SAO PAULO: Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton (center), Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen (left) and Mercedes’ Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas celebrate on the podium after obtaining the first, second and third positions respectively, in Brazil’s Formula One Sao Paulo Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, or Interlagos racetrack, in Sao Paulo, on Sunday. – AFP

SAO PAULO: If Lewis Hamilton clinches a record eighth world title it will be in no small part due to Sunday’s against-all-odds Brazil win he ranked as “the best weekend I have experienced in probably my whole career”. On Friday night that looked a fanciful idea, when he was hit with disqualification from pole in Saturday’s sprint after the stewards had detected a minor infringement on his car. Setting off 20th he produced a vintage overtaking masterclass to take fifth, which dropped to 10th in the grand prix grid after a penalty for an engine change.

With championship leader Max Verstappen on the front row alongside Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas on pole, a win looked improbable. “Coming here 19 points behind, only one point ahead in the teams championship, we really needed a solid, solid result, but then obviously we had all these penalties,” he said. “Mentally you can just think it’s over, it’s impossible, but then nothing is if you put your mind to it.”

“That’s really why we just cultivated a positive mental attitude and went in fighting, guns blazing,” he added after climbing the podium draped in a Brazilian flag, the Interlagos fans chanting his name. Enjoying faster speed on the straights courtesy of his new engine, the 36-year-old picked off the cars in front of him one by one – only Bottas under orders to swop places proved light work for all the racecraft knowledge the seven-time world champion has accumulated between his ears.

Verstappen inevitably proved an altogether tougher assignment. He got ahead of his arch-rival at turn four on lap 48, but Verstappen forced him wide to hold his position. The stewards investigated and determined Verstappen had acted within the rules. Another failed attempt followed before he succeeded on his third, at the start of lap 59. While Hamilton played the diplomatic card when asked about Verstappen’s tactics Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was livid by that and all the obstacles thrown at his team in Brazil.

“I think we’ve just had many, many punches in the face this weekend with decisions that could have swung either side against us or for us,” he fumed. “It’s just something that I’m just angry about and I will defend my team, my drivers to what comes. I’ve been always very diplomatic in how I discuss things, but diplomacy has ended today.”

He described the decision to disqualify over a broken part on a rear wing “we couldn’t look at, couldn’t analyze” as “very harsh”. Especially he said when Red Bull repaired a wing three times in parc ferme “without consequence”. And he said Verstappen escaping a five-second penalty when it was only Hamilton’s quick avoiding action that prevented yet another collision between the pair was “laughable”. He did temper his anger with sympathy for the stewards who he suggested “have a difficult life anyway and they are only there to lose”.

His anger will always be tempered by the fact that they fly off to the third last race in Qatar next Sunday in a far better position that when they arrived in Sao Paulo. Hamilton has reduced Verstappen’s lead from 21 points to 14, and Mercedes lead the constructors championship by 11. – AFP