Lewis Hamilton has called on his under-performing rivals to raise their game so he does not cruise to a seventh World Championship.
So emphatic was Hamilton’s performance at the Hungaroring on Sunday – one that took him to the top of the title standings for the first time this season – that he could afford to stop for new tyres in order to post the fastest lap and claim a bonus point.
Before that change of rubber with four of the 70 laps remaining, Hamilton held a half-minute advantage over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, was even further ahead of Valtteri Bottas in identical Mercedes machinery, and had lapped Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – a man he once considered a championship rival. Not anymore.
Hamilton’s fastest tour was more than a second quicker than Bottas, an eye-watering 2.5 seconds faster than Verstappen, and almost 4 seconds speedier than Vettel.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) July 19, 2020
Hamilton now heads to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in a fortnight’s time five points clear of Bottas, who finished a disappointing third, and 30 ahead of runner-up Verstappen. So, is Hamilton’s march towards Michael Schumacher’s record in danger of becoming a procession?
“Not from my seat, no,” he said. “We are working our a***s off and we are going to continue to do that. Look, I don’t know what is going to happen over these next races.
“It was a flawless effort from our team this weekend, and in all areas we delivered so it was difficult for the others to compete.
“But I enjoy battling other teams, and I am hopeful we will still find some challenges up ahead. Would I like more of a battle from the others? Absolutely.”
However, given Mercedes’ impressive performance this season – the Silver Arrows primed to win an unheard-of seven consecutive driver and team titles – Hamilton’s sole championship challenge is set to come in the form of Bottas.
While the 30-year-old Finn took advantage of an out-of-sorts Hamilton to win the first race in Austria, he has been blown away in the ensuing rounds. This is their fourth season together at Mercedes and during that period Hamilton has won 33 races to Bottas’ eight.
Hamilton’s 86th career triumph, which came a day after his landmark 90th career pole, now moves him to within only five of Schumacher’s win record, too.
With seven races to come in just nine weeks there is every chance Hamilton will have toppled Schumacher’s tally – one which many thought could stand the test of time – before the close of autumn.
“In round one I was hit by multiple different punches that I was not ready for,” continued Hamilton.
“But I refocused and the last two races have been fantastic. I have been on point this weekend. I need to keep it up.”