Can Lewis Hamilton end Brazil’s lengthy wait for a ‘home’ grand prix winner?

Jon Wilde
Lewis Hamilton celebrates with a Brazilian flag on the podium. Interlagos November 2021.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates with a Brazilian flag on the podium after winning the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. Interlagos November 2021.

For the first time since 2017, the Interlagos crowd will have a Brazilian driver to roar on in their home grand prix.

And he goes by the name of Lewis Hamilton.

Felipe Massa, when he made the second of two emotional Sao Paulo farewells – he stayed on unexpectedly for an extra year at Williams when Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes – was the most recent Brazilian F1 hero.

Since then, the crowd have clasped Hamilton increasingly close to their hearts, and can now count him as one of their own – kind of – after he officially received Brazilian citizenship at the start of this week.

Of course, if the Mercedes driver were to win at Interlagos for a fourth time, it would be the British national anthem played during the podium ceremony.

But you could bet safely a Brazilian flag would be wrapped around the 37-year-old, just as it was last year when he ended a roller-coaster weekend by turning exclusion from the qualifying results into a 10-second race victory.

There were various stages in between, of course, and we do not need to revisit them all here as we are looking ahead to the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix, not reflecting upon 2021.

However, what is certainly relevant is that Hamilton will return inspired to a venue that holds happy memories for him – none more so, of course, than his famous “is that Glock?!” maiden World Championship triumph of 2008.

Massa, of course, won that race, and briefly thought he was champion. How ironic if the first ‘Brazilian’ winner at Interlagos since then was to be the man who snatched the crown from his grasp on that rainy November day.

“I have so many amazing memories of Brazil,” said Hamilton at his citizenship ceremony. “And particularly 2021.

“Knowing you guys would cheer me on the way was one of the most special moments of my entire life. I can’t wait for us to continue to strive ahead.”

You sense that if he was to repeat that victory in the penultimate round of the 2022 season, it could rank as another of those “most special moments”.

Hamilton has been hammering at the door between himself and a first win this season, finishing second in the last two races, and it would surely give him immense pride to stand on the top step for a 16th consecutive campaign.

But was Mexico his last chance? His former team-mate Jenson Button suspects so.

“It will be tricky for Mercedes to fight for a victory,” said the 2012 Interlagos winner, who had his own ‘We Are The Champions’ moment at the venue three years before that.

Button does not think Mexico or Abu Dhabi will suit the W13, with its lack of straight-line speed, as well as the United States or Mexico.

And with Ferrari having fallen away as strong challengers to Red Bull – they were fifth and sixth in Mexico, 58 and 68 seconds adrift at the chequered flag – it has to be long odds-on about a 15th success of 2022 for Max Verstappen.

Which outside factors could influence that? Well, this is the third and final sprint weekend of the season, which in itself is unlikely to change too much – Verstappen, who does not like those events, has won the other two this year.

The weather could, however, play a part. Conditions can change with a snap of the fingers at Interlagos and if any of the track running over the weekend is likely to be affected by rain, qualifying looks the strongest candidate.

Should that turn out to be the case, it could give matters a surprising turn – and a jumbled-up grid for the sprint would inject some much-needed interest into a feature which has many sceptics, not only Verstappen, about its worth.

Sprints also mean more points on offer, a maximum of 34 per driver for the weekend, which could have a bearing on who will finish second to the Dutchman in the championship – his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez or Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

It is almost certain to be one of that duo for Leclerc has 44 points in hand of George Russell, who will be trying to hold off his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz for fourth position.

Ferrari are fairly, but not completely, safe in second place in the Constructors’ standings, 40 points ahead of Mercedes, and there are still some interesting tussles to be resolved further down.

At the forefront of those is the Alpine-McLaren battle for fourth. Increasingly, the feeling is that if Alpine were not going through engines like water, they would have had that fight put to bed some time ago.

None of Fernando Alonso’s 32 F1 race wins came at Interlagos but both of his titles were clinched there, and he is currently due a change of fortune more than anyone after three retirements in the last five grands prix.

Aston Martin continue to be an enigma as their recent promising progress went into reverse in Mexico but they will still hold high hopes of catching Alfa Romeo for sixth position, trailing by only four points.

An even closer struggle continues between Haas and AlphaTauri, separated by only a single point.

Reports suggest Haas might announce something about Mick Schumacher’s future on the eve of the grand prix weekend, with the smart money being on Nico Hulkenberg to replace him – although it would not be the first time if Guenther Steiner decides to keep faith with a driver when the opposite had been expected. Romain Grosjean benefited from a reprieve in the past.

Haas and AlphaTauri, and for that matter Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Williams, will be hoping the notoriously unpredictable Sao Paulo weather plays its hand and throws up the opportunity for a few points should the front-runners encounter problems.

Although a plethora of rookie drivers have taken part in FP1 at the last couple of races, that will not be the case in Brazil.

There is a single practice session and then straight into qualifying, so the teams yet to fulfil their rookie quota will need to do so at the Abu Dhabi finale next week.

Read more: Lewis Hamilton’s Brazilian citizenship confirmed: ‘I feel like now I’m one of you’