SAO PAULO: Lewis Hamilton won the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday in one of his all-time great drives from 10th on the grid with championship leader Max Verstappen second to give a major boost to his quest for a record eighth world championship.
Hamilton had to overcome a mountain of adversity with his first win since Russia which left him 14 points adrift of Verstappen with three races of the season remaining.
The Mercedes seven-time world champion’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who started on pole, took third.
With a new engine, Hamilton produced a peerless Sunday afternoon drive that was anything but sedate to overcome penalty points after his car was judged to have breached technical rules on Friday and notch up win number 101.
That saw him demoted from pole to last in Saturday’s sprint race where he took fifth to leave him 10th on Sunday’s Interlagos grid after another penalty for what Mercedes hoped would be their trump card now under the bonnet.
After overtaking 24 cars over 24 hours, and allying all his innate skill to his car’s greater power in the straights and Mercedes’ foot perfect team tactics, Hamilton was top of the podium, a couple of rungs higher than some of even the most favourable forecasts.
“What a race. The team did a great job, Valtteri did a great job. With the penalties, it’s the hardest race weekend I’ve had,” said Hamilton.
He said his father had reminded him of a race in Bahrain during his days in F3 “when I started last and finished first”.
“I never thought we would close the gap like we did today – just never give up and never stop fighting. It feels like a first as I haven’t had a win for a long time.”
Verstappen said: “We tried everything we could today, it was a good battle but at the end we missed a little pace. But it was good fun.
“We still have a decent lead so today was a bit of damage limitation. I’m confident, in the coming races we will come back stronger.”
Hamilton was on target to get a point for the fastest lap until Red Bull hauled in Sergio Perez (fourth) for a change of tyres on the penultimate lap in a move that duly paid off.
Bottas managed to hold Verstappen, starting alongside him on the second row, at the first bend but the Red Bull driver took the lead shortly after.
Hamilton was picking off the cars ahead of him with ominous ease and his cause was helped by the intervention of a safety car with debris on the track left by a collision between Yuka Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri and the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll.
“Thank you Valtteri” Hamilton then said to his Finnish teammate who had been instructed to slow down to let the world champion inherit his third place.
After the key players in the 2021 championship had pitted twice Hamilton surged past Verstappen on lap 59 at the third attempt.
His initial overtake looked to have succeeded until Verstappen forced him wide in a move that appeared to be calculated by the leading car’s driver but the stewards having studied all the video footage from all angles available decided to take no action.
When told that Verstappen was not being investigated on the team radio Hamilton replied “Of course not” with understandable sarcasm after all the obstacles he was having to overcome.
And so, a weekend in Brazil that got off to a rocky start had a near-perfect ending for Hamilton who not only pulled victory from the jaws of both F1’s technical rule book and Red Bull but also crucially prevented his arch-rival pulling too far ahead as the gripping title battle nears its conclusion.
Near-perfect as Hamilton was fined US$5,000 (RM21,000) for undoing his safety belt on his victory lap in breach of the rules to accept a Brazilian flag from a track marshall.
Qatar makes its F1 debut as host of this Sunday’s latest fix of the sport’s refreshingly exciting circuit drama followed by Saudi Arabia and the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in mid-December. – AFP