Lewis Hamilton’s World Cup hopes have suffered a major setback – despite a brilliant drive from last to fifth place in Saturday’s sprint race at the Brazilian Grand Prix
Hamilton was excluded from qualifying and after his Mercedes violated the technical regulations and its pole lap in Interlagos was canceled.
Hamilton’s punishment put Max Verstappen at the top of the grid, but Valtteri Bottas knocked the Red Bull man off the line for the 24-lap sprint and get the pole position for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
Verstappen finished second, scored two points and increased his lead from 19 to 21 points. Carlos Sainz finished third for Ferrari.
Since the result of the sprint on Saturday determines the sequence for the main event on Sunday, Verstappen will be in the front row with Bottas. And he will start eight places ahead of Hamilton – downgraded to tenth place after being five places behind for his fifth engine change of the campaign. Only three are allowed.Indeed, Hamilton’s dreams of winning a record-breaking eighth world title are now hanging by a thread, with Verstappen in the driver’s seat to extend his world championship lead. After the Grand Prix on Sunday only 78 points are available.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff told Hamilton over the radio after the race: “Lewis, brilliant job, damage control. F *** them all. “
Hamilton replied, “Copy. It’s not over yet.”
Hamilton can take comfort in his own outstanding performance and his teammate’s triumph.
Bottas, who was criticized by Hamilton in the last race in Mexico City for leaving the door open to Verstappen, raced off his tracks here to take the lead in the first corner, with the championship leader then falling behind Ferrari’s Sainz.
At the back, Hamilton made up four places in front of the first corner and finished the first lap as 14th. At the beginning of the 13th lap he drove past Daniel Ricciardo to get into the top 10 before he was around Sebastian on laps 15 and 16 Vettel and Esteban Ocon navigated around.
Hamilton then passed Pierre Gasly to finish seventh with Charles Leclerc on the road for 3.5 seconds with seven laps remaining.
Verstappen, who overtook Sainz on lap four, moved up to Bottas within half a second but failed to seriously challenge the lead while Hamilton picked up Leclerc on lap 20 to finish sixth and then Lando Norris on the final lap.
Hamilton started in 20th after his pole was stripped from him. the Stewards announced their verdict at 2:04 p.m. local time in Sao Paulo, nearly 20 hours after an investigation into the legality of Hamilton’s rear wing opened following a complaint from Red Bull.It was found that Hamilton’s drag reduction system on the back of his Mercedes was working a greater distance than allowed, which allowed him to achieve a higher top speed.Mercedes sports director Ron Meadows and race track chief engineer Simon Cole fought with the stewards against Hamilton’s curve on Friday evening – and again on Saturday morning, this time together with chief designer John Owen, who testified from the team’s Brackley headquarters.But although the stewards agreed with Mercedes that “something had gone wrong” with Hamilton’s rear wing – “more of an intentional act or construction” – the penalty was imposed for violating the rules.On an extraordinary day in Sao Paulo, Verstappen was also examined after footage emerged showing him touching Hamilton’s rear wing after qualifying.
Verstappen and Red Bulls Sporting Director Jonathan Wheatley were called to the stewards at 9:30 a.m. A quarter of an hour later a relaxed Verstappen emerged.After watching the video – as well as footage from the cockpits of Fernando Alonso’s standing Alpine and from inside Hamilton and Bottas’ Mercedes – the stewards were “completely satisfied” that Verstappen did not disturb Hamilton’s car. He escaped with a fine of £ 42,000 and no further penalty.Mercedes confirmed they would not challenge Hamilton’s disqualification and tweeted: “We want to win this world championship on the racetrack.”