Lewis Hamilton has rued Red Bull’s strategical mistake to pit Max Verstappen and gift-wrap second place, and potentially the Formula One championship, to Nico Rosberg following a chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton marched to victory in treacherous conditions at Interlagos to claim his first win at the birthplace of his hero Ayrton Senna and take the title battle on to the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi later this month.
But Hamilton will head to the desert still 12 points adrift of his Mercedes team-mate. Rosberg will be crowned world champion if he secures a top-three finish even if Hamilton claims a fourth consecutive win.
Rosberg was staring at finishing only third here – meaning he would have to finish second in Abu Dhabi to win the title – but Red Bull pulled Verstappen in to change to the intermediate tyres and alter the fate of this year’s championship battle.
The gamble backfired, and while Verstappen heroically passed more than half the field en route to finishing third, Rosberg was able to cruise home behind Hamilton.
“Unbelievable, when will it end?” said Hamilton, whose title defence has been hampered by bad luck. “Red Bull made such a big mistake with that call.
“When the team called me and said, ‘People are starting to pit for inters,’ I’m like, ‘They’re crazy, there is no way it is going to last, and they are going to have to pit again’. That’s what they did and it is a shame, but there is nothing I can do about that.
“Verstappen still had a great race, and got back up to third, but it would be good if they made some good calls at the next race.”
While Hamilton kept his cool to claim the 52nd victory of his incredible career – moving him above Alain Prost and into second on the all-time winners’ list – it was Verstappen who stole the show with his incredible comeback drive.
Red Bull’s tactical blunder saw the Dutchman, who is only 19, drop way down the field. But he overtook 13 cars – including that of his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, the four-time world champion whom he left trailing on the grass – to claw his way on to the podium in one of the most outstanding displays in recent grand prix memory.
“His recovery was amazing, and that was one of the best drives I’ve seen in Formula One,” a jubilant Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said on Sunday.
“We gave him a huge amount to do and the way he drove those last 15 laps was unbelievable.
“Max was in a league of his own today, and what we witnessed was something very, very special.”
Meanwhile Rosberg, the championship leader, now has one hand on the title.
“Of course, it didn’t go my way today with the win, but Lewis just did a great job,” he said. “It was very difficult out there and I can live with second today, for sure.”