Hamilton keeps title hopes alive after superb drive bests rival Verstappen in Brazil

Lewis Hamilton kept his hopes of a record eighth Formula One world title alive after a magnificent drive saw him charge from tenth on the grid to beat rival Max Verstappen to victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Before the lights went out, it already seemed a mightily tall order after an extremely challenging weekend. A day earlier, it took a fantastic sprint race effort to charge from the back of the grid to fifth place, after the Englishman was excluded from qualifying for a technical irregularity regarding his rear wing.

And another similar effort was needed on Sunday perhaps to keep his title chances alive, a further five place grid penalty that meaning he started from tenth in the race that really mattered. Yet when adversity strikes, Hamilton always seems to answer the call, a well-executed two stop pit strategy allowing him to do what he certainly knows best to lead home Verstappen and teammate Valtteri Bottas.

“I am so grateful for this amazing support I have had this weekend, I haven’t had it since Silverstone when I had my own group of support,” Hamilton told old title rival Felipe Massa after the race. “Since then it has been pretty difficult, so to hear this throughout the weekend has been really humbling. So obrigado Brazil.

“What a race. The team did an amazing job, Valtteri did a great job today to get as many points as possible. I was pushing the machine as hard as I could. But from last on the grid and another five place penalty it was, I think, the hardest weekend I’ve had. I think my dad reminded me of 2004 in Formula 3, in Bahrain, when I started last and finished tenth and then I finished first! So yes, this one’s for my dad.”

A good start, as always, was what really matters. And it was Verstappen who got the early advantage, squeezing out Bottas into the first corner. Worse was to follow as the Finn ran wide, allowing Sergio Perez through for a Red Bull 1-2.

For Hamilton, it was also a good start, the Englishman making up four places to sixth position thanks to some classy overtakes and an unfortunate puncture for compatriot Lando Norris in his McLaren.

Sainz was the next target, Hamilton racing past the Ferrari on the straight into Turn 1 and then the second scarlet machine of Charles Leclerc. With Bottas conceding position for tactical reasons, Hamilton was soon up to P3 on lap 6 after a safety car was deployed for an incident between Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll.

Suddenly, from the defending champion having all the chips stacked heavily against him seemingly from the off at this Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, it now seemed a very realistic chance that he could win the race against all odds.

When the dust settled and racing resumed in earnest, Hamilton set about his Red Bull quarry. Another virtual safety car for an incident involving Mick Schumacher halted his charge and put a possible change in pit stop tactics into the equation.

With Perez negotiated after a fabulous two-lap battle, there was only four seconds separating the title rivals with 51 laps to go. And with all drivers bar Tsunoda starting the race on the yellow banded medium compound Pirelli tyre, choices had to be made and the race tacticians earn their corn. Hamilton was the first of the big hitters to pit on lap 27, Verstappen diving in a lap later but with the champion achieving a net gain of a second.

Bottas now became an important factor, staying out two laps longer and emerging third ahead of Perez under another Virtual Safety Car – Stroll’s car leaving further debris onto the track.

The net result was that Hamilton was all over the back of Verstappen’s gearbox, shaving the gap to 1.4s before Verstappen made his final box, a slick 2.7s stop meaning he emerged 20 seconds behind new race leader Hamilton. Bottas was next to follow for a new set of hards, and it now became a question of when the new leader would pit…

The answer was lap 44 for a set of hard tyres to take him to the end. And despite his protestations about being boxed for the wrong tyre, it looked like the 7x champ had got the move done around the outside into Turn 4. Then more controversy, Verstappen holding his ground and forcing drivers going wide off track.

Minutes later came the FIA call. No penalty accruing for the incident, meaning another slice and dice to the flag. Finally, into Turn 4 on lap 59, Hamilton got the job done sweeping past for the lead as the Dutchman was shown the black and white flag for changing his line.

Hamilton now ahead, there was no stopping him on a circuit and country he has taken to his heart as an avid Ayrton Senna fan since his karting days. And it was perhaps fitting that he took his third at the famous Interlagos circuit, grabbing a Brazilian flag to honour his hero and keep hopes of yet another title alive.

With just three races remaining, it all means that Verstappen leads Hamilton by 14 points but now with all to play for.

“Coming into this weekend, I never ever thought we would be able to close this gap like we have today,” added Hamilton. “And these things that just kept going against us. But I think it just really shows for everyone to never give up whatever you’re facing.

“You’ve just got to keep pushing, keep fighting. Never stop fighting. That’s how I’ve approached this weekend. Inspiration from all round. Feels like a first. Doesn’t feel like I’ve had a win for a long time.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.