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Can Hamilton finally break his Brazilian hoodoo?

11 Nov 2015

Having idolised Ayrton Senna growing up, Lewis Hamilton always dreamt of victory on his hero’s home turf in Brazil. And yet for all his success, for one reason or another the three-time world champion has never won at Interlagos - in fact, he’s recorded just two podium finishes from eight Grands Prix at the venue. Of the current tracks he’s raced at three or more times, that makes it Hamilton’s least happy hunting ground. Ahead of this year’s race we take a look at what’s gone wrong for the Briton in the past, and look to why 2015 might finally be his year…
2007 - Gearbox gremlins end title bid

Hamilton made his Interlagos bow in the final race of 2007, amid a tense three-way fight for the world title with McLaren team mate (and bitter rival) Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Bidding to become the first driver in F1 history to win the drivers’ crown in his debut season, the then 22-year-old - who held a four-point lead heading into the deciding round - qualified a strong second, but his hopes quickly unravelled in the race. Firstly, Hamilton endured a nightmare opening lap, dropping back to eighth after a minor off, then, having worked his way back to sixth he suffered an unusual gearbox glitch which left him temporarily stranded in neutral. He eventually got going again, but 40s adrift at the rear of the field, it was all Hamilton could do to climb back to seventh - a result that allowed race winner Raikkonen to beat the rookie to the title by a single point.

2008 - Last-minute heroics save the day

Having sealed his first world title in the most dramatic of circumstances, Hamilton has extremely fond memories of the 2008 race at Interlagos, though in truth it was another tricky weekend from a performance point of view. The McLaren driver needed to finish no lower than fifth to guarantee him the drivers’ crown, and after qualifying fourth Hamilton was confident that his fuel strategy would stand him in good stead for achieving that goal. But as title rival Felipe Massa strode into a comfortable lead in the rain-afflicted race, Hamilton never looked comfortable, yo-yoing between fourth and sixth, and only securing the P5 he needed on the final lap, a couple of corners from home, when he overtook Timo Glock’s slick-shod Toyota. “This was one of the toughest races of my life, if not the toughest,” Hamilton said afterwards.

2009 - Qualifying woes mask true pace

After a dreadful start to the 2009 campaign, McLaren staged a dramatic second-half turnaround, with Hamilton taking wins in Hungary and Singapore. But his chances in the penultimate race in Brazil were seriously dented when, in what he would later describe as “one of the worst qualifying sessions I can remember”, he spun in wet conditions and was eliminated in Q1. The next day, Hamilton gave a glimpse of what could have been, climbing from 17th on the grid to third at the flag. “I fought so hard and kept pushing like crazy throughout the whole race,” he said. “It feels like a win when you come through fighting for positions all the time with good overtaking manoeuvres at the end.”

2010 - Stellar efforts overshadowed

For the third time in four years, Hamilton arrived in Brazil with one eye on the world title, but he’d leave knowing it would take a miracle to win a second crown at the season finale in Abu Dhabi. The main problem for the Briton this time wasn’t bad luck, merely McLaren’s lack of competitiveness compared to the Red Bulls and Ferraris. “I pushed as hard as I could on every lap today, but this was a tough race for me - I actually feel quite lucky to have finished where I did,” said Hamilton, who ended the race where he started, in fourth.

2011 - Never in with a shout

After winning the previous round in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton came back down to earth with a bump at the 2011 curtain closer in Brazil as he was out-qualified by team mate Jenson Button before retiring from the Red Bull-dominated race with gearbox problems. "Prior to that Lewis was improvising intelligently and never gave up," explained McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "Moreover, his typically combative approach played a significant part in the afternoon’s entertainment, and surely thrilled TV viewers worldwide.”

2012 - Bad luck strikes with victory in sight

In his swansong race for McLaren, it finally looked like everything was going to come good for Hamilton in Brazil. A flurry of late-season developments had pushed the MP4-27 back to the front of the pecking order, and in qualifying Hamilton duly claimed his seventh pole position of the year ahead of team mate Button. Things looked promising in the rain-hit race too, with Hamilton leading until lap 55 when, with weather conditions worsening, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg attempted to snatch the lead going into Turn 1, lost control and slewed into the unfortunate McLaren. His suspension badly damaged, Hamilton retired as Button went on to seal victory.

2013 - Coming-together wrecks race

In his first race for Mercedes in Brazil, Hamilton was never in a position to challenge for victory, but after hauling past team mate Nico Rosberg in the early stages he was on course for fourth place before a bizarre tangle with Valtteri Bottas’ lapped Williams. Approaching Turn 4, Hamilton clipped the rear-left of the Finn's FW35, which promptly spun into retirement as the Briton headed to the pits, first with a puncture and then to serve a drive-through penalty.  “I was having a good race until that point and a podium might have been possible as I was closing on Fernando [Alonso],” Hamilton explained after coming home in ninth.

2014 - Spin puts paid to victory chances

For the fourth time in eight years, Hamilton arrived in Brazil fighting tooth and nail for the world title, this time with Mercedes team mate Rosberg. A five-race winning streak had given the Briton a healthy 24-point advantage heading into the penultimate round, but with double points available at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton was desperate for victory at Interlagos, and seemed destined to snatch it from polesitter Rosberg in the pit sequence until an uncharacteristic spin. "I think ultimately it cost the win," said Hamilton after trailing home 1.4s behind his team mate. "I was much quicker up until that point, and on that lap I had gone one second quicker as Nico pitted..."

Will 2015 be Hamilton’s year?

It’s hard to put a finger on why Hamilton has enjoyed less success at Interlagos than at other tracks. As detailed above, bad luck and uncompetitive machinery have both played their part, plus there’s a sense that the short, undulating track doesn’t suit the Briton quite as much as some others.

That said, this year Hamilton has arguably his best chance yet to break through in Brazil. Not only does he have the best car on the grid at his disposal, he enters the race without the pressure of a title fight hanging over him - two factors which have rarely aligned for him in the South American country.

“It's amazing to think that it took Ayrton eight attempts to win this race and it's one of the few I haven't yet won myself,” Hamilton says. “If I can change that this weekend it would be a salute to him and another highlight to add to this amazing year, so I'll be going all out to make that happen."


Top image: © LAT Photographic