Lewis Hamilton beat Max Verstappen in the final Brazilian Grand Prix of the season to break his own season points record but cut the Red Bull driver’s championship lead to two points at the final round of the year.
Verstappen finished third as Hamilton’s seventh career win at the very least was another step towards confirming the championship as he won his fifth title with nine races remaining.
Hamilton’s victory was only his second in four races at the track, where he came from sixth on the grid and came through the field to deny Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, the championship leader on points.
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“It was a tough race, a completely different track,” Hamilton said. “A lot of effort from all the lads and me and the whole team. I just thought to myself as I’m not going to let Max catch me so I thought the gap to him must be one second. It’s been a battle with him all season but I’m just so relieved to get through this so we can hopefully have a good race in Abu Dhabi.”
Hamilton has taken at least nine of the 14 wins in the constructors’ championship this season, four from six races in Abu Dhabi and one from five in India, the track which hosts the race in three weeks’ time.
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“I’ve made it look easy for so long but this is definitely tough,” the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, said. “To make a title fight so close and to win my first world championship here is an incredible feeling. Lewis has a chance. Max always gives 100%. He deserved a great performance today.”
The German team’s rivals Ferrari also struggled on a track where the track was very different, where the Red Bull had a fast red-painted nose on which was the dark floral-patterned Lotus of Pastor Maldonado.
Mercedes won the first three grands prix this season but Ferrari have scored their best points tally, an aggregate of 114 to Mercedes’ 112, with Sebastian Vettel second in his title challenge and Hamilton third. “We have always been in a fight and this year it’s been most intense in these last six races,” Hamilton said. “We needed to keep calm and not get panicky.”
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Mercedes’ win back-to-back poles and six race wins in a row saw Hamilton edge Verstappen by one point. The Australian said: “We obviously did quite a lot of work and certainly in the race we had a better car than the lads. It’s going to be a tough battle going into Abu Dhabi but that’s what championship racing is about.”
Bottas had to settle for fourth after starting second. Vettel was in seventh after starting in second place in a damp track that kept the top eight separated by a mere two points at the halfway stage. Bottas now has 51 points to Vettel’s 50.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso had an eventful race but ended up 12th after crashing out of the first corner when a broken wheel damaged his drive shaft. “I was happy we had another podium because we are making progress,” he said. “But to start the race like that was quite frustrating. We have come up a long way in the last 12 months but the results haven’t always matched our improvement.”
Jolyon Palmer, Sauber’s stand-in driver while Felipe Nasr recovers from an arm injury, finished 18th. He said: “I felt we came into the race with a good feeling but unfortunately we had a setback in the opening lap and struggled to get back in the points.”