unable to hold back the tears as he congratulated him on what he had just done.
Despite starting the race on pole, Hamilton found himself in third on the first lap as it looked as though he was struggling for pace. In reality, his tyres were not yet up to temperature and so he bided his time before reclaiming the lead from Bottas.
From there the victory had looked straightforward, until Hamilton contacted his team in the closing laps to say he had cramp.
It emerged that the pain was in his right calf and was made worse every time he pushed the accelerator, a problem at the Portimao track, were drivers spend 70 per cent of the track at full throttle.
Unusually for Hamilton, he admitted after the race that he had not been as prepared as he normally is and that he would seek medical attention to have his leg looked at.
“I generally didn’t drink a lot today and I remember getting into the car thinking, ‘I’m probably going to be dehydrated.’ I never drink in the race, ever,” Hamilton said.
“I was coming out of the last corner and I got the feeling it [his calf] was about to pull, like you’re pulling a muscle, and it popped, and it hurt so much I had to lift and didn’t really know what to do because every time I applied it the pain was there.
“But of course, I can’t stay off the gas, I had to keep going, it’s just mind over matter, so I had to keep pushing.
“It was pretty excruciating for a couple of laps. But then it kind of started to, I don’t know whether blood starts rushing to it and the adrenaline takes over, but I’ve definitely got a bit of a knot in my calf. I will seek medical attention afterwards.”