After Sao Paulo high, Lewis Hamilton takes F1 battle into uncharted tracks
More or less everything that could go wrong did for Lewis Hamilton ahead of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix on Sunday.
A new internal combustion engine (ICE) induced five-place grid penalty. Disqualification from Friday’s qualifying. Starting Saturday’s sprint from the back of the grid. Starting the race from a lowly 10th on Sunday.
To compound the misery, Hamilton’s championship rival Max Verstappen took pole for Saturday’s sprint, earned a front row start for Sunday’s race and extended the championship lead to a strong 21 points with his second place finish in Saturday’s sprint.
Then came Sunday, 71 lap around Interlagos, 90 minutes. It changed everything. Hamilton pulled off a race that’s the stuff of legends, roared through the finish changing, yet again, the championship scenario.
When a seven-time world champion delivers one of his greatest races—if not the greatest—you know it’s something that will be etched into the minds of Formula one fans for a long, long time.
Starting from 10th despite qualifying fifth in the sprint (due to the five-place grid penalty for taking a new engine), Hamilton earned only the second victory in his career from outside the top-6—the other being Hockenheim 2018 when he started 14th—to become the first driver to win a race at Interlagos from outside the top-8.
And what a venue to coincide with one his finest wins— his 101st –the home of his idol Ayrton Senna, who also clinched an extraordinary victory at the same venue exactly 30 years ago.
Hamilton stormed through the field, displayed unprecedented pace which lay to rest the claims that Red Bull have the faster car, something the Mercedes driver had himself claimed not so long ago.
For sure, Mercedes had a massive pace advantage with the Silver Arrow faster than any other car on the straights by a mile, but it is one thing to catch a driver, another to pass him.
Hamilton made multiple overtakes, including a brilliant pass on his Dutch rival Verstappen, to later say: “This has been one of the best weekends—if not the best weekend—I have experienced in my whole career.”
Hamilton now trails Verstappen by only 14 points in the championship and this win could prove to be the turning point in the championship with only three races to go.
Earlier, the talk was about Red Bull having an advantage with the faster car, winning the last two races in United States and Mexico. Hamilton himself said that the Red Bull had been the faster car throughout the year. Would anyone doubt it? Red Bull have won 10 races so far this season to the seven of Mercedes.
But after Brazil, things are looking slightly different. Despite Verstappen’s 14-point advantage, Red Bull will be worried. Hamilton’s pace was significantly faster than earlier races and if the German manufacturer maintains a similar advantage then that cushion is likely to vanish in the next two races.
Significantly, the next two tracks are completely green with no Formula 1 rubber having ever touched the surfaces. The next race will be the Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit followed by the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. Though this will be the first ever race in Lusail, the track has been hosting MotoGP since 2014. Jeddah, on the other hand, is a street circuit. Both races will be held at night.
It will be hard to separate Verstappen and Hamilton at these two circuits. Mercedes are traditionally much faster on straights while Red Bull have the advantage on the turns, chicanes and bends. These tracks are a mix of both.
The championship, it seems, is headed to the finish line in lockstep and it may all come down to the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 12.