Hamilton wins delayed Brazilian GP to take title to wire

© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton won a delayed Brazilian Grand Prix in wet conditions to take the championship battle down to the final race of the season.

Hamilton led home team-mate Nico Rosberg by 11.4 seconds to secure a vital victory, in a race which saw two red flag stoppages, numerous crashes and a sensational performance from Max Verstappen. The 19-year-old was a threat for victory until a strategic error from Red Bull, but carved through the field from 15th to third in the final stint.

Verstappen finished ten seconds adrift of Rosberg in third place, and second position leaves the championship leader with a 12-point advantage heading to the final round in Abu Dhabi, meaning third place there will guarantee him the world championship.

Sergio Perez came home fourth after being brilliantly passed by Verstappen two laps from the finish of a race which started ten minutes late and finished three hours later, going the full 71 laps and hitting the two-hour time limit at the same time.

Fifth was Sebastian Vettel ahead of Carlos Sainz in sixth, Nico Hulkenberg seventh and Daniel Ricciardo in eighth. Felipe Nasr secured a vital ninth place for Sauber to leapfrog Manor in the constructors' championship, with Fernando Alonso coming home tenth.

The race start was originally delayed by ten minutes due to persistent rain throughout the day, with FIA race director Charlie Whiting looking for a break in the weather to allow a normal start. Eventually the race started ten minutes late behind the safety car, with all drivers on full wet tyres.

The opening seven laps took place behind the safety car before racing was allowed to start in ernest, with Verstappen immediately diving up the inside of Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1 and setting off after Rosberg. Perez spun exiting the final corner and was passed by Alonso, while Felipe Massa overtook Esteban Gutierrez before the Safety Car line and was handed a five second time penalty.

A number of drivers opted to switch to intermediate tyres quickly but the leaders felt it was too wet to do so, highlighted by Vettel spinning at the same spot as Perez after aquaplaning. The Ferrari driver then chose to pit for intermediates having lost positions. Marcus Ericsson was next to lose control at the same spot, but he hit the wall hard on the outside of the track and came to rest in the pit entry.

The safety car was deployed for Ericsson’s crash and the pit lane entry closed as a result. Verstappen managed to pit for intermediates before the pit lane was closed, but Ricciardo followed his team-mate in after the closure and was hit with a five second time penalty.

The race restarted on lap 19 but Raikkonen had not reached the start line when he lost control on standing water - despite being on full wet tyres - and hit the wall, sliding across the track as the field came out of the spray at full throttle. Fortunately, nobody hit the Ferrari, although Hulkenberg picked up damage from the debris. In response to the incident the race was red flagged for 35 minutes.

When the race resumed, Jolyon Palmer didn’t take the restart as he ran into the side of Daniil Kvyat behind the Raikkonen crash, breaking his front right suspension. Hulkenberg suffered more bad luck as he immediately pit from fourth place with a puncture, rejoining in 15th position. Hamilton led Rosberg, Verstappen and Perez as a result, with Nasr in sixth and the two Manors in eighth and ninth behind Ricciardo.

With more rain forecast, there was a long spell behind the safety car as race director Charlie Whiting will have no doubt been wary of a repeat of the Raikkonen incident. Eventually the race was red flagged again on lap 28 despite a number of drivers calling for a restart.

Following a further 27-minute delay, the race restarted behind the Safety Car, with racing quickly resuming at the end of lap 30. Verstappen wasted no time in pulling an excellent move around the outside of Rosberg at Turn 3 to take second place and then set off after Hamilton, sitting about two seconds behind the race leader.

With Jenson Button and the Williams drivers gambling on intermediate tyres - with Williams outside the points - conditions were still difficult as Verstappen highlighted with a breathtaking save after losing control of his car at the final corner, just keeping it out of the wall and then holding off Rosberg at Turn 1.

Two laps later, Ricciardo - who had climbed up to fifth place - opted to pit for intermediates and take his time penalty, while Verstappen followed suit three laps later. The gamble backfired, however, as the rain continued to fall and the track conditions didn't improve.

Button had just swapped back from intermediates to full wets when Massa's final home grand prix ended in the barriers. The Brazilian lost control out of the final corner and brushed the wall on the outside of the track before hitting the wall hard on the inside and stopping in the same place Ericsson had, again resulting in a safety car.

With the race neutralised, Massa walked back to the garage draped in a Brazilian flag and receiving the adulation of his home fans. A clearly emotional Massa returned to the pits and broke down as Mercedes and Ferrari mechanics formed a guard of honour before he embraced his family in the pit lane.

The two Red Bull drivers were forced to pit for full wets as the rain intensified, dropping Verstappen to 15th place as the race restarted on lap 55. Hamilton pulled away from Rosberg, who similarly eased away from Perez in third place. Verstappen, however, came carving back through the field in the final 16 laps and put on an immense overtaking display in the wet.

Verstappen passed Valtteri Bottas around the outside of Turn 3, then got the better of team-mate Ricciardo out of Juncao on the run up the hill to the finish line two laps later. His progress continued with a move around the outside of Kvyat at Turn 5 on lap 60 - using the karting line to good effect - and then similarly going round the outside of Esteban Ocon at Turn 10 a lap later.

Having passed Nasr up the inside into Turn 4, Verstappen repeated the move on Hulkenberg from a long way back and then muscled his way past Vettel at the slower left-handed Juncao, with the Ferrari driver running wide and complaining he was pushed off track. A pass on Sainz for fourth place followed a lap later at Turn 4 before a great scrap with Perez saw Verstappen take the final podium position around the outside of Turn 10 and inside of Turn 11.

All eyes were on Verstappen but Hamilton cruised home to take his third straight victory and keep the title race alive, while Nasr kept Ocon at bay in the battle for ninth before the Frenchman lost two places - to Alonso and Bottas respectively - in the final lap and a half of an epic race.

Pos Driver Team Gap Stops
01 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 71 laps - 3h01m01.335s 2
02 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +11.455 2
03 Max Verstappen Red Bull +21.481 5
04 Sergio Perez Force India +25.346 2
05 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +26.334 3
06 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +29.160 2
07 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +29.827 3
08 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +30.486 5
09 Felipe Nasr Sauber +42.620 2
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren +44.432 3
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams +45.292 4
12 Esteban Ocon Manor +45.809 2
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +51.192 4
14 Kevin Magnussen Renault +51.555 4
15 Pascal Wehrlein Manor +60.498 3
16 Jenson Button McLaren +81.994 5
17 Esteban Gutierrez Haas DNF 5
18 Felipe Massa Williams DNF 4
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault DNF 3
20 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari DNF 0
21 Marcus Ericsson Sauber DNF 1
22 Romain Grosjean Haas DNS 0