British racing legend Lewis Hamilton made Formula 1 history last weekend by winning the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimão for a 92nd career victory to beat Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.
But the race did not get off to a great start for Hamilton. Despite starting from pole position, a dramatic first lap saw him lose the top position to teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
It was only by Lap 20 of 66 that the British racer returned to the lead, a spot he would only briefly relinquish in the pits. Valtteri Bottas was second, followed by Max Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Indeed, the Algarve International Racetrack (AIA) has unquestionably become linked to the history of the sport, as many will remember it as the venue for one of its most memorable moments.
So said F1’s official website: “The 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix will be remembered most of all for the moment where Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1’s most successful driver of all time in terms of victories – a mighty record that came after yet another mighty drive from the six-time World Champion.”
Hamilton – who is also the only driver to have taken a win in every F1 season in which he has competed, now stretching across 14 years – was beside himself after setting a new F1 career wins record.
“It’s going to take some time for (the record) to fully sink in, but I was still pushing flat-out coming across the line. I’m still very much in race mode mentally … I can’t find the words at the moment,” Hamilton said just after the race.
But while AIA may have cemented its place in F1 history, some mixed messaging came from the tracks.
Sports paper Record proclaimed that drivers were ‘captivated’ by the racetrack, but whether it was for the best reasons is unclear.
“It’s an incredibly difficult circuit; massively challenging,” said Hamilton, adding “there are a lot of places where you just can’t see where you are going…”
“Quite slippy… and eeky,” Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas told Record. “You have the grip,” he explained … “but once you lose it, you lose it pretty quickly…”
McLaren’s Nando Norris was more forthright: “The track grip in general is just very bad, very poor…” But he agrees, it’s “just probably new tarmac that hasn’t been run on that much … cars all over the place… I am sure every driver will say it in the interviews. It made my life very tricky; it made our life as a team tricky to get a good balance and find confidence in the car.”
Turn eight generally seemed to transport drivers to the feeling of being on a rollercoaster.
Lewis Hamilton described “just seeing sky for a period of time”, while Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly admitted to ‘never having felt like that in a F1 car’.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo actually enjoyed turn eight: “It’s actually pretty cool. It’s blind. You don’t see anything. Even the exit curve: you feel it in the car, but you don’t really see it…it’s challenging, but I do enjoy it.”
It remains to be seen whether drivers’ opinions will play into the decision of bringing F1 back to Portugal again next season.
Speaking to the Resident last week, Portimão Mayor Isilda Gomes admitted that the council would love to host the race again next year, but that it is “not a decision that is up to us”.
“If all goes well, I believe that AIA could secure a spot on the world calendar,” said the mayor, adding that “the racetrack’s conditions are unique and have been praised by everyone, from the drivers to their teams”.
“In terms of what we can control when it comes to the return of F1 to the Algarve, we will certainly be available, and we will keep our doors open. That is a guarantee,” she said.
The last time the Portuguese Grand Prix had taken place had been in 1996 in Estoril.
By MICHAEL BRUXO AND NATASHA DONN