Lewis Hamilton made his way up from 10th on the grid and dramatically overtook Max Verstappen to earn a memorable win in Sao Paulo.
The Mercedes driver quickly moved through the field at the start and battled with his title rival for half the race distance, and after a couple of thwarted attempts, he passed Verstappen to take the lead and stayed there until the end of the race in what will go down as an Interlagos classic.
Valtteri Bottas completed the podium, with Sergio Perez and the two Ferrari drivers following in behind.
After his charge in sprint qualifying, all eyes were on how far Hamilton would be able to climb from his P10 starting slot on Sunday, with team-mate Bottas lining up on pole and ahead of Verstappen on the front row.
But in a reverse from the start on Saturday, Verstappen was able to pull alongside Bottas and force his way through at Turn 1, running the Mercedes driver wide and forcing his way into the lead.
Things would go from bad to worse from Bottas’ point of view as he then ran wide at Turn 4, allowing Perez to jump past and set up a Red Bull 1-2 at the front of the field.
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) November 14, 2021
Just behind, Lando Norris got an excellent start and was looking for room to pass Carlos Sainz in front, but the two former team-mates collided wheels and the McLaren was left with a puncture, leading Norris to crawl back to his garage for a tyre change.
But Hamilton picked up where he left off from Saturday, picking off four cars on the first lap alone – before passing both Ferraris and team-mate Bottas under team orders, moving the reigning World Champion up to the podium positions in the space of just five laps.
While Hamilton had a few seconds to make up to Perez and Verstappen, the Safety Car helped him close up soon afterwards. Yuki Tsunoda tried an optimistic lunge on Lance Stroll down at Turn 1.
His move down the inside came from a long way behind and never looked likely to work, as the AlphaTauri driver collided with the Aston Martin and left debris strewn across the Senna S – and Tsunoda was eventually given a 10-second time penalty for his troubles.
With a long run to Turn 1, Verstappen left no option for cars behind to get into his slipstream and left it as late as possible before getting back on the throttle.
But before long, the Virtual Safety Car was utilised after further debris was left on track, this time through the broken front wing of Mick Schumacher. The Haas driver tangled with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1, and the German dragged his damaged wing underneath his car for the majority of the lap before making it back to the pits.
Hamilton was all over the back of the rear wing of Perez while the VSC was out, with aim of moving directly behind his World Championship rival very much on his mind.
Starting lap 18, the Briton got a better exit than the Red Bull driver out of Turn 12. Perez weaved across the track to try and break the tow, but Hamilton was able to make a move around the outside at Turn 1 and pass, but the Mexican kept himself in touch and managed to get back past the Mercedes heading into Turn 4.
The following lap, however, he couldn’t keep Hamilton behind any longer. The Mercedes driver replicated his move by going around the outside of Perez into Turn 1, but he had enough of a gap heading down to the next braking zone.
But tyre management was the main focus at that point of the race, as the drivers looked to extend their opening stint and turn what was likely to be a two-stop strategy into a one-stopper.
The gap between the two title rivals hovered around the four-second mark, but Mercedes opted for an aggressive move by pitting Hamilton on lap 27. This prompted Red Bull and Verstappen to come in a lap later, but Hamilton had closed the gap to 1.6 seconds and was looming large in the Dutchman’s mirrors.
Crucially from a Mercedes point of view, Bottas took the opportunity to pit under a short spell in VSC conditions after marshals needed to clear more pieces of Stroll’s car, which flew off on the pit straight, and the Finn was able to leapfrog Perez and make himself Hamilton’s rear gunner once more.
But Verstappen asked his Red Bull crew to not allow him to be undercut again, and he was called back in on lap 41 of 71 for a fresh set of hard tyres.
Instead of Hamilton pitting to cover, however, Bottas was called in instead a lap later. This left the second Mercedes driver wondering if this was the right call for him – wondering if Mercedes had “thrown away an easy 1-2”, but the Briton came in three laps after his title rival for fresh rubber.
He was unhappy at moving onto another set of hards, but the race to the line appeared to be on from there between the two title protagonists.
Hamilton set consecutive fastest laps as he moved to within DRS range of the Red Bull. After a feint into Turn 1, Hamilton forced Verstappen to cover, leaving him with a better exit than the Dutchman heading down to Turn 4.
Verstappen covered the inside line and Hamilton moved ahead on the outside. The Red Bull driver braked later and both cars were forced off as a result. Accusations from Mercedes were quickly voiced to the FIA that Hamilton was forced off by his title rival, but they deemed that no investigation was necessary.
“Of course not,” was the sarcastic reply from Hamilton when he was informed of the news, and Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows was quickly on the radio to race director Michael Masi to voice his displeasure at the decision.
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) November 14, 2021
But the Mercedes driver stayed on Verstappen’s tail, and tried the same move again at Turn 4 by going around the outside, but the Red Bull managed to stay ahead once more.
However, at the third time of asking, Hamilton got a much better exit out of the Senna S. Verstappen tried to break the tow and covered the inside again, but the Mercedes managed to get fully ahead before Turn 4, moving across to take the inside line himself and taking the lead at Interlagos.
Hamilton quickly moved away from his title rival and went on to take what will surely be one of his most memorable victories, and kept his title hopes alive.
Perez was pitted by Red Bull to steal the fastest lap point from Hamilton’s grasp on the final lap, but 25 crucial points came the Briton’s way come the chequered flag, with Verstappen’s lead in the World Championship dropping to a 14-point margin heading into Qatar next weekend.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32:22.851
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +10.496s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +13.576s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull +39.940s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +49.517s
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +51.820s
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1 LAP
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1 LAP
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1 LAP
10 Lando Norris McLaren 1 LAP
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1 LAP
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
13 George Russell Williams 1 LAP
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1 LAP
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1 LAP
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2 LAPS
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 2 LAPS
R Daniel Ricciardo McLaren
R Lance Stroll Aston Martin