Bril­liant in Brazil

Hamil­ton de­liv­ers drive of his life

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Oliver Brown in Sao Paulo

In the canon of cat­a­pult­ing drives from the outer dark­ness, Lewis Hamil­ton pro­duced one of For­mula One’s finest yes­ter­day, start­ing in the pit lane un­der flaw­less Brazil­ian skies and fin­ish­ing a mere five sec­onds adrift of win­ner Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. It was as if he had re­con­nected with his younger kart­ing self, de­cid­ing, af­ter the cathar­sis of his fourth world ti­tle, that it was time to have some fun.

Af­ter the in­dig­nity of crash­ing out in qual­i­fy­ing, Hamil­ton mus­tered quite the ri­poste here at In­ter­la­gos, scyth­ing through the field with ex­quis­ite tim­ing and in­stinct. Even Fer­nando Alonso, his old neme­sis at Mclaren and of­ten deemed the one driver who could hold a can­dle to his race-craft, of­fered no re­sis­tance. “My goal was just to re­deem my­self, to do the team proud,” Hamil­ton said.

There have been more sig­nif­i­cant come-from-be­hind surges, not least John Wat­son’s suc­cess in pro­pel­ling him­self from 22nd on the grid to vic­tory at Long Beach in 1983. Wat­son’s team-mate that day was a cer­tain Niki Lauda, now nonex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Mercedes and one of Hamil­ton’s most pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cates. His ver­dict on this lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion? “In­cred­i­ble.”

For a while, Hamil­ton was even lead­ing, cour­tesy of a canny Mercedes pit-stop strat­egy as his en­gi­neers sought to un­der­cut Fer­rari. Ul­ti­mately, there was no deny­ing Vet­tel, who reeled off fastest laps with metro­nomic con­sis­tency, af­ter his en­gine was di­alled up to its most scream­ing.

But it was the quadru­ple world cham­pion who drew all driver-ofthe-day plau­dits, shak­ing off the af­ter-ef­fects of his smash – which re­quired al­most an en­tire re­con­struc­tion of his car in 24 hours – to chal­lenge Kimi Raikko­nen for a podium spot. All things con­sid­ered, fourth place had sel­dom been so sat­is­fy­ing.

“I had messed up in qual­i­fy­ing to put my­self in the worst pos­si­ble po­si­tion,” Hamil­ton re­flected. “I was quick enough to win the race from pole to the flag, but I made the

‘I have a lot of fire, I’m young at heart and have many more races to go’

job a lot harder. I was try­ing to get back to third, I just ran out of tyres in the end. But I en­joyed the race and I en­joyed the bat­tle.

“It con­tin­ues to show to me and, I hope, to ev­ery­one that I still have a lot of fire, that I’m still young at heart and that I still have many, many more races to go.”

This was one of Hamil­ton’s most em­phatic state­ments that he in­tended to stay in F1 for the long haul. Only 32, and a far more com­plete driver than in his youth, he is only likely to stop in this sport if he loses in­ter­est.

But there ap­peared scant dan­ger of that as he wore a bright yel­low hel­met in hon­our of his late idol Ayr­ton Senna, at­tack­ing this grand prix with an au­dac­ity that the Brazil­ian would have ap­plauded. Soon enough he will sign a con­tract ex­ten­sion with Mercedes that could earn him a record £45 mil­lion a year.

His ri­valry with Vet­tel, like­wise, looks poised to last. So evenly matched were Mercedes and Fer­rari yes­ter­day that a mere five sec­onds sep­a­rated first and fourth. In an­other ex­am­ple of this sea­son’s mys­ti­fy­ing turns, Red Bull, who had streaked to vic­tory two weeks ear­lier in Mex­ico, were “not in the race”, in the words of Mercedes team prin­ci­pal Toto Wolff, more than half a minute dis­tant.

For Vet­tel, who never looked back af­ter dart­ing past pole-sit­ter Valt­teri Bot­tas at Turn One, this was a tri­umph tinged with a sense of lost op­por­tu­nity. There has been such a del­i­cate sliver of dif­fer­ence be­tween the pace of Vet­tel and Hamil­ton this year that their duel had seemed primed to en­dure to the fi­nal race in Abu Dhabi in a fort­night’s time.

Alas, that prospect was erad­i­cated by Fer­rari’s er­rors in the Far East over re­cent weeks, and one could sense the frus­tra­tion in Vet­tel’s voice. His mes­sage of “Gra­zie, ragazzi” to his team garage car­ried barely a hint of emo­tion.

The best re­sponse to a sense of loss, or so the the­ory goes, is to keep busy. The Ger­man was not about to de­mur. “It helps that there are races, to get over it,” he said.

In a wider con­text, no team have had a more drain­ing week­end in Sao Paulo than Mercedes. Sev­eral mem­bers of staff had valu­ables and pass­ports stolen in an armed am­bush on Fri­day night, even be­fore they faced the toil of re­assem­bling Hamil­ton’s shat­tered car.

“This has been a week­end of ex­treme and con­trast­ing emo­tions for us, but this morn­ing the guys came in and re­built Lewis’s car from the ground up,” Wolff said.

“It has been hum­bling to see their re­silience.” Bot­tas had his

chance to write a rous­ing end­ing to his col­leagues’ or­deal, hav­ing de­liv­ered a bril­liant qual­i­fy­ing lap, but he en­coun­tered a spot of wheel­spin off the start as Vet­tel streaked by.

Once the safety car peeled in, af­ter dam­age from a crash be­tween Este­ban Ocon and Kevin Mag­nussen was cleared, Vet­tel never took a back­ward glance. Hamil­ton, in pris­tine weather un­usual for this race, sim­ply soaked up the sun­shine.

This felt, in ev­ery re­spect, like his lap of hon­our.

Step­ping up: Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel ac­knowl­edges the crowd af­ter his first vic­tory since July

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