Lewis Hamilton feels ‘better than ever’ as he dominates Belgian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton wins race. For the 89th time. In one sense Hamilton is killing the spectacle. In another he is leading us incrementally towards historic numbers.
Barring calamity or a performance upgrade in the person of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton will draw level with Michael Schumacher on 91 grands prix at Mugello in a fortnight’s time. A seventh title to equal Schumi’s record mark already appears a formality.
The worrying part of all this for his rivals, and perhaps for the audience, too, is Hamilton’s post Belgian Grand Prix observation that he is getting better as the clock ticks towards his 36th birthday. Bottas described Hamilton’s performance here as faultless. With the advent of Covid-19 putting back by 12 months the technical changes that might have ushered in the desired shake-up in the order of things, there is little prospect of any challenging Hamilton and Mercedes.
Despite tyre concerns, Hamilton converted the best qualifying lap of his career to seal his fourth victory in Belgium and seal yet another Mercedes one-two. Not for the first time this season Max Verstappen complained of boredom as he followed in the wake of the silver arrows, powerless to land a punch. “Not much to do,” he said. “I couldn’t keep up with them when they started pushing. The last eight laps I was just backing it out and saving the tyres. It was a bit lonely. Maybe it is not the most satisfying P3 but it is still better than nothing.”
Hamilton already has more poles than any, more podiums, more points and at Spa passed Schumacher’s record for miles spent at the front. “I know it’s not what everyone always wants to see – the Mercedes at the front – but it’s an incredible mentality we have. No matter how much success we have we just keep our heads down. Back at the office, there are no guys celebrating. It is all about how we can win the next race and it is an incredible environment to be in. I am 35 going towards 36 but I feel better than ever so that is a positive,” Hamilton said, chilling the blood of all outside Brackley.
Until the 11th lap, when Antonio Giovinazzi binned his Alfa on the approach to Stavelot, collecting George Russell behind him, Hamilton was on auto-pilot. The wreckage brought out the safety car for four laps, erasing Hamilton’s carefully established two-second lead. The cars came in for fresh rubber leaving Hamilton needing only to manage the restart, which he did, of course, despite complaining of a loss of power over the radio. No issue, came the reply. You are good to go, Lewis. Indeed he was, immediately setting a fastest lap. Within four laps his advantage over Bottas was back at two seconds.
Since the forecast rain did not materialise, the jeopardy for Mercedes lay in making the hard tyres last until the end of the race, a further 25 laps. Mindful of what happened at Silverstone, where Hamilton limped across the line with three wheels on his waggon in the British Grand Prix and a week later, slowed by softer rubber, surrendered the lead to Verstappen in the 70th anniversary race, the chasers were, theoretically at least, still in the game.
With six laps remaining and tyres losing mechanical grip the team radios hummed with driver complaints. Christian Horner cut short his guest pundit slot on Sky to get back to the calculator and determine whether or not to bring in Verstappen. Four laps out Bottas was instructed to keep off the kerbs. The teams were sticking not twisting. Three laps out Hamilton told the team he did not like the feel of the right front. Had Red Bull pulled the pin and pitted Verstappen as they did at the British Grand Prix, Mercedes would have mirrored the move with Hamilton. They didn’t so it was a case of sticking it out to the end.
As expected Ferrari’s diminishing returns shrank still further on a merciless circuit they dominated in the previous two visits. The punishing consequences of the FIA’s investigation into Ferrari fuel flows last year has taken a terrible toll on the sports most celebrated marque with both cars finishing out of the points, Sebastian Vettel in 12th, Charles Leclerc 13th. The prospect of finishing at the back of the field at an equally power hungry Italian Grand Prix in Monza next weekend must be filling the nation with dread.
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