Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says exceptional is the new normal for relentless Lewis Hamilton
British driver left Verstappen and Bottas in his wake during 'immaculate' display at Portuguese GP
Lewis Hamilton's impressive performances are being repeated with such regularity that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff now believes "exceptional" is the new normal for Britain's seven-time world champion.
The Mercedes driver delivered another mighty display in the Algarve on Sunday to race past championship rival Max Verstappen and teammate Valtteri Bottas and win for a second time this season.
He will head into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix with an eight-point advantage over Red Bull's Verstappen in his quest for an eighth world crown.
Nico Rosberg, the only name other than Hamilton's on Formula One's championship trophy in the last seven seasons, called his former rival's drive "phenomenal".
And Wolff, who has overseen Hamilton's remarkable run of success at Mercedes, said: "We had a good car but Lewis just drove an immaculate race.
"It makes no sense to talk about these exceptional Lewis performances because they have been quite regular. It is his standard now and he sets that standard to himself."
Verstappen may well be ruing another missed opportunity. He might have started on pole but for running wide at the fourth corner in qualifying.
Another wobble in the race enabled Hamilton to close in and pass him on lap 11 of 66, while he also failed to obtain a bonus point after exceeding track limits in a late salvo to claim the fastest lap.
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In a sport where fine margins and small mistakes can have big outcomes, and with a record 23 races scheduled this year, the seven-times world champion saw plenty of battles to come.
"We’re going to be sick of each other at the end I would imagine, or sick of racing, because there are so many races," joked Hamilton.
The rivalry could boil over with so much at stake, 36-year-old Hamilton chasing records and 23-year-old Verstappen seeking a first crown, but the tone on Sunday remained one of mutual respect.
"I always have full trust in Lewis that we always give each other enough space," said Verstappen, who has won one race and finished second twice.
"I just second that," said Hamilton. "I think it is naturally down to respect and I think both [of us are] very, very hard but fair and I think that’s what makes great racing and great racing drivers."
Verstappen was quick to offer Hamilton his congratulations in the immediate aftermath of their third showdown this year, but Wolff has followed Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in predicting the niceties might not last.
In a recent interview, Horner had said it would be of no great surprise if the two did lock horns at some point in the near future.
And following Hamilton's 97th win, Wolff added: "Lewis and Max are not crossing the line on the track yet because the risk of losing points is just too big. But it is going to go head-to-head and certainly the rivalry may increase."
Updated: May 3, 2021 05:38 PM