F1: Hamilton completes epic recovery drive with incredible Sao Paulo victory
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton battled against the odds to overcome disqualification and a grid penalty to charge through the grid to win the Brazilian GP overtaking Championship Leader Max Verstappen in the process to cut the points deficit.
Late on Saturday afternoon, the Formula One Stewards finally reached a decision regarding the legality of Mercedes' rear wing on Lewis Hamilton's car. The Brit had qualified fastest ahead of the upcoming Sprint Race but was now shuffled to the back of the twenty car grid with his championship challenge suffering a major blow.
Faced with an impossible drive, Hamilton would have to drive from the back of the grid during the Sprint Race then take a five place grid penalty for a new Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) and start the race from that position. Saturday's Sprint Race would determine the whole weekend. If he could make up places, he could then challenge for the top positions come Sunday. With the odds stacked against him and his Mercedes team, Hamilton prevailed and took an almighty, and unlikely, victory.
LEAGUE OF HIS OWN: The 2021 Brazilian GP was Hamilton's 101st GP win and his first race win since the Russian GP - three races ago
Having jumped Max Verstappen at the start of the Sprint Race to take Pole Position, Valterri Bottas and the Dutchman went side-by-side into Turn 1 when the lights went out. Verstappen held the inside line and ran the Finn wide - opening the door for Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez to overtake the Mercedes driver on the exit of Turn 4.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton had made up ground from 10th. The Brit fought from the back of the grid on Saturday to finish the Sprint Race in fifth but his penalty demoted him to 10th. By the end of the first lap, Hamilton was seventh and soon to be flying past the Ferrari's.
While pulling away from Perez, Verstappen started to set fastest lap after fastest lap as Hamilton breezed past the Ferrari's of Sainz and Charles Leclerc with ease. The new Internal Combustion Engine working a treat and making overtakes down Brazil's straights undefendable.
Clashing with Aston Martin's Lance Stroll into Turn 1, AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda was left to trundle back to the pits without a front wing while Stroll had suffered damage to the left-handside sidepods of his Aston Martin.
As instructed by his team, Bottas allowed Hamilton past for third with only the two Red Bull's ahead. Haas's Mick Schumacher was another driver to venture into the pits after the young German lost part of his front wing after a collision with Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen into Turn 1. The Safety Car was deployed for the amount of debris on the track and this bunched the field up.
Hamilton's next target was Perez who defended well after the restart but couldn't keep in the slipstream of Verstappen ahead. When Hamilton attacked round the outside of Turn 1, Perez tucked back into the slipstream of the Mercedes and with the help of DRS, managed to re-overtake Hamlilton into Turn 4. However, keeping ahead of Hamilton was short-lived as Perez, who had deployed all of his ERS, could not attack into Turn 4 when Hamilton made the overtake stick on the very next lap.
The Championship contenders now ran first and second and they pitted within a few laps of each other. A brief Virtual Safety Car (VSC) aided Bottas's fight with Perez as the Finn pitted and re-joined ahead of the Mexican whilst using the time advantage in the pits to gain third.
A one-stop race now had been thrown out the window for the two title challengers and both made another stop. Hamilton wanted to go agressive with a swap to Medium's but the amount of graining was too much for Mercedes to risk it. Red Bull acted on Verstappen's request and brought their star driver in first however, with tyre's a few laps younger, Hamilton was on the prowl.
On Lap 48, Hamilton was within striking distance. On the run to Turn 4, Hamilton got alongside heading into the corner. Side-by-side, both Verstappen and Hamilton ran wide with the Dutchman keeping the place for the moment.
With dirt on his tyres, Hamilton retreated for a few laps giving him a chance to charge his battery. While the two on track kept line astern, their teams were on the blower to the FIA with Mercedes arguing that Verstappen forced Hamilton off track - Red Bull however argued that it was plain and simple racing.
The Stewards decided nothing was going to happen after conducting an investigation after reviewing all the avaliable footage so the battle for the win would come down to who finished first - not being decided with a penalty.
Onto Lap 58, with Hamilton a lot closer than he had previously been in the past few laps, Verstappen cheekily weaved on the straight, trying to break the tow he was giving to Hamilton but was given a warning for his actions. Onto the next lap, with Hamilton knowing Verstappen was being watched by the Stewards, he made his move.
He closed up on the entry to Turn 1 which forced Verstappen to take a defensive line which would compromise his run through the esses and down to Turn 4. Verstappen defended the inside line down the straight but with DRS and the new ICE, Hamilton shot past then quickly cut in-front of the Dutchman to hold the preferred line into Turn 4. Verstappen couldn't fight back and Hamilton's storming drive was complete.
The crowd leapt to their feet as their hero had hit the front and was now on course for victory. Verstappen couldn't keep pace and would now have to settle for second but he couldn't relax as Bottas was given the motivation to cut the 10 second deficit between himself and the Red Bull driver.
The battle for seventh was being hotly contested by the Alpine drivers of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon and also the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly. Alpine and AlphaTauri came into this weekend tied on points as the teams battle for fifth in the Championship. Gasly made his way past Ocon for eighth and a lap later, he blasted past Alonso for seventh.
With nearly 50 seconds back to Leclerc in fifth, Perez opted to pit heading onto the last lap in an attempt to secure the Fastest Lap and the bonus point that comes with it away from Hamilton. The Mexican strapped on a new set of Soft tyres and secured the extra point - limiting Hamilton's inroad into Verstappen's points lead.
Hamilton crossed the line to win after an amazing two-day assault to return to the front of the grid. The win for Hamilton reduced Verstappen's lead back down to 14 points and with Bottas third, Mercedes increased their slender lead over Red Bull. Verstappen crossed the line 10 seconds back from Hamilton with Bottas in third.
Perez headed Leclerc and Sainz in a great day for the Scuderia as Norris only picked up a point for McLaren in 10th.
F1 now heads into uncharted terrority with the upcoming race in Qatar - known in the past to mainly host motorbike races in the past - makes it's debut on the calendar.