Hamilton untouchable in Portuguese GP

Lewis Hamilton made victory look easy at the Portuguese Grand Prix with a cruise to a half-minute victory over championship rival Max Verstappen, but the Briton had to work to stretch his championship lead.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Hamilton had qualified second behind Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas but dropped to third behind Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen at the safety car restart on lap seven, the race neutralised to clear up a start line crash between Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Verstappen had mugged Hamilton with a sweep around the outside of the first turn, but he couldn’t consolidate on his gain. On lap 10 a mistake at turn 14 opened the door to Hamilton to slipstream his way back through on the start-finish straight, and the Dutchman didn’t have the straight-line speed to fight back.

Bottas was next to be subjected to the blowtorch, and the pole-getter was visibly less certain on his race-start tyres as his pursuing teammate. He yielded position after just 10 laps, Hamilton forcing the issue around the outside to relieve him of the lead.

Verstappen wanted a piece of Bottas next but couldn’t capitalise on the Finn’s uneasiness on the tyres. Instead Red Bull Racing hauled in its title contender for an early pit stop on lap 35, forcing Bottas to do the same on the following tour.

The strategy worked a treat. Bottas held position when he rejoined the track, but with an extra lap of heat in his tyres Verstappen was able to slip past into second and build a buffer to the struggling Mercedes driver.

Hamilton covered the strategy one lap later but was unchallenged thanks to the advantage he had already built for himself, and he was left unchecked on his way to the chequered flag.

“That was such a tough race physically and mentally,” Hamilton said. “Today wasn’t all perfect and we need to get ready now for the quick turnaround for Spain.”

Verstappen made a late pit stop for fresh tyres to try to steal a point for fastest lap, exaggerating his margin of defeat, but he was denied the consolation score after running off the track on his best lap, leaving him to accept second place.

“It was pretty decent,” he said. “Once we settled in second you could clearly see around here we were lacking a little bit of pace compared to them.”

Hamilton leads Verstappen by eight points in the drivers standings.

Bottas showed strong pace in the second half of the race and closed to within a second of Verstappen on lap 52, but an exhaust sensor problem lost him five second in his pursuit and confined him to third.

Once Mercedes was sure the issue had been rectified, Bottas was brought in for new tyres with which he scored the bonus point for fastest lap of the race.

But the Finn was disappointed not to turn pole to victory and blamed his confusingly slow first half of the race for the result.

“It was a tricky day today,” he said. “I don’t know really what happened in the first stint — I just didn’t have the pace for unknown reasons.”

Sergio Perez finished a quiet fourth for Red Bull Racing, the Mexican briefly leading the race when he made himself the last of the frontrunners to make his sole stop.

Lando Norris executed an impressive race for McLaren to finish fifth after gaining places at the safety car restart and successfully defending against Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who finished a strong sixth.

Alpine had its best weekend of the season to date, with Esteban Ocon leading a fast-finishing Fernando Alonso to the flag in seventh and eighth. Alonso in particular turned in an eye-catching race, rising from 13th on the grid for his best finish since returning to the sport this season.

Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a disappointing 16th on the grid to salvage two points for ninth by delaying his sole stop until late in the race and finishing with fresh rubber, while AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly completed the top 10  with a pass on the second-last lap.