ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Britain’s Lewis Hamilton shed tears of joy as he won a record-equalling seventh Formula One world championship in Turkey on Sunday and became the most successful driver in the sport’s history.
The Mercedes ace put on a masterclass in wet and slippery conditions to take a record-stretching 94th career win at the Istanbul Park circuit and secure the title with three races to spare.
Ferrari great Michael Schumacher is the only other driver with seven titles to his name, a number once thought unlikely to be matched, but most of the German’s records have passed to Hamilton.
So crushing was the win that Hamilton lapped sole rival and team mate Valtteri Bottas with 12 laps to go. The Finn, who had to finish at least sixth, spun repeatedly and ended up 14th.
Hamilton already had more race wins, pole positions and podium finishes than anyone in the history of the sport but, despite starting a season-low sixth, the 35-year-old was determined to add to the tally.
“That’s for all the kids out there who dream the impossible. You can do it too man, I believe in you guys,” he whooped over the radio after taking the chequered flag.
The Briton finished 31.6 seconds clear of Racing Point’s second-placed Mexican Sergio Perez, after passing him with 22 laps to go, in a race run behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Seven is just unimaginable but when you work with such a great group of people and you really trust each other, there is just no end to what we can do together,” said Hamilton, who has yet to sign a new deal for 2021 but is set to stay.
“I feel like I’m only just getting started.”
Hamilton’s 10th victory of 2020, and fourth in a row, took his points tally to an insurmountable 307 with Bottas on 197.
Hamilton was congratulated after parking up by Perez, who still has no seat for 2021, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who completed the podium in a race full of spins and changes of lead.
“I told him that it was very special for us because we can witness history being made today,” said Vettel, a four-times world champion with Red Bull and on the podium for the first time this year.
“There is no doubt Lewis is the greatest in terms of what he has achieved.”
Bottas, who said over the radio four laps from the end that he wished the race was already finished, also went across to shake the hand of a man who won his first title with McLaren in 2008 and then Mercedes in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Mercedes had already won the constructors’ championship for a seventh year in a row, an unprecedented feat.
While Perez started third and eked out his intermediate tyres for 48 laps, Canadian team mate Lance Stroll saw his dreams of a first win disappear after leading from his first pole position.
He finished ninth, the slide down the order starting when he pitted on lap 36, but the team moved up to third overall in the constructors’ standings.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth, after passing Perez on the last lap for second but then sliding wide, with Spaniard Carlos Sainz fifth for McLaren and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen sixth.
Red Bull’s Alexander Albon was seventh — after also leading early on — with Lando Norris eighth for McLaren and taking a bonus point for the fastest lap.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was 10th for Renault, who fell from third to fifth.
Hamilton said there was a point where he thought the race was slipping away from him, and the leaden skies and constant threat of rain added to the sense of uncertainty, but he kept believing.
When the team suggested he pit for fresh tyres towards the end, given the safety of his lead and the amount of laps done on the worn intermediates, he over-ruled them.
“I lost a world championship in the pit-lane, I learned my lesson from 2007, that’s for sure. I felt like I really had it under control and I was going to deal with the rain if it dropped,” he said.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond and Toby Davis)