Lewis Hamilton took victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix to set up a championship deciding race in two weeks’ time.
Hamilton finished ahead of title rival Nico Rosberg in a wet race featuring two red flag stoppages and five safety cars.
In difficult conditions, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen produced a stirring drive to come from 13th place midway through the race to finish third. Behind him, Force India’s Sergio Perez claimed an important fourth place while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took fifth and Torro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz ended in sixth. Felipe Nasr’s ninth place helped Sauber leap-frog Manor in the lucrative constructor’s title.
Torrential rain throughout the morning forced the drivers to navigate dangerous conditions at the tricky Interlagos circuit. Even before the race began, Haas driver Romain Grosjean threw away his excellent qualifying performance by crashing on the out-lap to the grid.
With the race beginning behind the safety car, the drivers were eventually let loose on Lap 8 and Hamilton immediately opened a lead on Nico Rosberg while Verstappen took third from Raikkonen.
The safety car returned on Lap 13 when Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber in the pit entry. The field barely began racing again when on Lap 20 Raikkonen dramatically spun on the main straight forcing those behind into some remarkable moves to avoid his out of control Ferrari.
Verstappen’s Inspired Performance
The race continued to be punctuated by stops and safety cars, but not before Verstappen over-took Rosberg and came in for intermediate tyres despite the prediction for more rain.
Red Bull’s intermediate experiment proved disastrous for Verstappen who returned to the pits on Lap 54 and came back onto the track in 13th place.
The Dutchman drove skilfully to work his way through the field – forcing his way past Force India’s Sergio Perez to take third on the fast Mergulho corner with two laps remaining.
Had it not been for Red Bull’s poor pit strategy, Verstappen could well have taken second and potentially challenged Hamilton for the win. As it stood, the outstanding drive demonstrated Verstappen’s credentials on a weekend when all the focus was on the Mercedes drivers.
Hamilton ‘Not Too Bad’
And Hamilton rounded out a strong weekend with a faultless drive that cuts Rosberg’s lead to 12 points with just one race remaining in Abu Dhabi.
For the entire race, Hamilton was virtually untouchable and not even the heavy rain and re-starts could put the other drivers within reach.
“I was generally just chilling up front. When it rains it’s usually a good day for me. It was tricky for everyone. There were definitely opportunities for aquaplaning, which everyone did,” said Hamilton.
“No mistakes, no issues, no spins. It was kind of interesting to hear how many people were spinning, but I didn’t have that problem.”
The equation is now clear: Rosberg will take the title if he finishes third in the next race irrespective of whether Hamilton wins. For Hamilton, he needs to win again and keep his fingers crossed that Rosberg has a disappointing result.
After 20 races, it comes down to the final outing to determine who will take the 2016 drivers’ championship.