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!”