Lewis Hamilton has beaten Max Verstappen in a thrilling Sao Paulo Grand Prix after the championship contenders almost collided while battling for the lead.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
In what he described as the hardest weekend of his career Hamilton had to overcome two technical penalties and make 25 overtakes over two days to take a much-needed victory, reducing his title deficit to 14 points with three races remaining.
Hamilton’s weekend started badly, with his car being thrown out of qualifying and sent to the back of the grid for the Saturday sprint, but a gutsy performance took him to fifth at the end of the 100-kilometre mini-race.
But another penalty was applied for Sunday for a new engine, dropping him to 10th for the grand prix and giving him everything to do over 71 laps.
He wasted no time making up ground, passing five cars on the first lap and rising to third on lap five after teammate Valtteri Bottas waved him past, the pole-sitting Finn having ceded the lead to Verstappen and Sergio Perez off the line.
Hamilton battled hard with Perez, whose defence bought Verstappen time in the lead and life in his tyres, but by lap 19 he was through and bearing down on the leader.
An early pit stop on lap 27 forced Verstappen to cover on lap 28, shrinking the gap to less than two seconds between them, but as Hamilton tried to size up the Dutchman for a move Red Bull Racing called him in for an aggressively early stop on lap 40.
Hamilton stayed out for three extra laps, giving him a slender tyre advantage for the final stint of the race, and on lap 48 launched his move in Verstappen’s slipstream on the outside of turn four.
But Verstappen, knowing he wouldn’t have the speed to follow the defending championship if he got ahead, defended controversially hard. On the brakes late, he ran both of them off track, with only late action from Hamilton avoiding what could have been a damaging collision.
Verstappen kept himself ahead, and much to Mercedes’s surprise, the stewards decided no penalty was necessary.
It took Hamilton another 11 laps to size up his rival, and this time his move stuck. He cleverly dummied to the inside of the first turn, forcing Verstappen to cover and compromise his run through the Senna S, before resuming the racing line to give himself a better exit onto the straight leading to turn four.
Verstappen again covered the inside, but this time Hamilton was too far ahead when they hit the brakes for the move to be warded off. The Briton took the lead and sprinted into the distance for a 10-second victory and a crucial title boost.
“What a race,” he said. “The team did an amazing job.
“I was pushing as hard as I could, but from last on the grid and then another five-place penalty I think was the hardest weekend I’ve had.
“Coming into this weekend I never ever thought we’d be able to close the gap like we have today.
“It feels like the first, because it doesn’t feel like I’ve had a win for a long time.”
Max Verstappen was sanguine in defeat, having been able to maintain his title lead and limited the damage was a slower car.
“We tried everything we could today,” he said. “It was a good battle, but in the end we just missed a little bit of pace.
“We still have a good points lead, so today was a bit of damage limitation on weekend that was a bit difficult for us. But I’m confident that in the coming races we’ll bounce back.”
Valtteri Bottas finished third and three seconds behind Verstappen, having lost time in the first stint stuck behind Perez until a well-timed pit stop got him ahead of the Mexican.
“I was disappointed with the start and the first lap, but I tried.” he said. “Still, solid points.”
Perez finished fourth, his team stopping him two laps from the end for fresh tyres to take the point for fastest lap off Hamilton, keeping Red Bull Racing within 11 points of Mercedes in the championship standings.
Ferrari did substantial damage to McLaren in the battle for third, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finishing closely matched in fifth and sixth, extending the team’s margin to 31 points.
Pierre Gasly was seventh for AlphaTauri, equalling Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso’s points haul for Alpine in eighth and ninth, keeping the two teams equal on points in fifth.
Lando Norris took the final point of the race for McLaren after recovering from a first-lap crash with Sainz that earnt him a puncture and an early stop.