Sebastian Vettel beat Valtteri Bottas to win the Brazilian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning recovery drive from the pit lane to finish fourth.
Having crashed out of Q1 on Saturday, Hamilton started from the pit lane as a result of taking a brand-new power unit, allowing him to attack throughout the race. First lap incidents only promoted Hamilton to 16th place but he produced a stunning charge to be a threat for victory in what was a close fight between Ferrari and Mercedes.
Vettel had taken the lead from Bottas with a brave move into Turn 1 and led the majority of the race – with only Hamilton enjoying a spell in front having started on the soft compound tire and run longer before making his sole pit stop – and the German was able to manage his pace to withstand the attentions of Bottas despite his lead never growing beyond three seconds.
Kimi Raikkonen also kept the leading pair honest, and he proved to be the driver who ended Hamilton’s victory hopes as the Ferrari proved impossible to pass in the closing five laps. Raikkonen closed to within four seconds of the lead at one stage, but became preoccupied with the charging Hamilton in the closing stages and had just enough pace in hand to ensure the four-time world champion couldn’t make a move stick.
Max Verstappen came home fifth ahead of a similarly impressive recovery drive from teammate Daniel Ricciardo, with the second Red Bull having spun on the opening lap after contact with Stoffel Vandoorne.
Felipe Massa finished his final home race in seventh place, holding off Fernando Alonso to the flag in a close battle, with Sergio Perez attacking the McLaren on the final lap as all three finished just 0.5s apart.
Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz, with Pierre Gasly 12th for Toro Rosso.
Hamilton was looking to atone for his mistake in qualifying on Saturday and after receiving a new power unit he was aided slightly by three cars retiring on the opening lap, while Ricciardo was also demoted to the back of the field. As Vettel dived into the lead at Turn 1, further back Ricciardo was going around the outside of Vandoorne on the exit of Turn 2 when Kevin Magnussen squeezed the McLaren from the inside, resulting in contact between all three.
Ricciardo spun across the track but suffered little damage, while both Vandoorne and Magnussen were forced to retire in an incident that will be investigated after the race. Just a few corners later and the other Haas of Romain Grosjean spun when trying to defend the inside line of Turn 7 against Esteban Ocon, taking the Force India driver out of the race for the first time in his F1 career and resulting in a Safety Car.
Grosjean and Pascal Wehrlein both pitted under the Safety Car, promoting Hamilton to 14th, and the Briton immediately started his charge once the race restarted on lap six, dispatching Brendon Hartley – who would later retire with another reliability issue – Lance Stroll, Marcus Ericsson, Gasly, Sainz and Hulkenberg within five laps to run eighth.
The first staunch defense Hamilton faced was from Perez a few laps later, but the world champion pulled an excellent move around the outside of Turn 1 to run seventh. Ahead of him, Alonso – who jumped up to fifth at the start – was hustling Massa after losing out to the Williams after the Safety Car.
Having passed Alonso with ease into Turn 1 on lap 21, Hamilton also got ahead of Massa into Turn 4 and could set off after the leading quartet of Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen. The top four were running close together but the gaps were never less than a second in a demonstration of the similar pace between the top three teams.
With Bottas pitting on lap 27 for soft tires, the rest of the top four were forced to react. While Vettel stayed ahead of the Finn it meant Hamilton had the lead and could run longer on his soft tires before pitting for fresh supersofts to mount a charge late on. Hamilton came in on lap 43 of 71, and quickly started erasing an 18.3s deficit to race leader Vettel.
Verstappen was first in the 2017 world champion’s way, and Hamilton set the Red Bull up at Turns 1 and 2 to be able to breeze past with DRS on the run to Turn 4. That move suggested Hamilton could be able to continue his relentless progress but once he caught Raikkonen there was no way past the Ferrari.
Vettel held Bottas at bay to the tune of two seconds, with Raikkonen a similar distance further back as the top four crossed the line just 5.4s apart. Verstappen opted for a late stop after fearing he would crash on a difficult set of tires but remained fifth, half a minute adrift at the flag.
While Hamilton was kept at bay, attention on the final lap turned to the Massa-Alonso-Perez battle, with the three crossing the line nose-to-tail before Massa received an emotional radio message from his son Felipinho over team radio on the cool-down lap, before addressing his adoring home crowd on the podium after his final grand prix at Interlagos.