Lewis Hamilton reaped the benefits of a change in strategy from McLaren to secure a podium finish in the Brazilian GP as the Briton saw countryman Jenson Button take away his F1 title.
Hamilton had been knocked out in Q1 after McLaren opted to run a dry set-up despite the wet weather that hit Interlagos, which meant he was forced to start the race from 18th on the grid.
Surviving a spin for team-mate Heikki Kovalainen at the Senna S on the opening lap, Hamilton was then called into the pits to make his first stop when the Safety Car was deployed following the accident involving Adrian Sutil and Jarno Trulli – putting him on a different strategy to the rest of the field and meaning he had got his stint on softer tyres out of the way as quickly as possible.
Hamilton then started to make his way up the order when the racing resumed and the change in strategy also allowed the outgoing champion to make up further places as others dived in to make their stops.
Running fourth in the closing stages, Hamilton was able to get ahead of the Brawn of Rubens Barrichello with eight laps to go to secure his third straight podium finish and lift McLaren ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' championship.
“It was an incredible race for me and I'm so happy,” he said. “Starting at the back was a completely different feeling from last year. This time, I wasn't involved in the championship outcome, but I'm incredibly happy for Jenson. I've been down to congratulate him, his team and his family.
“As for my race, I was so far behind on the grid that I didn't expect to finish on the podium, but I fought so hard and kept pushing like crazy throughout the whole race. It feels like a win when you come through fighting for positions all the time with good overtaking manoeuvres at the end. I just kept pushing and did one qualifying lap after another, which was very hard.
“The team kept telling me to keep going at that speed and our strategy was excellent. This was a great team effort.”
Hamilton's performance also drew praise from team boss Martin Whitmarsh, who said McLaren would now do all it could to secure third in the standings in the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“Passing the champion's baton to Jenson is of course Lewis, who performed as brilliantly as ever today,” he said. “We altered his strategy as a result of the deployment of the Safety Car, after which he drove a fantastic race from 17th on the grid to third at the flag. Had he not been stuck in traffic for a few key periods of the race, he may have finished even higher up the field. Certainly, his race pace was very strong.
“Now, we travel to Abu Dhabi, where we intend to defend our new one-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors' world championship that Lewis's third place earned us today.”