Lewis Hamilton pledged to keep on hunting for a fourth world title after describing his stunning triumph in Sunday’s rain-hit Brazilian Grand Prix as one of the easiest of his 52 career victories.
The 31-year-old Briton won in Brazil for the first time at the 10th attempt to complete a hat-trick of consecutive wins and keep alive his championship defence, taking the title battle down to the wire at the final race, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 27.
“I’m hunting and all I can do is what I am doing,” said a delighted Hamilton, who trails his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, who finished second on Sunday, by 12 points with one race remaining.
“The team have given me a great car and finally the reliability has been good. Right now, I am living in the moment.
“This was my dream when I was five or six, watching Nelson (Piquet) and Ayrton (Senna) race… It was one of my easier races – I didn’t have any spins, any moments. It was pretty straight forward.”
His 52nd win from his 60th pole position lifted him one clear of four-time champion Frenchman Alain Prost in the record books, leaving only one driver ahead of him with more wins – seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher on 91.
Knowing he had to win to keep his title challenge alive, Hamilton – his racing helmet redesigned in tribute to Senna -- drove with supreme concentration to claim a flawless victory, his ninth of the season, in a dramatic race littered with accidents and stoppages amid the rainstorms.
“Not too bad,” he said, with deep irony. “I want to say a big thank you to the fans here – that was a long, long race.
“I appreciate all the support and they are so welcoming to us here. I was generally just chilling up front and when it rains it is usually a good day for me.”
He added: “A big thank you to my team. We are creating history. It is just incredible and I am so proud to be part of it.
“No mistakes, no dramas, no spins… It was interesting to hear how many spins there were behind me!”
Hamilton said he felt so comfortable during the incident-filled race that he was able to watch many of them on the big screens that relayed coverage to the fans around the circuit.
This included not only Rosberg’s cautious drive to second, but also the flamboyant Dutch teenager Max Verstappen’s charge from 16th, after a late pit stop for fresh wet-weather tyres, to third and a place on the podium.
Verstappen’s race included one amazing half-spin when he saved his car from hitting the wall with a phenomenal demonstration of skill and bravery.
Rosberg, who at that time was third behind him and had a perfect view, said: “I arrived on the straight and saw him pointing 90 degrees towards the wall… I was thinking ‘what the hell!”
Rosberg, who survived a half-spin of his own, added: “It was on the limit today, with the rain and the decisions, but I think they got it right. It didn’t go my way. Lewis did a great job, it was very difficult conditions, but I can live with second place.”
Verstappen’s audacious and confident drive stunned his team and his father Jos, who started 106 races in his own F1® career.
“I have never seen something like this – he has surprised even me,” said Verstappen Snr. “I have seen many race he did, but today it was incredible. He did himself proud today. It is what we want to see more of in F1®.”
His Red Bull team chief Christian Horner said: “That was one of the best drives I’ve seen in F1®. His recovery was amazing.
“We gave it a go on the intermediates. It was the kind of call that could have won him the race, but the rain got heavier.
“So, we put him on extreme wets and said let’s for for it and from that moment he was determined to get on the podium.
“He was absolutely fearless in pretty horrific conditions. It was an amazing drive and he deserved that podium and the reaction from the crowd.”
Recalling his own spin, Verstappen said: “Maybe, I clipped the kerb, locked all four wheels and then managed to keep it out of the guardrail.
“After that I was 15th or 14th… I don’t know where I was and I had some great overtakes to get on the podium. I couldn’t see when I was behind them, so I had to take a different line.”
In a three-hour race that featured two red flag stoppages, five Safety Car interventions and three Safety Car re-starts, three major high-speed crashes and much high emotion, the crowd moved from booing and whistling at the lack of action to heartfelt cheers for Felipe Massa when he crashed out and walked back to the pits draped in a Brazilian flag.
The accidents included Frenchman Romain Grosjean sliding into the barriers before the race in his Haas, Swede Marcus Ericsson of Sauber spinning and crashing at the final corner, Finn Kimi Raikkonen spinning into the barriers on the straight and Massa, who climbed out of his damaged Williams after, like Ericsson, crashing into the pit lane entry.
Mexican Sergio Perez finished fourth for Force India ahead of an embittered Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
The four-time champion German was again left complaining that Verstappen had pushed him off the track in a late move as the Dutchman charged to the podium.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz came home sixth for Toro Rosso ahead of German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, Brazilian Felipe Nasr of Sauber and two-time champion Spaniard Alonso of McLaren-Honda.
For Daniel Ricciardo, however, it was a day to forget. He started from sixth on the grid, but came a modest and frustrated eighth.
“It was a frustrating race, we never really felt like we got lucky with the strategy; every time we made a change with the tyres there was a safety car or a red flag.
“We lost positions and obviously we could not predict what was going to happen and we felt a little bit on the back foot, but the real difficulty today was my visibility, which was a struggle as my visor kept fogging up.
“I kept opening my visor and trying to wipe it, but it’s never happened before and it held me back. It’s a shame as the car was a lot better than eighth and when we had a clear track our speed was good.
“It was tricky out there, for example with Kimi. I didn’t see him crash in front of me. It wasn’t until I got back to the pits and saw a replay I knew he’d crashed.
“From that point of view they obviously make some good calls with red flags. I’m glad we got to race and glad we could finish it -- and that despite some crashes everyone was safe. The fans put up with a long afternoon so thanks to them for staying with it.”