After a weekend of punishments, disqualifications and setbacks, Lewis Hamilton produced one of his greatest drives to win the Brazilian Grand Prix. His championship rival Max Verstappen could only settle for second, unable to deal with the Mercedes’ pace and pulling a controversial move that cast a shadow over the race.
Hamilton began the race in tenth, a surprisingly high position after starting last in the sprint race (after being disqualified for a wing infringement) and receiving a five-place penalty (due to an engine part replacement). Verstappen started in second and quickly overtook pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas, but his rival was cutting through the pack. He was third (behind Sergio Perez) by lap five, and eventually took second place on lap 19. The car’s pace was proving formidable, and Hamilton was a man with a mission. The two drivers were then always in each other’s sights, through two sets of pit stops and discussion about whether Mercedes had made the right strategic choice.
Then, on lap 48, controversy ensued. Hamilton made a move to pass Verstappen – he was driven wide by the Red Bull, a move that forced both drivers off the track. It looked dangerous, a likely infringement of the rule forbidding drivers from forcing a rival off the track, and everyone expected that Verstappen would receive a penalty. However, the stewards decided no investigation was necessary, a decision that has proven very contentious among fans and pundits and provoked allegations of favouritism.
After that, it would have been highly controversial if Verstappen had won, but Hamilton wasn’t letting that happen. On lap 59, he made his move again, passing Verstappen and never looking back – he eventually finished more than 10 seconds in front, a dominant showing that proved he was still in the fight. After the pass, Toto Wolff was pumped, encouraging Bottas to go for Verstappen and make it a Mercedes one-two. In truth, Bottas never really had the pace, and he eventually finished third. Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top five, the other Red Bull pitting late to steal the fastest-lap point from Hamilton
Outside of the battle at the front, there was little else of interest in the race. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll failed to finish, dropping out on laps 49 and 47 respectively. The former faced a power unit failure, while the latter retired in the aftermath of a collision with Yuki Tsunoda. Ferrari finishing fifth and sixth further cemented their third place in the constructors’ championship over McLaren – the only point they picked up was a tenth-place finish by Lando Norris.
I never thought we would close the gap like we did today – just never give up and never stop fighting
– Lewis Hamilton
After the race, Hamilton said: “I am so grateful for the incredible support this weekend. I have not had this much support since Silverstone, so to hear the fans it has been humbling. What a race! The team did an amazing job and Valtteri did a great job to get as many points as possible. I just pushed as fast as I could but this is my hardest weekend I have had [this season].
“My dad reminded me of when I was in F3 in Bahrain, when I started last and finished first – so this is for my dad. 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.”
Bottas said: “The start was quick but I was disappointed with the start, but afterwards the pace was OK. I thought we could have done one stop quite easily, but I am glad we got more points than Red Bull and Lewis did amazingly today. The virtual safety car was in a good place for me for once and we managed to get solid points.”
Next week, we have a first in F1 – the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix. Yet, despite the excitement that would typically come with a new racetrack, there’s only really one thing on everyone’s mind, and that’s the bubbling rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen. There are three races left, and a dominant victory in Qatar, one way or the other, could prove pivotal in deciding the championship.