Lewis Hamilton will take this year’s drivers' World Championship down to the wire with a showdown in Abu Dhabi after he claimed a spectacular victory in Sunday’s dramatic rain-swept, interrupted and crash-hit Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.
In appalling, treacherous and often dangerous conditions, the defending three-time world champion showed all his tenacity and skill with a near-flawless drive to finish 11.5 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg.
German Rosberg came home second to leave him-self needing another podium finish in the final ‘showdown in the desert’ event on November 27 to seal his maiden title triumph.
With one race remaining, Rosberg has 367 points and leads Hamilton, on 355, by 12. Both have won nine Grands Prix this year.
While Aussie Daniel Ricciardo endured a difficult afternoon, his Red Bull team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen produced the most stunning performance of the day – if not the season – when he recovered from falling to 16th after a late switch to extreme wet tyres to claim third place with a series of daring and often audacious passes in the final laps.
His team boss Christian Horner and his father Jos were both equally stunned by a demonstration of supreme bravery and skill in the wet that drew comparisons with Ayrton Senna’s triumph at Donington Park in 1993.
Hamilton’s victory was his first win in Brazil at the 10th attempt and completed a hat-trick of recent wins, following his triumphs in the United States and Mexico last month.
In the process, the Briton also ended Rosberg’s hopes of a hat-trick of Brazilian wins after the 31-year-old German had won from pole in 2014 and 2015.
It was Hamilton’s ninth win of the year, drawing him level with Rosberg, and the 52nd of his career, lifting him a victory clear of four-time champion Frenchman Alain Prost.
“Not too bad,” said Hamilton, who had started from his 60th pole position, with rich irony. “I was just chilling up front… When it rains, it is usually a good day for me.”
“It didn’t go my way today,” said Rosberg. “Lewis did a great job. It was very difficult conditions, but I can live with second place.”
The extraordinary race lasted for three hours and featured two red flag stoppages, five Safety Car interventions and three Safety Car re-starts, three major high-speed crashes and much high emotion. It was a welcome surprise that nobody was injured in the mayhem of wrecked cars, weeping drivers and overwhelming drama.
Mexican Sergio Perez, who looked set for a podium until Verstappen’s final charge to the flag, 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.
But Vettel had few sympathisers and, in two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso, he gained an angry opponent after appearing to force his McLaren-Honda off the track. “Next time I will crash into him to teach him that the track belongs to everybody,” said Alonso.
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