MEDIA RELEASE/McLaren Formula 1 Team - Main Photo: Supplied The McLaren Formula 1 team have…
Lewis Hamilton continued his fight to retain his World Driver’s Championship crown with a come from behind win at the Brazilian Grand Prix. From an internal combustion engine change to the qualifying disqualification and new rear wing, Hamilton bounced back from each set back to take the win and fastest lap from Max Verstappen. A 3rd place finish for Valtteri Bottas also helped Mercedes AMG Petronas in the fight for the Constructor’s title.
Valtteri Bottas led Verstappen as the race began, though the outside line worked against the Finn as Verstappen moved mid track to take control on the approach to the first corner. Perez didi likewise, while Charles had heaps of bitumen to himself on the tighter inside line.
Lando Norris had made an excellent initial launch and took to the grass fringe in an attempt to squeeze between Carlos Sainz and the wall. A brief touch saw the McLaren wriggle from the contact with the left rear tyre knocked from the rim.
“Yeah, I could do nothing there to avoid Lando,” Sainz said to his engineer. “I got squeezed.”
Verstappen swept around the #77 and into the lead and Perez followed suit, only to have his path blocked by the Finn. The two Ferraris ran side by side with Sainz under pressure from his teammate. Turn 5 proved to be a pivotal moment in the race when Bottas, Sainz, Leclerc and Gasly all ran off the track on cold tyres. The misjudgement saw Perez take 2nd place.
As the field headed down the main straight to commence lap 2 of 71 it was Verstappen from Perez, Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Vettel, Hamilton, Gasly, Ricciardo and Ocon.
Norris returned to the pit lane for a quick check of the McLaren’s suspension and a switch to the hard compound tyres. It was not a good start for the papaya team with Ricciardo embroiled in a tense battle for position with the two Alpines of Ocon and Alonso, the former displaced the Australian from 9th on lap 2.
An ambitious move from Yuki Tsunoda on Lance Stroll for 12th place saw contact between the pair at Turn 1, which left a trail of broken carbon fibre bodywork which littered the outside line of the corner.
Lewis Hamilton was 3rd by lap 5, having easily slipped past both Ferraris and then teammate Bottas in his pursuit of the two Red Bull Hondas. His chase made all the easier by Race Control’s decision to deploy the Safety Car and guide the field down the pit lane as Marshals cleared the potentially tyre destroying shards of carbon fibre from Turn 1.
The race resumed on lap 10 with Leclerc determined to take 4th from Bottas. The #16 locked a wheel into the first corner, weaved either side of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 through turns 2 and 3 before settling back into 5th. Mick Schumacher became the second driver to lose a front wing after contact with an Alfa Romeo saw parts of the wing explode at the same corner that had just been swept clear. This time a Virtual Safety Car was called while the track was swept once more.
The race resumed on lap 15 and Verstappen sped away to a 1.6 second lead as Perez came under increasing pressure from Hamilton. The Mexican suggested that the leader slow momentarily to bring Perez back into DRS zone.
Perez’s job was to keep Hamilton at bay and did the job to perfection on lap 17. Hamilton took 2nd at Turn 1 but Perez held the inside line for Turn 2 and moved back ahead. Hamilton regrouped and made a more decisive move on the following lap. This time the pass occurred earlier and Hamilton was in clear air, 3.7 seconds from the race leader.
Daniel Ricciardo made steady progress to sit in 8th place by lap 22, having finally moved ahead of Ocon, then traded places with Sebastian Vettel before eventually gaining the upper hand.
Pierre Gasly was the first of the top 10 runners to pit for the hard tyre and dropped to 15th. Hamilton was the next to stop a lap later and returned to the track in 6th as Sainz trundled down the pitlane for another set of medium tyres. Verstappen replied with his stop on lap 28 and maintained track position over his championship rival with a reduced gap of 1.7 seconds.
The gap hovered at just over 1 second by lap 40 as Verstappen fought to keep the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 out of DRS range. Hamilton’s team discussed tyre choice with their driver as a two stop strategy was assessed by the team.
Verstappen stopped first for a fresh set of hard tyres while Hamilton was also given the same tyres 3 laps later as an intense sun literally roasted the tyres.
“How do you want me to approach this?” Verstappen asked his engineer as Hamilton stopped.
“You just look after the tyres Max,” came the team’s reply.
Hamilton closed on the leader down the pit straight as lap 48 began and set up an overtaking move on the next straight. Verstappen held the inside line for Turn 5 and edged towards the mid section of the track as Hamilton moved alongside. Verstappen continued to squeeze the #44 for room which saw both cars off the circuit at the exit of the corner and the Red Bull Honda still in front.
Daniel Ricciardo’s race ended on lap 50 in the pitlane with a power unit failure and joined Lance Stroll in retirement.
Hamilton set up another overtaking move on Verstappen at the start of lap 59. A half look at Turn 1 saw Verstappen defend and compromise his exit speed. Hamilton used that advantage to attack on the run towards Turn 4 and moved ahead. Verstappen looked to respond but the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 was already clear of the Red Bull Honda.
In the process of catching Verstappen, Hamilton has set the fastest lap of the race. Red Bull Honda looked to minimise the points loss and brought Perez into the pits for a late stop. The Mexican replied with a new fast time on the final lap of the race.
Lewis Hamilton drove away to a 9.9 second lead at the chequered flag to take the win from Verstappen and Bottas. Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly, Alonso, Ocon and Norris completed the top 10.
“I’m so grateful for the incredible support I’ve had this weekend, I’ve not had this since Silverstone,” Lewis Hamilton told Sky Sports. “But since then it’s been very difficult, so to have this throughout the weekend has been really humbling.
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 as hard as I could from last on the grid. Then another five place penalty was probably the hardest weekend that I have had.
My Dad reminded me of 2004, when I was in Formula 3 in Bahrain when I started last, finished 10th and then finished 1st. So this one’s for my Dad.”
Coming into this weekend I never thought that we’d be able to close the gap like we did today. Then these things kept going against us, but I think it shows for everyone to never give up. Whatever you’re facing you’ve got to keep pushing, keep tumbling away and never, never stop fighting. That’s really how I approached this weekend.”
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