Lewis Hamilton admits he started to entertain thoughts of winning the Brazilian Grand Prix as he closed in on the top three toward the end of the race.
An error before he had set a time in Q1 saw Hamilton forced to start from the back of the grid, with Mercedes then taking the opportunity to change his power unit for a new replacement in order to climb through the field. That change led to a pit lane start, and Hamilton carved his way up to fourth place, closing to within five seconds of the lead with five laps to go.
While on the supersoft tire compared to the top three of Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen all being on softs, Hamilton admits he felt he could win the race as he attacked Raikkonen in the closing stages.
“I thought that somewhere around fifth or sixth,” Hamilton said when asked what he thought was possible before the race. “Many years ago I came from the back and came back up to fifth, so I thought there might be a chance of that but bearing in mind it’s a one-stop it’s very difficult to make the tires last the length.
“They [Mercedes] were saying plus-7 on my stop and my original stop was lap 37, so I was thinking at lap 30 that there was no way I was going to make it another 14 laps. I think it was there or thereabouts. If I’d stopped one lap earlier or one lap later, it wouldn’t have made any difference because I still had a load of seconds to catch up.
“Vettel was only three seconds behind me [when I pitted] so he basically had a whole other pit stop. It was a steep hill and while it was nice to be in the lead for a second, I think I managed the tires quite well to extend them for the length that I did at the pace that I did. I wasn’t really looking after them in the same way that the other guys perhaps were.
“I was leaning on them a lot more and it got a little bit tough towards the end of the first stint and I got a bit of traffic and lost a little bit of the advantage I had. So in hindsight maybe we should have come in before we hit that traffic. But still, it was the best we could have done, and was actually more than I hoped for.
“But actually when third place looked like it was possible, I was thinking that Sebastian is only a few seconds at the road, but unfortunately I didn’t have any life left in the tires.”
With teammate Bottas having started from pole, Hamilton concedes there is a tinge of regret that his error on Saturday cost him a good chance of victory at Interlagos.
“They do thousands of different simulations and they show you a few of them and they are all ‘if this happens’ or ‘if that happens’ and the predictions were if Valtteri stayed in the lead in Turn 1. So I didn’t actually see one of the other outcomes where Sebastian got ahead, so my goal today was to try to recover from yesterday, do myself proud and do the team proud.
“You never really know if you are going to feel comfortable – some days you go out there and you are just sliding around and you can’t progress and some days you can – and today I was grateful that I was able to move forward as I was meant to. With the speed I had I could have won the race this weekend no problem, but it was a good showing anyway.”