Lewis Hamilton
Formula 1

Hamilton’s brilliance lit up Sao Paulo and with three races remaining Red Bull should be worried

November 18, 2021January 6th, 2022

Such a brilliant World Championship needs the drivers to determine the results, not the stewards, writes Mika Häkkinen.

What a fantastic performance from the Mercedes team in Brazil last weekend.

After Mexico some observers were saying the World Championship was heading towards Red Bull and Max Verstappen, but with Valtteri Bottas winning the Sprint and then Lewis Hamilton putting in an exceptional performance in the Grand Prix, things now look very different.

That’s what is exciting about this year’s World Championship. From one weekend to the next, from one type of race track to another, the battle shifts from Red Bull to Mercedes and back again. Each car has its strengths and weaknesses, and the battle is so finely balanced that circuit characteristics have a big impact.

You could see this in Interlagos from the way Verstappen was quick in the middle sector – the more technical part of the track – while Hamitlon’s strong point was the long run up the hill and down to Turn 1, then again down to Turn 4. It was clear Hamilton’s package was better.

I have won the Brazilian Grand Prix from pole position twice and it’s those first and third sectors that offer the best overtaking opportunities, so having the right engine power, mechanical and aero set-up for those is critical.

Let’s get into the controversies.

The first came after Friday qualifying when Hamilton’s car was found to have a DRS gap that was 0.2mm larger than the 85mm gap which is allowed. This is a tiny error, and only occurred on one side of the wing – it was legal in the middle and on the other side – and the FIA Stewards were sure this had not been done deliberately by the team.

The performance benefit would have been nothing significant. It might even have been a problem because you need every element of the car’s aero balance to be perfect.

Whatever the case, the measurements were clear and the decision went against Hamilton and the team. This is tough for anyone to take, so I can understand why the team felt strongly about the decision.

In a sport dominated by data, it would be interesting for someone to do an analysis of a DRS gap being 0.2mm high on one side!

What is so interesting, however, is that by putting Hamilton to the back of the grid for the Sprint qualifying race, both he and the team channeled their anger into something positive. It gave them more motivation, a real determination to treat the Sprint like the first part of the Grand Prix, with Sunday’s race completing their strategy.

As a driver you know the best way to achieve success is to channel your energy into speed. There is no point in getting emotional and over-driving. It is so much better to say ‘right, I am going to dig even deeper.’

While Bottas did a perfect job in the Sprint by taking the lead from Verstappen, Hamilton’s performance was so impressive to watch. He overtook four cars at the start and in just half an hour worked his way up to fifth. It showed everyone just how strong he would be on Sunday.

After Verstappen got to the jump on Bottas into Turn 1, the pace of the Red Bulls never looked likely to keep Mercedes behind. Hamilton had to start 10th of course, due to a five-place engine penalty, but he was up to fourth quickly, while Bottas moved over and gave him a clean run at the Red Bulls.

Sergio Perez did a brilliant job defending against Hamilton, but the battle with Verstappen was always going to be different.

Verstappen is at the top of his career, leading the World Championship and determined to keep Hamilton behind. What happened at Turn 4 on lap 48 was an example of how hard Verstappen is prepared to push. Keeping the steering wheel open is an easy way to intimidate a rival, but it can also lead to a collision. In that case you never know what might happen.

I am not sure that intimidating Hamilton will work. He likes a challenge. It gives him extra focus!

I was team-mate to Ayrton Senna and a rival to Michael Schumacher, two drivers who sometimes used aggressive tactics. There is a famous photograph of me talking to Schumacher after the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in 2000, explaining to him why I was unhappy about some of his tactics. I love hard racing, but the racing needs to happen on the track.

I was happy to see Race Control let both Verstappen and Hamilton continue. Both cars left the track, and they rejoined in the same order with no damage done. Again, like with the disqualification, I am sure it gave Hamilton increased motivation. When Schumacher tried to put me off the track in Spa, it made me absolutely determined to make the overtake – which is the one everyone remembers.

With three races to go I think we will see more excellent racing. The right way to win the Championship is to race hard but fair, with brilliant overtaking and the victory being decided by the chequered flag. This is such a good World Championship I do not want accidents, penalties and stewards meetings to determine the final result!

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