Lewis Hamilton fended off a resurgent Max Verstappen to take the Brazilian Grand Prix win and lead Mercedes to their fifth consecutive world constructors’ championship.
The Briton profited from a mid-race collision for race leader Verstappen to retake the lead and secure his tenth win of the season.
With the Red Bull having better tyre wear during the race, a series of assertive overtakes had given Verstappen the lead of the race, but the Dutchman collided with old Formula Three sparring partner Esteban Ocon, who was attempting to unlap himself.
Despite losing the lead, he fought back, but ultimately failed to mount a final challenge to Hamilton, finishing just over one second behind.
The result gives Mercedes a remarkable fifth consecutive constructors’ title, maintaining their 100% success rate in the turbo-hybrid era.
“We did everything well, we were going through the field, we had a great car, and then we get taken out by someone who’s being lapped,” said Verstappen after the race.
“I have no words.”
“Yeah, I think it was better than expected. The team give me the right strategy, we were going quite well on the supersofts, we did quite a long stint.
“I don’t know what to say…I’m still happy with second, but we should have won today.”
Kimi Raikkonen finished just ahead of the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo – who fought through the field swiftly from an eleventh place start – to take the final spot on the podium, whilst Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel completed the top six after making extra pit stops.
At lights out, the Ferraris, equipped with harder tyres, struggled to get off the line and were immediately under threat from the supersoft-equipped rivals.
Vettel lost a place to Bottas, who went around the outside of turn one, whilst Raikkonen had to fight hard to fend off the early attacks from Verstappen. Sixth-placed Marcus Ericsson’s qualifying efforts were undone when he fell to ninth on the opening lap.
With Ferrari initially not on the same pace as Mercedes and Red Bull, Vettel and Raikkonen fell victim to some assertive overtakes from Verstappen; the Dutchman passed Raikkonen under braking for turn one on lap three, whilst completing the same move on Vettel just one lap later.
Unable to keep with Verstappen, Vettel ran wide at turn four moments later, which allowed Raikkonen into fourth place. In the opening few laps, Ricciardo had already fought his way from eleventh to sixth.
Unfinished with his opening stint overtakes, Verstappen caught Bottas, got within the DRS range and slipstreamed his way past the Mercedes for second place, a remarkable effort given the power unit differences.
Bottas then became a cork in the bottle for any Ferrari resurgence. The Mercedes driver denied Raikkonen third place solidly before making his pit stop at the end of lap eighteen, coming in for medium tyres.
Race leader Hamilton was brought in one lap later for the same compound, with Verstappen now released into clear air and setting fastest laps. Mercedes were able to warm up their medium tyres quickly and start preventing any ‘overcut’.
With the Ferrari drivers being the next to pit, they elected to bring Vettel in first, followed by Raikkonen four laps later. This was enough for Vettel to move ahead of his colleague, but the pair were once again close to the back of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.
With Raikkonen on the fresher tyres, the call came from Ferrari to swap their drivers around and allow the Finn a chance at passing his compatriot.
With Red Bull managing to eke out enough performance and endurance in the supersoft tyres, they were put onto the soft tyres when they made their pit stops, with Verstappen emerging just three seconds behind Hamilton and on tyres one step softer.
Back-markers helped Verstappen catch up to the back of Hamilton, but the Dutchman made his tyre advantage count at the first major opportunity: He was on the back of the Mercedes on the exit of the final corner and, with DRS active, he breezed past Hamilton and took the lead into turn one.
Ricciardo made his pit stop at the same time – handing the lead to Verstappen – and immediately set about catching up to the Bottas-Raikkonen-Vettel battle, which was now being headed by Raikkonen, who had finally found a way past Bottas.
With Verstappen attempting to create a gap to Hamilton, he found himself under pressure from Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who was enjoying a speed differential – and fresh supersoft tyres – over the Red Bull on the main straight.
Ocon went around the outside of turn one and then attempted to unlap himself on the inside of turn two. However, the pair came together and both spun off, handing the race lead back to Hamilton.
Verstappen recovered, but he sustained floor damage and continued in second place, some five seconds down on the Mercedes. Ocon would later receive a ten-second stop-go penalty.
With twenty laps to go, Verstappen had shaved a second off Hamilton’s lead whilst Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo were all within ten seconds of the lead.
Vettel was the first to blink and pitted for a set of supersoft tyres in a bid to try something else.
Further ahead, Ricciardo finally made his way past a solidly-defending Bottas for fourth place with twelve laps to go, which prompted Mercedes to try a second pit stop for Bottas, giving him some soft tyres and bringing him back out ahead of Vettel.
Back at the front, Verstappen whittled Hamilton’s lead down to two seconds with five laps to go, and Verstappen was given the full capabilities of the car for the final assault.
Both had to negotiate their way through back-markers, but Verstappen was unable to get within the one second window for DRS, and Hamilton held on to take the Brazilian Grand Prix win, just 1.4 seconds clear of the Red Bull man.
Under even greater pressure from a Red Bull in the closing moments, Raikkonen resisted Ricciardo to take the final spot on the podium.
Bottas and Vettel were a distant fifth and sixth, whilst Leclerc took seventh place to boost Sauber’s chances of holding P8 in the constructors’ championship.
The Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean finished in eighth and ninth, whilst Force India’s Sergio Perez completed the top ten.
BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, 71 Laps
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1.469s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 4.764s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 5.193s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 22.943s
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 26.997s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 44.199s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 51.230s
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 52.857s
10 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1 Lap
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1 Lap
12 Carlos Sainz Renault 1 Lap
13 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1 Lap
15 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1 Lap
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 2 Laps
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 2 Laps
18 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 2 Laps
19 Nico Hulkenberg Renault DNF
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari DNF
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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