LEWIS Hamilton survived a remarkable five safety car periods, two red flag stoppages and the pressure of surviving aquaplaning on a treacherously wet Interlagos circuit to post his first victory in a Brazilian Grand Prix, the penultimate race in the 2016 season.
After a chaotic, rain-soaked race that stretched into a survival of the fortunate and the fearless, extending to more than three hours, the Briton has closed to within 12 points of championship leader Nico Rosberg, who finished second for another Mercedes one-two.
It was the third race in a row Hamilton has won from pole, underscoring his late-season recovery in the title chase in what he claimed was one of the easiest victories he’s snared.
This means of course the title will now be decided in a showdown at the final race in Abu Dhabi.
“When it rains, it’s usually a good day for me,” said Hamilton as he celebrated on the podium, adding that he’d made no mistakes, and had no issues.
“I’m hunting – all I can do is keep doing what I’m doing right now.”
But while Hamilton, who led throughout, was flawless and ultimately kept alive his championship hopes, the almost unbelievable drive from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Falling back to 15th after switching to full wets, the young Dutchman launched a stunning change back to a podium finish, collecting the scalps of teammate Daniel Ricciardo (who finished eighth), Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and others.
His unorthodox overtakes, often around the outside where the grip was marginally better, reminded us of his karting background.
“One of the best drives I’ve seen in Formula One,” exclaimed an impressed Christian Horner, the Red Bull team boss. “The way he drove in those last 15 laps… he was fearless in pretty horrific conditions.”
Verstappen, though, may have been lucky to avoid the fate of others including Romain Grosjean, who spun his Haas on the out lap and whacked the wall, delaying the race’s start, and Kimi Raikkonen, another victim of the perilous conditions.
Verstappen had a lurid spin during race but managed to keep the Red Bull off the wall in a manoeuvre he admitted was half skill and half luck.
Behind Verstappen at the flag was Sergio Perez (Force India), Vettel, an impressive Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, and then Ricciardo, whose race was hindered by a five-second time penalty incurred for entering the pit lane while it was closed, as well as visibility problems after his visor fogged over.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso filled the final points’ places.
Back to the winner. Hamilton declared from the moment he arrived that all he could do was try to win the grand prix. He’d never won in Brazil in nine previous attempts.
Rosberg, publicly at least, had similar aspirations, although with a 19-point advantage he was always better able to take a more strategic approach.
Being a shortish racetrack with limited overtaking opportunities, starting up front at Interlagos is always an obvious advantage. Hamilton took his 11th pole of 2016 with Rosberg next, the Silver Arrows blocking out the front row for the 13th time this season.
Raikkonen surprised himself by being third fastest in his Ferrari despite his lap, in his eyes, being a bit “average”.
Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, followed by Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo, who was quietly hoping for rain during the race.
He got his wish but not the outcome he wanted.
Lorenzo uncatchable in Valencia Moto GP world championship finale
Though he didn’t successfully defend his world title this year, Jorge Lorenzo, who is off to ride a Ducati next year, farewelled the Yamaha team in Valencia with the best possible flourish in the final race of 2016: Pole and a victory.
Sayonara and arigato. And ciao and salve to his new employer.
Lorenzo got the hole-shot from a tardy championship titleholder Marc Marquez, before riding off to take a quite magnificent flag-to-flag victory.
Under the blue skies of a long-awaited dry race day, Ducati’s Andrea Iannone also got off the line well to take second, while Valentino Rossi was further back in fourth behinds Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar).
Lorenzo was untouchable out front, but the battle for the other podium places ranged for much of the race between Rossi and Iannone and then Marquez, who struggling with the Honda’s lack of straight-line speed.
But Marquez managed to move into second in the closing stages as the Ducati’s long-suffering rear lost interest.
Valentino Rossi and Iannone tussled for the final podium place, with the Ducati rider grabbing third on the penultimate lap.
The podium decider was left to a brutal, classic battle between Iannone and Rossi - with the rider from Tavullia seeming to have got the better of his younger compatriot, until Iannone hit back with an aggressive move that also gave him a gap he was able to hold onto over the line. Viñales completed his final weekend with Suzuki in fifth
After a history-making 2016, when MotoGP produced nine different winners, the riders will return in pre-season testing in Valencia on Tuesday - with Lorenzo in red at Ducati, Vinales in Yamaha blue as the pack shuffles and prepares another season of motorcycle racing.
Heading to Valencia, the 2016 Moto2 championship was already in the hands of Johann Zarco, but someone forgot to tell the Frenchman he could take things easy in the final race of the year.
Instead of playing his usual waiting game, Zarco elected to get aggressive early, slicing and dicing up front in some hard but clean exchanges with Franco Morbidelli. Tom Luthi joined in mid-race watching the lead change countless times before Zarco asserted himself in the closing stages, easing away from Morbidelli. The Italian, his rear tyre sliding helplessly, relinquished second to Luthi on the final lap of one of the more entertaining races of the year.
Zarco could be a rider worth watching next year when he joins Tech3 Yamaha in MotoGP.
New world Moto3 champ Brad Binder signed off from the baby class with yet another stunning win, highlighted by a stunning 22ndto first fightback after his KTM became briefly temperamental in the early laps.
Binder, who is off to Moto2 next year, won seven GPs this season.