Hamilton outduels Verstappen for Sao Paulo GP win

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Hamilton outduels Verstappen for Sao Paulo GP win

Formula 1

Hamilton outduels Verstappen for Sao Paulo GP win

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Lewis Hamilton beaten title rival Max Verstappen from 10th on the grid in a race-long duel at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix to reinvigorate his world championship chances.

The Briton wielded his Mercedes car’s straight-line speed advantage to perfection from his penalized starting position in the midfield, passing five cars off the line and rising to third after just five laps to assault the Red Bull Racing pair for a first victory since September.

His race was set up early despite teammate Valtteri Bottas failing to hold pole off the line and dropping to third, handing the Bulls an early one-two formation.

Perez maintained a rearguard action for leader Verstappen, delaying Hamilton’s ascension to second. It took until lap 18 for the Briton to get around his outside at Turn 1, but Perez got back ahead on the outside of Turn 4. Hamilton didn’t leave himself vulnerable to the counterattack a second time, closing the door exiting the Senna S on lap 19 to seal the place.

With the medium rubber showing signs of degradation in the hot conditions, Mercedes went aggressive with pit stop strategy on lap 27, bringing in Hamilton for new hard tires in an undercut attempt. Verstappen had to respond on the following lap, and his buffer of more than three seconds was sliced to 1.7s

Hamilton’s advantage was all in straight-line speed, but he was slower through the middle sector, which made it difficult for him to be close enough on the run up the hill out of the final turns to gain DRS behind the inch-perfect Verstappen.

Sensing an undercut, Red Bull Racing took the initiative for an early second stop, hauling Verstappen in on lap 40 for another set of hard tires. Hamilton waited three more laps to give himself fresher tires to launch an immediate attack.

The first lunge came on lap 48. The Mercedes got a powerful exit out of the Senna S and dragged Verstappen down to Turn 4, where Hamilton took the outside line. Verstappen was aggressive in defense, opening his steering and sending them both off track to hold position.

The stewards noted the incident but decided no investigation was necessary.

It took Hamilton another 10 laps to set up the decisive move. With DRS on the main straight he forced Verstappen to defend the inside line at Turn 1 in an expert dummy, compromising the Dutchman’s exit.

With a strong launch out of Turn 3 he was all over the back of the Red Bull Racing’s gearbox almost immediately, and he slipped into the lead before the braking zone to shut the door on his title rival before sprinting away at half a second a lap.

Including the 15 places he gained in the sprint, it ended a dominant weekend comprising 25 passes to reduce his points deficit to 14 points.

“I was pushing as hard as I could, but from last on the [sprint] grid and then another five-place penalty I think was the hardest weekend I’ve had.

“Coming into this weekend, I never ever thought we’d be able to close the gap like we have today. It feels like the first, because it doesn’t feel like I’ve had a win for a long time.”

Verstappen considered the race good damage limitation with the slower car but was comfortable with his points advantage.

“We tried everything we could today,” he said. “It was a good buttle, but in the end we just missed a little bit of pace.

“We still have a good points lead, so today was a bit of damage limitation on a weekend that was a bit difficult for us.”

Bottas struggled to get past Perez in the first stint, but a fortuitously timed virtual safety car to clean up debris on lap 30 — one lap after the Mexican switched tires — gave the Finn a trigger for a cheap stop, getting him ahead. But he was off the pace of the leading two and, despite some encouragement from Toto Wolff to chase Verstappen down, he was three seconds adrift at the flag and 13.5s short of his teammate.

“I thought we could’ve done a one-stop quite easily, but we did a two-stop,” Bottas said, having complained to his pit wall over team radio after his second stop. “Still, solid points.”

Perez finished fourth after a late third pit stop to take the point for fastest lap, putting Red Bull Racing 11 points behind Mercedes in the constructors standings.

Ferrari was the only team other than Mercedes and Red Bull Racing to finish on the lead lap, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz closely matched on the road well ahead of the midfield in fifth and sixth.

Sainz was lucky to avoid an early retirement after Lando Norris ran over his right-front tire at the start of the race, but in an ironic twist of fortune it left McLaren unable to score more than a point, extending Ferrari’s lead in third in the championship to 31.5 points.

Pierre Gasly had a quiet race to seventh after battling past a fast-starting Sebastian Vettel early in the race, but his six points for AlphaTauri only neutralized the six points scored by Alpine, with Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso finishing eighth and ninth, keeping the two teams tied for fifth in the standings.

Norris scored the final point of the race in a disappointing day for McLaren after his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, retired from eighth with engine problems after half distance.

 

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