Lewis Hamilton overcame two penalties totalling 25 grid places to win the São Paulo (formerly Brazilian) Grand Prix on Sunday by 10.5 seconds over championship rival Max Verstappen.
The victory was Hamilton’s 101st and pulled him to within 14 points of Verstappen with races in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi remaining on the calendar.
Polesitter Valtteri Bottas finished third for Mercedes, with Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez fourth. Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz followed behind and Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso, and Lando Norris rounded out the top 10.
Hamilton was already facing a five-spot grid penalty for a power unit change when F1 scrutineers pushed an 85mm ball through his open rear wing on Friday. It cleared by a whopping 0.2mm, but that was enough to put him at the back of the grid for Saturday’s sprint qualifying.
In the first act of what would turn out to be one of the most memorable weekends in recent F1 memory, Hamilton drove from last to fifth in just 24 laps, setting the stage for his charge to the front on Sunday.
The seven-time champion started 10th after his engine penalty, but made up four spots on the opening lap, while Verstappen passed Bottas in turn two to take the lead.
After an effective early Mercedes undercut, Verstappen took his second pit stop on lap 41, while Hamilton stayed out three laps longer and came out just under three seconds behind his German rival.
It took Hamilton three tries (and one near collision on lap 48) to get by Verstappen, but on lap 59 he ducked inside at turn one, then crossed over and swept around the Red Bull through three and four, leaving Verstappen gasping for clean air behind him.
He even stopped his victory lap to grab a Brazilian flag from a marshal and took it to the podium with him and wore it like a cape while Verstappen drew boos from the crowd.
Hamilton told Felipe Massa he had taken “inspiration from all around” him over the weekend, and hoped his win would help spur others to “never stop fighting, never give up.”
Verstappen remained upbeat despite finishing second to Hamilton for the third straight race. “We tried everything we could today of course,” said the 24-year old German. “It was a good battle but at the end we just missed a little bit of pace.”
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo failed to finish for the first time in 34 races, and Ferrari opened up a 31.5 point lead over their rivals in orange for third in the constructor’s standings.
The teams will now scramble back across the Atlantic to Doha’s Losail Circuit for the debut of the Qatar Grand Prix. They’ll follow that up with another chance at a new venue – Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Corniche Circuit – on the first weekend in December, before closing out the season at Yas Marina on December 12.
The way things are going, we’ll have to wait until then to crown this year’s champion.