BACK ON TRACK: Lewis Hamilton wins Brazil Grand Prix
Credit: PA Tim Goode
Lewis Hamilton said his breathtaking Brazilian Grand Prix triumph is proof that “nothing is impossible” as the Mercedes star reignited his bid for a record-breaking eighth world championship with one of the drives of his life.
Hamilton started 10th after a series of penalties, but on an extraordinary afternoon in Sao Paulo he fought his way past rival Max Verstappen with just 12 laps left following a ding-dong battle in the race of the year. His Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas took third ahead of Sergio Perez.
Hamilton’s 101st career win, and sixth of the campaign, means he has slashed Verstappen’s title lead from 21 to 14 points with three races left and 78 points still available.
“Coming here 19 points behind, we really needed a solid result and then we had all these penalties,” said Hamilton.
“It is easy to get down and mentally, you can think it is over, it is impossible, but nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. We cultivated a positive mental attitude and we went out all guns blazing.
“It has been such a difficult weekend for everyone in the team but I have just been inspired by everyone’s focus and determination.
“I gave it everything and this has definitely been one of the best weekends, if not the best weekend, that I have experienced in my whole career.”
With his back against the wall, Hamilton delivered his two best performances of the season in Interlagos – racing from 20th to fifth in Saturday’s sprint and then from 10th to first a day later.
Excluded from qualifying and demoted five grid spots for an engine change, Hamilton passed four drivers on the opening lap before overtaking Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
By the start of lap five, the world champion was third when pole-sitter Bottas was ordered aside at the first corner following an instruction from his Mercedes team.
Moments later, the safety car was sent out when AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Aston Martin collided through the chicane.
The race resumed on lap 12 with Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez keeping Hamilton at bay, but the Mexican’s resistance lasted seven laps.
Hamilton thought he had got the job done at the start of lap 18 when he glided past Perez on the start-finish straight only to see the Red Bull driver race back past at the left-hander fourth corner.
However, the seven-time world champion got his man the following lap, and this time Perez could not fight back.
Verstappen was 3.6 seconds up the road before Hamilton was the first to blink for new rubber. He stopped on lap 26 with Verstappen following suit the next time around.
The gap was down to just 1.5secs with 44 laps remaining. By lap 32, Hamilton was less than a second behind.
In came Verstappen for a second change of tyres on lap 40. When Mercedes eventually hauled Hamilton in, the Dutchman’s lead had doubled to two seconds.
But Hamilton was not deterred and within four laps he was crawling all over the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull gearbox.
On lap 48, Hamilton drew alongside Verstappen on the 200mph drag to the fourth corner.
The championship protagonists went wheel-to-wheel for the umpteenth time of this most fascinating of seasons with Hamilton fractionally ahead and holding the racing line going into the bend.
But Verstappen stamped on his brakes later and both drivers ran off the track, with Hamilton kicking up turf as he rejoined the asphalt. The stewards looked at the flashpoint but took no action.
“Lewis, apparently there is no investigation necessary for running you off the track,” said Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington.
“Of course not, of course,” came Hamilton’s sarcastic reply.
Would Hamilton get another chance? The answer arrived on lap 58 when Verstappen weaved from one side of the track to the other in a desperate attempt to stop his rival from getting through.
It worked, but only for 70 seconds as, the next time around, Hamilton out-dragged Verstappen before the braking zone at turn four with a dozen laps remaining. Verstappen had no reply.
Cue a huge roar from the Brazilian fans and wild celebrations in the Mercedes garage. Team principal Toto Wolff, furious that Hamilton was slung out of qualifying, angrily jabbed his finger at the camera.
Verstappen was then slapped on the wrists by the stewards with a black-and-white warning flag for his weaving antics on lap 58.
Up front, Hamilton crossed the line 10.4secs clear to claim his first victory since the Russian Grand Prix on September 26 and just his second since the summer break.
The only sour note for Hamilton arrived on Sunday evening when he was hit with a £4,300 fine for undoing his seatbelts as he celebrated a win that breathes fresh life into his championship charge.
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