By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent
Lewis Hamilton said he will be sick of the sight of Max Verstappen by the end of the year following a victory his former rival Nico Rosberg labelled as “phenomenal” in Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
Hamilton was staring down the barrel of defeat after a sloppy restart dropped him to third in Portimao.
But the British driver pulled off two supreme moves – first on Verstappen and then a beleaguered Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes – to win for a 97th time and lay down a statement of intent in his quest for an unprecedented eighth world championship.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 2, 2021
It is the third time in as many races Hamilton and Verstappen have gone wheel-to-wheel, with the former striking back after his rival’s triumph in Imola to move eight points clear in the standings ahead of next week’s Spanish Grand Prix.
“What a phenomenal race by Lewis,” Rosberg, the only man in the last seven seasons who has been able to stop Hamilton from winning the title, told Sky Sports.
“Max is starting to get a better understanding of just how good Lewis is. He has to do everything to beat him in the championship and at the moment it is 2-1 Lewis.”
Hamilton missed out on pole to Bottas by just seven thousandths of a second, and by lap seven he was third.
The safety car was deployed to deal with the debris caused by Kimi Raikkonen running into the back of Alfa Romeo team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi and Hamilton was caught napping by Verstappen at the restart.
But he was back ahead of the Red Bull just four laps later. In hot pursuit of Bottas, Verstappen made a mistake at Turn 14 allowing Hamilton to move into the Red Bull’s slipstream.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 2, 2021
Racing at 200mph, Verstappen – aggressively but fairly – moved to his right and squeezed Hamilton towards the pit wall.
However, the world champion held his nerve to slide up the inside of his rival at the opening bend. Verstappen eyed up Hamilton three corners later, but the world champion planted his Mercedes on the apex and Verstappen was forced to yield.
Hamilton was soon crawling all over the back of Bottas. One wondered whether the Mercedes pit wall would order the Finn to move aside with Verstappen in striking range.
But perhaps mercifully for team principal Toto Wolff, Hamilton took the decision out of his hands with a dazzling pass on lap 20 of 66.
Bottas defended the inside line heading into the first corner. Hamilton followed in the tow of his Mercedes team-mate before suddenly darting to the left in the braking zone and passing a dumbfounded Bottas around the outside.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 2, 2021
Such was Hamilton’s speed advantage, he moved two seconds clear of Bottas inside just four laps and from there he never looked like losing.
Bottas, who later fell behind Verstappen, is already 37 points adrift of his team-mate in the title race.
“None of us here are under any illusions as to just how hard it is, how close the battle is, and how we are all giving absolutely everything in our day-to-day lives to be the best prepared and to deliver,” said Hamilton, 36.
“The pressure is immense. Of course, it is great when you have a race like today where you are able to overtake and capitalise on the small margins.
“But at the same time, Max gave us a great run for our money. We will continue to keep it clean and on the edge. It is down to the respect we have for one another and that is what makes great racing and great racing drivers.
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) May 2, 2021
“It is going to be like this for the rest of the season. It is a great fight between Mercedes and Red Bull and it is clear we will be pushing right until the last race. We will be sick of each other by the end of it.”
Responding to Rosberg’s comment, Verstappen, 23, said: “I don’t need Nico to make me realise how good Lewis is. I know he is very good, otherwise you don’t win so many championships.”
Verstappen probably should be a point nearer to Hamilton in the standings. On the final lap, he bolted on fresh tyres in pursuit of a bonus point for the fastest time, but his effort was chalked off for exceeding track limits. It is on fine margins that championships are won.
Sergio Perez finished fourth for Red Bull ahead of Lando Norris, who delivered another fine drive to take fifth. The young Briton is third in the championship.