Hamilton had ‘nothing left’ after fight from pit lane to P4 in Brazil

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Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton matched the number of titles he’s achieved with a fight back to fourth place in today’s Brazilian Grand Prix, albeit just shy of a podium finish from pit lane.

After his crash in qualifying resigned him to a pit lane start, his Mercedes AMG Petronas team opted to change a wealth of components including his power unit. But crucially, one other area where Hamilton could excel by the pit lane start was that the Mercedes team prepped his car for significantly warmer conditions on Sunday in Sao Paulo, after cloudy and overcast conditions took hold of Saturday’s qualifying.

So began the charge on Sunday from the rear of the field with Hamilton already able to gain a few spots in the wake of several others crashing out on the opening lap, and then able to switch onto Pirelli’s soft tires. That enabled him to run longer on this stint, then switch later to supersofts and have enough of the softer compound to run harder at the finish.

By Lap 7, Hamilton was already up to 12th place after dispatching of Lance Stroll. Seven laps later he was already five positions higher, into seventh place after getting around Sergio Perez. That put him behind old-time sparring partners Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso in fifth in sixth, but neither the Mercedes-powered Williams nor Honda-powered McLaren were able to keep the significantly faster Mercedes at bay.

Once the cycle of pit stops for the four drivers in front of him – Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen – all had pitted to make their switch onto softs by Lap 30, Hamilton had emerged in the lead – a full last-to-first effort. But he still had a stop to make.

On Lap 44 he did so, switching onto the supersofts for the final 26 laps, and with an 18-second gap back to Vettel in the lead.

By Lap 58, Hamilton had caught Verstappen for fourth place and had cut the gap to Vettel to 10.708 seconds. He dispatched of Verstappen around the outside into Turn 3, aided a bit by DRS, a lap later.

Over the next seven laps to Lap 66, Hamilton cut the lead gap down to Vettel to 4.725 seconds – but that was as close as he would come.

Once he caught up to the back of Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton had burned the tires off enough to where he had nothing left, and was unable to get around the Ferrari driver for third.

It marked only the second time this season (and in the 1.6L V6 turbo hybrid period that began in 2014) that Hamilton has gone successive races off the podium, the first time being at Baku and Austria earlier this year. The final gap from Hamilton back to Vettel was 5.468 seconds, and just 0.868 off the podium.

But it didn’t detract from the overall drive itself, where Hamilton earned F1’s Driver of the Day honor.

He reflected on the drive to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, post-race.

“Yeah I tell you I had nothing left when I came across the line. I gave it everything,” Hamilton told NBCSN. “I could see Sebastian just there. If only just! But I really messed up yesterday. I was quickest all weekend. It would have been pole to finish. But this made it a lot more enjoyable race. It’s tough when you make mistakes for example. You make it difficult for you and the team. But I was quicker than everyone today! That’s the positive and I take it into the next race. I can’t wait to battle Sebastian at the next race.”

Hamilton said his long-run pace on softs on Friday helped get both himself and the car in the right conditions for the race.

“I made a couple changes but not really a huge amount. I didn’t get a lot of laps,” he said. “It was different with temperatures. I changed the balance. I had good pace on the long runs on Friday, particularly on the softs. I think I was half a second quicker. I had a different aero package. I had pace. But today I was 110 percent the whole way.”

Hamilton said this brought back memories of his childhood in fighting from the back of the field to the front. After Mexico, where he finished ninth after first corner contact, this was his second straight fightback drive.

“It was so much fun. Like when I was kid, not a great go kart, started at the back. Obviously I had a good car but I was able to do something special. My tires let go right when I got to Kimi. I had nothing left!”

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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