Lewis Hamilton battles back brilliantly from penalty in Brazil sprint

  • Champion sent to back for DRS rule breach but comes fifth
  • Title hopes still slim as five-place engine penalty will follow

Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One world championship hopes hung by the slenderest of threads after he was disqualified from Friday’s qualifying at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Yet with typical indomitable fortitude the world champion refused to accept his fate. He delivered an exceptional performance in Saturday’s sprint to give himself a chance to keep his title hopes alive at Interlagos and stay in touch with Max Verstappen.

F1 had scrupulously followed its rules in punishing Hamilton but it was impossible to ignore the sense of disappointment that accompanied the likelihood that the most exciting title fight for years might be decided in the stewards’ room rather than on the track. Hamilton described the decision as “devastating” but had no intention of throwing in the towel.

Lewis Hamilton’s pit crew work on his car
Lewis Hamilton’s pit crew work on his car. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Relegated to the back of the grid after the FIA confirmed his Mercedes team had broken regulations in their rear wing drag reduction system (DRS) during Friday’s qualifying, Hamilton gave a masterclass in controlled, aggressive driving to move from 20th to fifth in just 24 laps. The sprint was won by his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who will start from pole, with Verstappen in second.

“I just tried to get as far up as possible, then all of a sudden, I was chipping away at it much faster,” Hamilton said. “You just can’t give up. You just have to keep going.”

So quick and so precise was Hamilton that what had appeared to be an insurmountable task is now all to play for. He scythed through the field, including an absolutely bravura pass on Lando Norris through turn one on the final lap to take fifth, but the challenge remains significant.

With his grid penalty for taking a new engine earlier in the weekend applied he will start the grand prix from 10th. Yet such was his pace that making a tilt at the front with a full 71 laps to play with is within his grasp.

A bullish Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, was hugely pleased with the result especially as he felt his team had been harshly treated. “Fuck them all,” he said to Hamilton as he crossed the line. Wolff insisted the comment was not aimed at the stewards but rather an expression of building up resilience.

He believed the attention to the Mercedes wing brought by Red Bull and the refusal to allow for what he believed was damage incurred during its use was unfair. “In a way there was a gentleman’s agreement that exists, now it doesn’t any more,” he noted before celebrating Hamilton’s performance. “Today it reminded me why I love this sport,” he added. “Everything is possible, we have everything to play for tomorrow.”

Hamilton trails Verstappen by 21 points with four rounds, including today’s, remaining and 104 points available. Before the sprint Verstappen looked all set to open a chasm to the world champion, now the fight remains on albeit with the numbers still stacked up against the British driver. If Verstappen scores three points more than Hamilton on Sunday he could finish second to him in the three remaining meetings and still take his first title.

Hamilton’s team were found to have breached the technical regulation during the qualifying on Friday that decided the grid for the sprint race. His punishment was finally confirmed on Saturday afternoon and Mercedes have stated they will not appeal. Verstappen too had been drawn into the protracted steward’s enquiry and was fined €50,000 (£43,500) for touching Hamilton’s car after qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates taking pole position for the sprint race
Lewis Hamilton celebrates taking pole position for the sprint race – but he was later disqualified. Photograph: Lars Baron/AFP/Getty Images

For Mercedes it was a technical infringement that was not intentional. The rear wing passed the FIA test before qualifying but failed to do so afterwards. The stewards confirmed they believed there had been no deliberate rule breaking, reporting there was “no question of any intent to exceed the maximum dimension either by action or design”. However, they did state the issue was likely caused by a “play in parts” (contact between different elements), a fault with the mechanism or incorrect assembly.

Wolff said the team were convinced that the wing had been damaged but it had yet to be returned to them for inspection. It was a huge blow for Mercedes. Since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014 they have been dominant and performed operationally and mechanically at an exceptionally high standard.

The sequence of events had begun after qualifying finished on Friday at 2pm in Brazil and only concluded a full 19 hours later. With Hamilton having secured pole for the sprint race with a dominant performance, Red Bull lodged a complaint about the DRS. Mercedes were then summoned to the stewards after the FIA technical delegate, Jo Bauer, had inspected and found an infringement.

The DRS opens a flap in the wing, reducing drag and allowing the car to go car faster in a straight line. The gap is mandated to be no more than 85mm and Hamilton’s was found to be marginally larger.

The stewards investigated and Mercedes put their case, and the intrigue only ratcheted up when Verstappen and Red Bull were also summoned to the stewards. They were called to explain a breach of the parc fermé rules that forbid the touching or checking of cars once qualifying is complete. Footage filmed by a fan had emerged of Verstappen inspecting and touching the rear wing of his car and then Hamilton’s under parc fermé conditions and he was duly fined.

The process ground on, only finally reaching its conclusion shortly before the sprint began, and for that brief period Hamilton’s title hopes looked absolutely forlorn. Then he took to the track, once more refused to be bowed and is on absolutely fighting form for Sunday’s race.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Max Verstappen holds off Lewis Hamilton to take pole at French GP
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was four-tenths faster than his rival Lewis Hamilton during an immense final lap at the Paul Ricard circuit

Giles Richards at Paul Ricard

19, Jun, 2021 @2:42 PM

Article image
F1 yearning for contenders to put the heat on Lewis Hamilton | Giles Richards
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen leads hopes at the Australian Grand Prix, Formula One’s first race of the season, for a serious challenger to Lewis Hamilton’s reign as champion

Giles Richards

08, Mar, 2020 @9:09 AM

Article image
Charles Leclerc pips Lewis Hamilton to Azerbaijan pole in crash-strewn session
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc edged out Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for pole at the Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix, with several drivers crashing out in qualifying

Giles Richards

05, Jun, 2021 @1:56 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen battle echoes F1's great rivalries of old | Giles Richards
Formula One finally has the title fight it has craved, with neither driver prepared to give an inch as they head to Mexico

Giles Richards

06, Nov, 2021 @11:16 AM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton edges out Sergio Pérez to take Emilia Romagna F1 GP pole
Lewis Hamilton took pole for Mercedes at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, with the Red Bulls of Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen in second and third place

Giles Richards at Imola

17, Apr, 2021 @1:43 PM

Article image
Going back to drawing board sparked Lewis Hamilton’s late F1 title charge | Giles Richards
Mastering a ‘diva’ of a car demanded fresh application – and it has yielded the most enthralling climax in years, up against Max Verstappen

Giles Richards

27, Nov, 2021 @8:00 PM

Article image
Valtteri Bottas wins F1 Italian GP sprint race but Max Verstappen takes pole
Max Verstappen will start from the front due to Valtteri Bottas’s grid penalty, while Lewis Hamilton could manage only fifth

Giles Richards at Monza

11, Sep, 2021 @3:39 PM

Article image
Max Verstappen on pole, Hamilton second, for title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP
Max Verstappen claimed a vital pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the best possible start to his attempt to seal his first F1 world championship

Giles Richards at Yas Marina

11, Dec, 2021 @2:21 PM

Article image
Max Verstappen lays down early marker and beats Hamilton to Bahrain F1 pole
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start on pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton alongside him for Mercedes

Giles Richards

27, Mar, 2021 @4:11 PM

Article image
Max Verstappen beats Lando Norris to Austrian F1 GP pole as Hamilton labours
Lewis Hamilton qualified only in fourth for Mercedes as McLaren’s Lando Norris came close to pole, but Max Verstappen was fastest for Red Bull

Giles Richards at the Red Bull Ring

03, Jul, 2021 @2:20 PM