Lewis Hamilton was punished as Sao Paulo Grand Prix stewards criticised the seven-time world champion for undoing his seatbelt to grab a flag after his stunning victory.

Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows was asked by race chiefs to explain the incident that saw Hamilton stop to collect a Brazilian flag from a marshal at the end of a remarkable race win.

In reaching for the flag, stewards noticed Hamilton had loosened his seatbelt, which goes against the rules that stipulate drivers must always be "properly restrained in their seat by safety belts... at all times during a competition when it is mobile on a circuit, pit lane, special stage or competition course".

Hamilton was hit with an immediate €5,000 fine, with a further €20,000 punishment suspended until the end of next year. His race result was unaffected.

The stewards said in their ruling: "The driver of car 44, Lewis Hamilton, undid his seat belts on the in-lap at the end of the race.

"While the stewards are sympathetic to the desire to celebrate, it is fundamentally unsafe to undo the seatbelts while the car is in motion. Slow speeds in these cars are very fast for an unrestrained occupant.

"Further, Formula One drivers set the example for junior categories. It is critical that junior category drivers learn the importance of using all the safety devices of the car at all times."

The British driver scored a superb victory for Mercedes to close the gap on championship leader Max Verstappen to 14 points with three races remaining in the season.

Hamilton started from 10th on the grid, after two pre-race penalties hampered his preparation, but he gained eight places in the early stages before overtaking Verstappen with 12 laps left to run.

Lewis Hamilton acknowledged his stunning fightback victory at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix felt as good as his first in Formula One.

The Mercedes driver saw his Friday qualifying session result ruled out due to a DRS infringement, meaning he started the sprint race in last, but went from 20th to fifth, only for a five-place grid penalty to mean he started 10th on Sunday.

However, the Briton delivered a memorable win, gaining eight places early on and overtaking Max Verstappen with 12 laps remaining.

The reigning world champion cut Verstappen's lead in the battle for the title to 14 points with three races to go.

"It feels like a first as I haven't had a win for a long time," Hamilton said.

"I never thought we would close the gap like we did today when things just seemed to be going against us.

"It just shows you should never give up whatever you are facing. You need to keep pushing, keep tumbling and never ever stop fighting. That's what I have done this weekend.

"The team did an amazing job and Valtteri Bottas did a great job to [finish third and] get as many points as possible.

"I just pushed as fast as I could, but from last on the grid and another five-place penalty this is my hardest weekend I have had [this season]."

Hamilton has now won 17 races in the Americas (seven in Canada, six in the United States, two in Brazil and two in Mexico).

It means he overtakes the legendary Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most F1 victories across the four nations.

He dedicated the victory to his father Anthony and to the Brazilian fans who supported him at Interlagos.

He added: "My dad reminded me of when I was in F3 in Bahrain around 2004, when I started last and finished first - so this one is for my dad.

"I am so grateful for the incredible support I have had this weekend. I have not had this much support since Silverstone, and since then it has been really difficult.

"To hear these fans throughout the weekend has been humbling. I have been saying 'obrigado Brasil' because I am so grateful."

Next up is the Qatar Grand Prix and Red Bull driver Verstappen vowed to finish the campaign strongly as he eyes his first F1 title.

He said: "We tried everything we could today, it was a good battle but at the end we missed a little pace. But it was good fun.

"We still have a decent lead so today was a bit of damage limitation. I'm confident, in the coming races we will come back stronger."

Lewis Hamilton claimed a crucial win in his bid to clinch the Formula One championship with a magnificent performance at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Verstappen had extended his lead in the title race on Saturday when he finished second behind Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the sprint qualifying race.

Hamilton had his Friday qualifying session result ruled out due to a DRS infringement, meaning he started the sprint race in last, but went from 20th to fifth, only for a five-place grid penalty to mean he started 10th on Sunday.

Yet the reigning world champion delivered a memorable win, gaining eight places within the early exchanges before, at the third attempt, he overtook Verstappen with 12 laps remaining.

Verstappen and Sergio Perez had nipped ahead to make it a Red Bull one-two early on, with Bottas unable to keep control of the race, but Hamilton ensured it was Mercedes' weekend.

The safety car was deployed early on, with Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll colliding, while Lando Norris sustained a puncture on the first lap and was forced to pit immediately.

Hamilton had made a brilliant start, however, and his charge up the track saw him catch leader Verstappen on the 48th lap.

Verstappen did not open up space at turn four, forcing Hamilton wide, with both cars going off the track before straightening up with the Red Bull retaining its lead.

To Mercedes' frustration, the incident was noted by stewards, but not investigated. Hamilton tried again 10 laps later, yet again found his path blocked by Verstappen, who weaved on the straight.

It only delayed the inevitable, however, as Hamilton made it third time lucky when he finally got beyond his title rival ahead of turn four on lap 59.

Verstappen's frustration was compounded by a penalty for his weaving a lap previous, though Perez did at least collect the fastest lap to take a point away from Hamilton, with Bottas rounding off the podium.

DID VERSTAPPEN GET LUCKY?

It was an almighty tussle between the title rivals on turn four at lap 48, with Verstappen just managing to hold onto his advantage.

Hamilton, who labelled the incident "crazy", was sure there had been an infringement, but with it unclear as to whether Verstappen had driven his counterpart off the track, the FIA decided not to investigate, much to Mercedes' chagrin.

HISTORY FOR HAMILTON

Hamilton has now won 17 races in the Americas (seven in Canada, six in the United States, two in Brazil and two in Mexico).

It means he overtakes the legendary Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most F1 victories across the four nations.

Lewis Hamilton has reason for optimism in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix despite starting from the 10th position. 

The Mercedes driver roared up 15 places over just 24 laps in Saturday's sprint, finishing fifth after starting 20th following a DRS infringement in qualifying Friday. 

A five-place grid penalty for taking a new engine will put him further behind front-row starters Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen in the main event but Hamilton's speed from the back Saturday should stand as a warning to his rivals. 

"It's not over yet," Hamilton said over the radio after the sprint. 

He later told reporters: "Really it was just the mental state of mind that I went into, which was just never give up, keep pushing, still I rise, you can do this.

"Because it was really difficult to swallow the result that we got [the penalty] but we won’t let that hold us back.

"Now I’ve got to start focusing on tomorrow. I’ll give it everything. It’s a much longer race tomorrow so hopefully we can get further." 

Hamilton can also take solace in Verstappen finishing second to Bottas in the sprint after starting first following Hamilton's penalty. 

While Bottas went with soft tyres, Verstappen opted for medium and had a gear sync issue that also hung him up, a double blow to the Red Bull driver's hopes. 

"All-in-all that didn’t work out for me," Verstappen said of his Saturday setup. "Then of course, I dropped to third on the first lap but then after that, I mean the pace was fine but you can’t overtake around here.

"The tyres just very quickly overheat and you are stuck – especially when the cars are closely matched on pace: there’s not much you can do in the sprint without a pit stop. So, I just sat behind basically."

With significantly hotter conditions expected Sunday, Verstappen was not sure how that might change the setup. 

"Yeah, let’s see," he said. "It’s going to be quite a bit warmer. I mean, today was also quite a late race, so hopefully that will be a bit better for us – but it’s a bit difficult to say at the moment."

Verstappen is 21 points clear of Hamilton in the standings as he bids to end Mercedes' seven-year drivers' championship monopoly and deny the Briton an eighth world title.

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead but was pipped to pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix by Valtteri Bottas, who won Saturday's sprint qualifying race. 

Red Bull driver Verstappen started in first after Lewis Hamilton had his result from Friday's qualifying session – in which he went fastest – ruled out due to a DRS infringement but was denied the maximum three points by Bottas. 

The Dutchman now holds a 21-point advantage over reigning champion Hamilton, who recovered to fifth after being forced to start from the back of the grid. 

However, a five-place grid penalty for taking a new engine means Hamilton will get away from 10th on Sunday. 

Bottas took the lead into turn one as Verstappen complained of a gear sync issue and the championship leader was down to third after going wide at turn four. 

Verstappen regained second from Carlos Sainz on lap four and he gradually ate into Bottas' lead before letting his tyres cool ahead of a late push.

However, Bottas was able to keep Verstappen out of DRS range to cling on for pole, with Sainz holding off Sergio Perez to take third place.

Bottas' performance provides a slight reprieve for Hamilton, who showed he will still be a factor on Sunday by getting from 20th to fifth in the space of 24 laps. 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.170s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +18.723s
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +19.787s
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +20.872s*
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +22.558s
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +25.056s
8. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +34.158s
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +34.632s
10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +34.867s

*Hamilton has a five-place grid penalty

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 

Drivers 

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 314.5 
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 293.5 
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 188 
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 165 
5. Lando Norris (McLaren) 150 

Constructors 

1. Mercedes 481.5 
2. Red Bull 479.5 
3. Ferrari 269.5 
4. McLaren 255 
5. Alpine 106 

Lewis Hamilton has been disqualified from qualifying in Sao Paulo due to a rear wing infringement and Max Verstappen has been fined €50,000 for touching and examining his title rival's car in a restricted area.

The 36-year-old's Mercedes "failed the test designed to check the requirements of the last paragraph of Art. 3.6.3 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations."

Hamilton must now start from the back of Saturday's sprint qualifying race in a major blow to his chances of winning the championship, with Verstappen taking pole.

Verstappen is 19 points clear of Hamilton in the standings as he bids to end Mercedes' seven-year drivers' championship monopoly and deny the Briton an eighth world title.

Hamilton was also forced to take a five-place grid penalty ahead of Sunday's Grand Prix as his car was fitted with a fifth engine due to issues with Mercedes' power units.

Verstappen received a sanction of his own, being hit with a hefty fine after a "breach of Article 2.5.1 of the FIA International Sporting Code."

A fan video captured the 24-year-old touching the rear wing of Hamilton's car in the Parc Ferme after qualifying on Friday.

Lewis Hamilton could face a second penalty ahead of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix due to a possible technical infringement following qualifying, while Max Verstappen is also at risk of a sanction.

Hamilton has already taken a five-place grid penalty for Sunday's grand prix after receiving a new engine, although he is first set to get the opportunity to add points in the sprint race after qualifying fastest on Friday.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer discovered an issue with the Mercedes man's DRS that could deal a further blow to Hamilton's title hopes.

"The uppermost rear wing element adjustable positions were checked on car number 44 for compliance with Article 3.6.3 of the 2021 Formula One Technical Regulations," Bauer said in his report. 

"The requirement for the minimum distance was fulfilled, but the requirements for the maximum of 85mm, when the DRS system is deployed and tested in accordance with TD/011-19, were not fulfilled."

The rear wing assembly in question has been removed and impounded, and the issue has been referred to the stewards, who delayed a decision until Saturday after calling in a Mercedes representative late on Friday.

"The stewards have adjourned the hearing relating to Document 18 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Sao Paulo Grand Prix as they await further evidence," a spokesperson said.

The stewards have also called in Verstappen and a Red Bull representative over an "alleged breach of Article 2.5.1 of the FIA International Sporting Code", which states: "In the Parc Ferme, only the officials assigned may enter. No operation, checking, tuning or repair is allowed unless authorised by the same officials or by the applicable regulations."

Verstappen was seen approaching Hamilton's car in Parc Ferme and a fan video appeared to indicate he touched the rear wing.

Hamilton and Verstappen must now await the decisions of the stewards, which could prove significant in their pursuit of both victory in Brazil and the title.

Lewis Hamilton made the most of taking a new engine by securing pole position for Saturday's sprint race with a dominant performance in qualifying at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix on Friday. 

Taking a new internal combustion engine (ICE) means Hamilton has a five-place grid penalty hanging over him for the main event on Sunday, but he did his best to limit the potential damage by going almost half a second quicker than anyone else. 

Championship leader Max Verstappen will join Hamilton on the front row on Saturday, denying Mercedes a lockout in the third and final sprint race of the season by narrowly outperforming Valtteri Bottas. 

Verstappen could consequently see his 19-point advantage in the drivers' standings reduced before race day, but he was anticipating a strong display from the seven-time champion. 

"When they take a new engine, naturally they have a bit more power, so it's not a big shock," said Verstappen. 

"I'm just happy to be second. That's a good position to start from. Sometimes you have to be realistic and there wasn't more in it. 

"There are not that many points to gain in the sprint race so I just aim to have a good first lap and see from there." 

It was the first time Hamilton, who went fastest in all three sessions, had won a qualifying session since Hungary in July and he claimed it felt like a maiden pole position. 

"I'm so happy to be back here in Brazil. That's the first pole in a long time," he said. "I feel really grateful. It's crazy because it's been a while so it feels like the first one. 

"A big, big thank you to all the team because they've been working flat out. It's been so hard coming from the last race for everyone. 

"Today was a really good qualifying session. I'm really happy with it. We've got the penalty but we'll give it everything we've got." 

Sergio Perez took fourth behind Bottas, with Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc trailing Pierre Gasly but beating out the McLaren pair of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:07.934
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.438s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.535s
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.549s
5. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.843s
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.892s
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +1.026s
8. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.046s
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.105s
10. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.179s

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