The 2016 Formula One title race will be decided on the final weekend of the season after Lewis Hamilton sealed a third straight victory at a rain-soaked Brazilian Grand Prix that took over three hours to complete. The reigning world champion had never tasted victory at the Interlagos Circuit in Sao Paulo in 10 previous attempts, but retained his concentration in treacherous weather amid several delays that included two red flags and five safety cars to triumph ahead of Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg, who was pipped to pole position yesterday by the tightest of margins, again crossed the line in second. The championship leader will take a 12-point advantage into the last race in Abu Dhabi on 27 November, meaning that Hamilton will need to win again and hope that his teammate finishes fourth or lower if he is to move clear of Sir Jackie Stewart and become the first British driver in F1 history to win four world titles. Rosberg just has to finish third to win his maiden crown and emulate father Keke, who achieved the same feat in 1982.
An ominous tone for the day was set when Haas driver Romain Grosjean crashed on his way to the grid. The race finally got going amid steady downpours after a 10-minute delay and the first six laps were conducted behind the safety car.
Max Verstappen took advantage of its departure by immediately snatching third place from Kimi Raikkonen, but the dangerous nature of the conditions was showcased when Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari SF16-H ended up facing the wrong way after aquaplaning and initially spinning off the track. Marcus Ericsson, running on intermediate tyres, then endured a heavy smash at turn 10 and his Sauber ended up blocking the pit entrance. Daniel Ricciardo was later handed a five-second time penalty for entering the pit lane during its subsequent closure.
That crash saw the safety car return for a brief period and proceedings were red flagged on lap 21 after Raikkonen veered into the outside wall when hurtling down the pit straight and came back across the track. Verstappen came scarily close to hitting his Ferrari, while Nico Hulkenberg inadvertently collected his front wing.
A brief restart brought little improvement and Great Britain's Jolyon Palmer, who has now retained his seat at Renault for 2017, suffered his fifth retirement of the season after hitting Daniil Kvyat before the red flags came out again - much to the frustration of an increasingly unhappy crowd.
With fears building over time-restrictions and the possibility of half points, the race finally resumed on lap 29 and Verstappen again looked impressive as he passed a sluggish Rosberg with an excellent manoeuvre on the outside of Senna S to move up to second. He then held that position by somehow managing to avoid hitting the pit straight wall after a spin as Hamilton set about gradually extending his lead.
Rosberg also nearly lost control and there was massive disappointment for Felipe Massa, who was left in tears after crashing out in his final home race before he retires from F1 at the end of the season. He walked back to the pit lane draped in a Brazilian flag and hugged his family in emotional scenes before being given a guard of honour by his own team as well as the pit crews of both Mercedes and Ferrari. Williams later revealed that the 35-year-old attended the medical centre as a precaution "following the sensor readings in his accident".
The safety car was deployed yet again and Verstappen dropped down to 16th before producing unquestionably the most remarkable drive of the day. Having already shown brilliant technique to fight his way back to fourth, the entertaining 19-year-old successfully chased down Sergio Perez to secure the seventh podium finish of his fledgling career.