How Hamilton charged from qualifying exclusion to Brazil F1 glory

Formula 1

It was a dramatic weekend both on and off-track in Brazil. After being excluded from qualifying on Friday due to a DRS technical issue, Hamilton fought his way from last place on the grid in the sprint race to end the weekend on the top step of the podium.

This is how Lewis Hamilton pulled off his sensational last to first charge over two days at Interlagos.

We got an early sign of Mercedes’ pace advantage in Brazil during qualifying on Friday. Hamilton took pole position by four-tenths of a second ahead of Verstappen, which around such a short lap is a considerable margin.

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But then came Hamilton’s exclusion from qualifying. The FIA’s post-session checks found that the DRS on his rear wing was 0.2mm outside of the permitted 85mm gap, with a lengthy stewards hearing ultimately resulting in Hamilton being disqualified from the session.

Mercedes called the decision harsh, but opted against appealing as it would have thrown the rest of the weekend into jeopardy.

It meant Hamilton would start from last place on the grid for the 24-lap sprint race on Saturday. The new sprints have divided fan opinion since being introduced to F1 this year, but Hamilton’s charge through the field made the third and final trial of the new format the best one yet.

Hamilton was up to 14th by the end of the first lap and continued to make rapid progress through the order, eventually crossing the line in fifth place. A last-lap lunge on Lando Norris into Turn 1 capped off an impressive charge, going some way to reducing the damage of his qualifying exclusion.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

While his new engine helped offer such a pace advantage, Hamilton still had a penalty to serve for it. He dropped back five places on grid for Sunday, meaning he would start the race from P10. With title rival Max Verstappen second on the grid, the advantage very much lay with the Red Bull driver.

Just as he did on Saturday, Hamilton wasted little time when the lights went out for Sunday’s grand prix. He gained places from Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel by the end of lap one, and then sailed past the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz two laps later.

Mercedes then asked Valtteri Bottas to move aside for Hamilton to give him third before an early safety car, with only the two Red Bulls now ahead of him. Sergio Perez put up a bit more of a fight, but could do nothing to compete with the incredible straight-line speed of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

On Lap 19, Hamilton got the move done into Turn 1, leaving only Verstappen ahead of him to set up yet another wheel-to-wheel fight between our two title contenders and write another chapter in their rivalry.

The gap stood at four seconds and stabilised, prompting Mercedes to try and close the gap on Verstappen by pitting Hamilton early and getting the undercut. Hamilton pitted on Lap 26 for a set of hard tyres, forcing Red Bull to respond one lap later. Verstappen kept the lead, but his advantage had dropped to less than two seconds and Hamilton was getting closer and closer.

Red Bull beat Mercedes to the punch for the second round of stops, pitting Verstappen after a short stint for another set of hard tyres on Lap 40. Mercedes did the same with Hamilton three laps later, gaining a small tyre delta to set him up for a charge to catch Verstappen.

Hamilton’s first shot at overtaking Verstappen came on Lap 48. He was more than 25 km/h quicker at the end of the main straight with DRS, allowing him to close up and line up a move around the outside at Turn 4.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, battles with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, battles with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

As the cars went side by side, Verstappen pushed Hamilton wide and both cars went off the circuit. Verstappen stayed ahead, and the stewards opted against an investigation into the move – a decision Toto Wolff would later call “laughable”.

But Hamilton bided his time and plotted another move 11 laps later. After backing out of a similar attempt at Turn 4 the previous lap, this time Hamilton was far closer to Verstappen exiting Turn 3, meaning he could sail past well before the braking point for Turn 4. The lead and the race win were now in the bag.

Hamilton would eventually cross the line 10 seconds clear of Verstappen, summing up just how dominant the Mercedes had been at Interlagos. It was a drive that Hamilton said was among the best of his career – high praise for a driver with 101 grand prix wins to choose from.

With just 14 points between them, Verstappen and Hamilton are set to continue their epic fight for the 2021 championship this weekend as F1 pays its first visit to Qatar.



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