Lewis Hamilton in a tight corner as heads for the chaos of Brazil

British champion needs a big weekend to reel in the brilliance of Max Verstappen

IF ever a single corner was a microcosm of the entire season it was Turn 1 in Mexico City.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton – having surprised even themselves by annexing the front row – thundered up to the first corner as Max Verstappen drew alongside.

As the moment to brake approached the Mercedes duo were virtually tripping over each other trying to decide what to do next.

Should Bottas let Hamilton go ahead? Or wait until later? A moment’s hesitation was all their Red Bull rival needed. The Dutchman sluiced up the outside, braked latest, chopped through the racing line and grabbed the lead.

Both Hamilton and Red Bull boss Christian Horner were open-mouthed in admiration, believing he had missed his braking point.

And it’s a long time since I’ve seen a move of such bravado. It was Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher. It was, well, Lewis Hamilton.

It was reminiscent of Turn 1 of the 2007 Australian Grand Prix when a rookie announced himself to the world by dishing out a racing lesson on the first corner of his very first Grand Prix.

He braked startlingly late and raced around the outside of a whole host of veteran F1 racers.

He put the world on notice there and then and, of course, has gone on to live up to every ounce of the expectation by winning seven world titles.

Nine times out of 10 the three abreast scenario ends badly for the driver on the outside.

Even if Bottas had ‘only’ hit Hamilton, the momentum towards the outside would surely have made Verstappen collateral damage.

Afterwards Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was clearly furious Bottas had given up his position to the Dutchman so easily.

And he has a fair point but it’s difficult to blame Bottas who was, presumably, hoping the other two would collide in their desperation and emerge the benefactor.

Poor Bottas. He has become less than a teammate, again a servant to Hamilton’s ambitions. He’s done his bit, surely, having already helped his teammate to four world titles.

Verstappen’s skill and courage were what made the difference on that day – and are showing every sign of making the difference in this championship. He appears to be getting stronger while Hamilton and Mercedes are finding it difficult to keep up.

The Dutchman’s precision is relentless, only failing to finish on the podium four times; three times involved in Mercedes crashes and in Azebaijan the victim of a puncture.

The champion left Mexico knowing his best chance lies on the new tracks of Qatar and Saudi Arabia but, first, Brazil on Sunday.

The chaotic, dangerous, stunning, passionate F1-mad metropolis of 28 million people that live in Sao Paulo.

Hamilton has a complex relationship with Interlagos, home to Ayrton Senna, the racer he idolises so much. The great Brazilian is buried a handful of miles away beneath a touching square bronze plaque inscribed with the words ‘Never separate me from the love of God’.

Hamilton was just nine when his hero died at Imola in 1994. To hide his pain and tears from his father Anthony, who had given him the news while they were karting in England, he hid behind a nearby car and cried.

epa07160012 British driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes celebrates on the podium after the Brazilian Grand Prix, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 11 November 2018. Hamilton won the Brazilian Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the Formula One World Championship, which took place at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo. Hamilton finished ahead of Dutch Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Finnish Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.  EPA/Sebastiao Moreira

Of course Hamilton won his first world title at Sao Paulo in only his second F1 season but the natural speed so evident in those early years seems, to my mind, to be tangled up in his passion to do as well on the circuit and city that echoes of Senna.

Overdriving is the curse of racers the world over.

It took him six years to collar pole and 10 to win the race he treasures above most except Silverstone and Monaco. He triumphed at 21 other tracks before this one. He’d won at Canada and Hungary five times, China and Silverstone four. Austin’s layout is not dissimilar and he had won there on four occasions too before adding Brazil in 2016 as win number 52.

It has a particularly, long uphill pit straight and a very technical infield which favours his rivals and is, unusually, run counter-clockwise. The unpredictable climate can deliver chaotic races and this year it hosts the season’s final sprint race to cut set-up time further and increase the jeopardy.

But Hamilton can take comfort from the fact that Mexico may have been won in an instant on that first corner but with the points difference just 19 an entire championship could still be undone just as quickly. Especially in Brazil.

Updated: November 10th 2021, 7:16 AM
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