The teams’ post race reports nicely summed up a typical day in Interlagos. Words and phrases such as ‘turbulent, thrilling, insane, disappointing, worst possible, sorry for the whole team, it’s just the best day of my life right now, it was all my fault’. And so on.
It was also an unusual day in that a Mercedes was the only non-contact retirement with Valtteri Bottas, who did score fastest lap before his motor used up its oil and expired. And a day when a Toro Rosso Honda out-dragged Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes up the long hill to the chequered flag despite Hamilton having fresher tyres.
This short and old-school track, first used in this layout in 1990 but built to a longer, even more scary form with its first championship race in 1973, this natural bowl has over the decades delivered some memorable and outstanding races, and not a few scary moments often driven by changeable weather conditions.
Sunday’s track, though, was bone dry and clean bar some discarded carbon F1 jewellery and scorched dismantled Pirellis from time to time. One man and his team had it all seemingly easily under control, just as the same Max Verstappen and Red Bull did in the appalling conditions in Hockenheim earlier this year.
Watch as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battle for the lead in the Brazilian GP
Nothing seemed to faze them; the start, tyre management and strategy, super-fast pit stops just at the right moment, retaking Hamilton for the lead, and the safety car restarts. When Max has the right tools and mindset he can be impossible to beat. Something I normally say about Lewis, and it was great to see the pair of them in true combat.
Lewis got the jump on Vettel into the first corner to seize second to pole man Verstappen, but whatever Mercedes did thereafter they would not really trouble the young Dutchman out front. Hamilton went for soft tyres again on lap 20 ensuring two stops. Then mediums on 43, then staying out when Verstappen pitted under a Safety Car for Bottas’ parked car on lap 53, then curiously pitting for new tyres on lap 66 (of 71) when the track had three stranded cars and a lot of debris for the second Safety Car period.
This would put Lewis behind Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly on the final restart and two laps. Alex took the normal high line into turn 10, the ‘Duck’s Bill’. This left a very wide door open on his blind right hand side which was too much of an invitation to a frustrated Hamilton on brand new tyres with little chance to use them before the flag.
Lewis Hamilton hits Alex Albon, taking him out of the Brazilian GP and allowing Pierre Gasly through to finish second at the Interlagos circuit
Was Hamilton far enough alongside to have earned the right some space? It was clear Albon would have to sweep into the apex at some point. He may have fared better covering the middle of the track but this would have compromised him a little through the next three corners.
Lewis was impatient, and totally aligned with the man who instantly 100 per cent blamed himself for the contact. It would cost him a podium and move him back to seventh with a post-race five-second penalty.
Hamilton apologises for Albon shunt
We have seen incidents earlier in the year under the ‘let them race’ philosophy where no penalty was applied. But willingly his trophy and champagne bottle was handed to McLaren and Carlos Sainz who later performed their own podium ceremony. Great sporting spirit all around. Love it.
With Verstappen simply peerless out front and Albon pointing the wrong way, the way was open for Red Bull main team reject Pierre Gasly to put in the sensational performance of his career so far to deny a charging Hamilton and take an ecstatic second place. Don’t you just love the irony of sport?
There were so many good news stories around, balanced by the disappointment of those who realised they had missed the opportunity when unusually the three grandee teams were mostly stepping on their own tails.
Sainz reacts to Brazil podium
As I mentioned a star of the show was Sainz who started 20th and last after technical issues in qualifying. Stopping only once for tyres on lap 29, he coaxed his car and tyres past many rivals and just kept making progress. The two Safety Car periods generated both threat and opportunity given his tyres were well used ‘mediums compound’ which would not be great at warming back up. His podium is in the record books but he did not have satisfaction of being up there to experience the true satisfaction in front of a global audience.
Did we need the first Safety Car at all? Bottas went to some genuine trouble to turn around the inside barrier of turn 4 and parked it close to a service road. The car was well out the firing line of the race cars, and actually impossible to hit. But when marshals emerged along with a recovery vehicle around the car, either a virtual or actual Safety Car was inevitable. The full Safety Car collects a the whole pack up of course and leaves periods of empty track so the marshals can move freely and quickly with less risk.
Once the painful wait is over while lapped runners are released past the leaders and attempt to catch back up, the Safety Car peels in a long way up the hill and whoever is leading assumes control. Subsequent speed is the lead driver’s prerogative but he must not change his pace by accelerating and braking hard because this causes shunts in the concertina behind.
As Max would do later, Lewis decided to bring the pack up to the line extremely slowly so as not to drag his rivals along in his slipstream. This caused some great overtaking action into T1. In fact, such a regulation that the pack must stay slow and tight to a start area zone has been considered for implementation, but until now some drivers have declared it unsafe. It’s certainly adds some extra excitement and could well be implemented now.
By concentrating the field back into a line, full Safety Cars often generate another safety car. On this occasion it was because the two Ferrari drivers made contact. I must say the amount of damage and a double retirement for apparently minimal contact between the two works Ferraris was a very high price to pay.
The Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel collide with each other taking both out of the Brazilian Grand Prix
Charles Leclerc lunged Sebastian Vettel into turn one. In turn two he had a little wheel spin and rear instability and Vettel come back at him, so he left a solid car’s width on the right. I have no doubt the contact was because Seb gently veered to the left mid straight. The gloves are off now that both championships are won, but that was all pretty unnecessary.
Ferrari summon Vettel, Leclerc over crash
Respect though to the Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and newly re-signed Antonio Giovinazzi who ultimately finished fourth and fifth. And Daniel Ricciardo who recovered from a five-second penalty for a clumsy overtake on Kevin Magnussen to finish sixth for Renault.
As Honda review their participation in F1 beyond 2020 it will hopefully help a great deal to have a first and second place trophy in the middle of the board table.
One to go for this season in Abu Dhabi, talk to you from there.