By Gabriel Araujo
SAOPAULO -Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton hunted down Max Verstappen to win the Sao Paulo Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday and slash his Red Bull rival’s Formula One lead to 14 points in one of the greatest drives of his career.
Verstappen finished second with Valtteri Bottas third for Mercedes after a controversial, roller-coaster weekend in Brazil.
“I don’t remember another weekend like this,” said Hamilton, his dream of a record eighth title back on with three races remaining. “It’s quite overwhelming, to be honest.”
“This has been probably one of the best weekends, if not the best weekend, that I have experienced since … probably in my whole career.”
The Briton was fastest in Friday qualifying at Interlagos for Saturday’s sprint that set Sunday’s grid, and then demoted to the back of the field after his car’s rear wing failed a technical inspection.
He went from 20th to fifth on Saturday, dropping back to 10th on Sunday’s grid after an engine penalty but hungry for much more.
The rest was history as the 36-year-old took his third win at Interlagos and set a record for victory in Brazil from the lowest grid position, beating Italian Giancarlo Fisichella’s 2003 win from eighth.
“Lewis, that’s how you overcome a 20-place disqualification,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff told him over the radio after he took the chequered flag in front of a cheering crowd.
“It was actually 25, but you’re right,” replied Hamilton.
The win was Hamilton’s sixth of the season and record-extending 101st of his career.
“That was one of the best drives I’ve ever seen in F1. By anyone. Utterly awesome,” commented 1996 world champion Damon Hill on Twitter.
“I feel like Lewis was in his own league today,” said Bottas.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finished fourth, pitting at the end for fresh tyres to set the fastest lap and deny Hamilton a precious bonus point.
Mercedes moved 11 points clear of Red Bull in the constructors’ standings.
Bottas had started on pole but lost out to Verstappen into the first corner and then to Perez while Hamilton was already up to seventh.
The reigning champion was third by lap five, with Bottas letting him through as expected.
The 3.5 second gap to Perez was closed a lap later when the safety car was deployed after a clash between AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll left debris strewn across the track.
Perez was then passed on lap 18, after a further virtual safety car period when the front wing on Mick Schumacher’s Haas detached and left more debris.
Then it was game on, with Hamilton pitting before Verstappen and cutting the gap.
The Dutch 24-year-old was determined not to be undercut again and jumped first for the second stop on lap 41 with Hamilton coming in three laps later and then closing in with the advantage of fresher tyres and a newer engine.
Both battled wheel-to-wheel on lap 48, Verstappen defending hard.
Hamilton got ahead but Verstappen closed him out and both cars ran wide, Mercedes complaining their man was pushed off unfairly, with the stewards ultimately deciding to take no further action.
Hamilton tried again before making the move stick third time around while marshals waved a black and white flag at Verstappen for weaving on the straight, drawing a sarcastic response: “Yeah, perfect. Say hi”.
“It was a good battle but at the end we just missed a little bit of pace. We gave it our all today, it was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen.
“We still have a good points lead. Today was a bit of damage limitation on a weekend that was difficult for us. I’m confident that the coming races we will bounce back.”
Two of the remaining three are circuits new to F1 — Qatar and Saudi Arabia — before the finale in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished fifth with team mate Carlos Sainz sixth.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was seventh, ahead of the Alpine pairing of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso. Lando Norris took the final point for McLaren despite a puncture on the opening lap.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo retired his McLaren after a loss of power.