Against the odds and defying the numbers, after a weekend of slings and arrows, Lewis Hamilton took arms against his sea of troubles with a remarkable win. He delivered a champion’s drive under circumstances that might have left a lesser man bowed.
Instead by coming from 10th to beat his title rival Max Verstappen into second, Hamilton leaves Brazil head held high, having turned what might have been the weekend that ended his championship hopes into one that has reignited them.
Hamilton’s fighting spirit is well documented. He needed every ounce of that character this weekend and draw on it he did to return what might be the defining moment of the season.
The 36-year-old’s forward-facing attitude in his pursuit of success is such that his recollection of previous races is often vague. Yet the scale of the achievement was clear as he recalled with clarity the only similar weekend of his career in F3 at Bahrain in 2004.
There he came back from 22nd to 11th in the qualifying race and then went on to win in the race itself. Fighting for his career at the time he was re-signed by McLaren afterwards and the rest, well, became history he is still making today. This weekend in Brazil was as important and will likely remain equally indelible in his mind.
The scale of the achievement must be measured across the weekend, alongside Hamilton’s sublime delivery of the win at Interlagos. This was the comeback of the season after a weekend where he took two separate penalties and effectively made up 25 places though two different races.
Hamilton received a five-place grid penalty for taking a new engine at the start of the weekend and then had to start Saturday’s sprint qualifying from 20th and last, after Mercedes were found to have breached the regulations on their DRS. At which point a win on Sunday was perhaps beyond any ambitions he or his team may have harboured.
Yet he then delivered with clinical, aggressive precision to carve through the field in the sprint qualifying from 20th to fifth, making 15 decisive overtaking manoeuvres to do so. It meant he started from 10th in the race proper and did it all over again when it mattered.
For all that Mercedes had a pace advantage in Brazil it was still a magnificent piece of clinical execution, doubly impressive given the pressure of the championship fight. A misjudgment in overtaking across Saturday or Sunday could have ended his title hopes in a nano-second of cartwheeling carbon-fibre wreckage. Hamilton did not pick up a scratch.
It was a result he badly needed. Hamilton went into the race trailing Verstappen by 21 points. Now, with three races remaining and 78 points available, the Dutchman leads by only 14. Verstappen holds the advantage but in a season that has ebbed and flowed with such drama, any straightforward denouement is far from a given and with Mercedes’ pace at Interlagos they will feel it is game on.
After his efforts on Saturday the race required every ounce of focus again. In the mix from the off the 36-year-old once more demonstrated commitment and fine judgment in equal measure in making nine passes and becoming the first driver to win at Interlagos from lower than eighth place.
Verstappen had taken the lead at the start from second on the grid, diving up the inside of Bottas at turn one, while behind them Hamilton launched himself through the field. Up to seventh by turn 10 on lap one, by lap two he had passed Sebastian Vettel for sixth and then immediately dealt with Carlos Sainz for fifth. Charles Leclerc fell a lap later and he was third behind Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez by lap five. The Mexican duly fell at Descida do Lago after a dogged fight on lap 19.
A tense chase through the pitstops ensued as Hamilton hunted Verstappen. The pair were slugging it out in lap times until their second stops which left a fight to the flag. Of course with such competitive and closely-matched drivers this was not to be straightforward.
Hamilton grasped his moment on the new rubber and pushed hard. On lap 48 he caught his rival on the back straight with a nose in front but was driven wide through turn four by Verstappen, both drivers going off the track. It was the season in microcosm, the two rivals wheel to wheel and uncompromising, with Mercedes convinced Verstappen had deliberately not turned into the corner sufficiently.
The incident was deemed acceptable by the stewards, a decision derided by the world champion. Yet Hamilton regrouped and began another assault. Hard on Verstappen in turn one he forced him on to the defensive and over hugely tense moments, followed it up by finally making it stick through turn four on lap 59. It was the decisive move – in clean air the British driver stretched his legs and completed a sensational win, 10 seconds in front.
He had proved, were any demonstration necessary from the seven-time world champion, that if the title is to be wrested from his grasp it will be one almighty struggle. The win puts him right back in it, outrageous fortune be damned, the title fight on fire once more.
Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez was in fourth and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in fifth. Carlos Sainz was sixth for Ferrari, Pierre Gasly in seventh for AlphaTauri. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were in eighth and ninth for Alpine and Lando Norris in tenth for McLaren.
Source: The Guardian