Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 20.5° Track 49.5° Humidity 62% Wind 1.6 m/s
Bright and sunny, with huge puffy clouds bouncing throughout the firmament, the preamble to the Brasilian Grand Prix saw the track radiating heat, asphalt temperatures approaching 50°C as the start of the race approached. Pirelli once again saying that a one stopper was the way to go, with the Soft being followed by the Medium although the 2 stopper (2 Softs and a Medium) was rated as just about as fast, and with the higher temps it might well be the way to go for Ferrari especially. The high temps could also see the Hard tyre come into play, especially in the midfield, but given the lack of running at this temperature the propect for a strategically interesting race have gone up considerably.
The question for Mercedes will be do they use both drivers to put Verstappen in a bind strategically, either with an early undercut or rocking long after the predicted pit window, or do they cover off Vettel? As always, the start will be crucial but Brasil has a habit of chucking up surprises, and with Toto on vacation, perhaps it will be Mercedes on the defensive this time round.
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Verstappen and into the first turn it was Hamilton round the outside into turn 1 and taking the position from Vettel. Vettel, having not given up pressed the issue into turn 2 and as Lewis was forced to defend, Max was off to the races. Further back Leclerc made good on his promise and was very aggro off the line, rocking by Norris with a lovely battle and then taking it round Giovinazzi. By the second lap, he was already into the points and looking at Magnussen as his next challenge.
At the front, Mercedes was already thinking that Verstappen was on a two stop strategy such was his pace, nearly 2.5 seconds up on the Mercedes of Hamilton. Albon, meanwhile, seemed to be taking his time but by the end of lap 5 he was nearly inside DRS on Bottas and that battle seemed to be shaping up quite nicely.
At the back of the field, Sainz was getting busy, McLaren having fitted him with some Softs to better slice through the midfield and he was doing exactly that with relish. P14 by lap 7 and by the notoriously difficult Perez with Ricciardo just up the road and well within his DRS.
The following lap Magnussen, who was dropping down the field like a stone, had contact with Ricciardo who had chucked it up the inside into turn 4. Magnussen went off and to the back of the field, whilst the front wing of Ricciardo was thoroughly disarranged, and he was forced to pit. On replay, it looked that Ricky Danny had locked up and understeered into the side of Magnussen, but the stewards wrote it off as a racing incident, at least for the moment.
This was a nice distraction, during which Leclerc continued his forward progress and to a large cheer from the crowd, he rocked past Gasly easily, which put him into the top 6 and just 16 seconds back of Verstappen, just within his pit window and virtually identical laptimes.
Still running in P9, Grosjean was leading a fairly large train, mainly because of the fight that was occurring directly behind him, between Giovinazzi and Norris. AS Giovinazzi gradually prevailed, his gap was slowly being whittled down as the opening of the two stop pit window was just 3 laps away as lap 15 went into the books. The stewards having had a look, decided that Ricciardo deserved a 5 second penalty, making guessing the stewards’ verdicts almost as good as a guessing a random number generator.
The commentariat was quick with universal ridicule for the continuing lack of standards. Lap 18 saw Perez in to start the dominoes falling on the 2 stop in the midfield. He emerged into clear air P17 and about 9 seconds back of Magnussen. Leclerc had closed up to Albon a bit, under 2 seconds and at the front Vettel was gradually falling away, 5 seconds back of Hamilton whilst Hamilton was just 2 seconds back of Verstappen.
With 4 seconds between Albon and Bottas, an undercut for Red Bull for P4 was not unthinkable, and were that to occur, that would free Leclerc to make some more progress. But it was Mercedes first to pull that trick as they pitted Hamilton on lap 21 to undercut Verstappen with a set of Softs. On the radio, given laptimes, he replied “Don’t miss this shot”. No pressure then and completely committed to the two stop it would appear. He was out in P5 behind Leclerc and immediately purpling the first sector. Further back, on the following lap, Sainz rocked by Stroll and Red Bull brought Verstappen in for some Softs as well. It all went to plan until he got to the end of the pitlane, when Williams flat out released Kubica directly into his path, and it was out behind the Mercedes he came.
But it wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows for the Mercedes driver, as he had fetched up behind Leclerc who was not making life easy for him, resulting in his battery being drained as Verstappen was clawing all over his gearbox.
As Max rather quickly jumped the Ferrari as they rounded the final turn and headed for the finish line, Verstappen with DRS Hamilton made a big defensive move to the inside, but it was nothing doing and the Red Bull was easily by and away, taking the virtual race lead away from Mercedes.
Lap 25 Albon was in for a stop and no surprise, out on the Mediums as Verstappen continued to track down Bottas. Lap 26 Vettel was in and onto the Medium tyre and the following lap Bottas answered the call, covering the Ferrari driver, but on a set of Hards. This put Verstappen back in the lead, and he was followed at 2 seconds by Hamilton, with Vettel 12 seconds back on a different strategy.
Leclerc continued until lap 30 and he was out on the Hard, copying Bottas, the end of the race clearly the goal. Hamilton continued to be seriously unhappy on the radio with the team’s comms regarding Verstappen leaving him defenseless, though in all fairness, there was little that was going to be different aside from foreknowledge. Williams got dinged for an unsafe release with Kubica and by lap 33 Verstappen had added a full second to his advantage, as the Mercedes, as has been the case all season, was a bit marginal on cooling.
The situation continued to deteriorate for Mercedes as Hamilton’s tyres were simply not lasting as well as Verstappen’s but his current pit window on lap 36 would put him out behind Albon in all likelihood. Difficult choices for the Silver Arrows loomed as it was Leclerc who was actually putting in the fastest laps at the moment.
In the midfield, with the first round of stops now completed, it was Gasly that was maintaining supremacy as best of the rest as Macca had waited to the latest possible moment before chucking both their drivers onto the Hards to run to the end with the biggest possible tyre advantage for a late run on their rivals.
Lap 41 and the Hards were clearly not working for Bottas, and that was being complicated by the fact that the wind was not only picking up, but shifting about and all of the top teams’ radio were full of comments by the drivers referencing that topic. AS Bottas demonstrated that the Hards were not the way forward based on his pace, now nearly 10 seconds back, Hamilton continued to complain that the Mediums were not lasting, putting Mercedes in a bit of a quandary.
Nonetheless, in came Valterri lap 43 to prevent the undercut and Mercedes sent him out on the Medium tyres. At the front, Vettel was beginning to look VERY interesting, as he was now just 12 seconds back of Verstappen as Hamilton pointed out he was as close as he was going to get and what exactly was the team waiting for. Apparently they were just waiting to annoy him, as he was brought in lap 44 and was back out in the midst of a lot of midfield traffic with another set of Mediums.
Verstappen covered him off and was out on the Mediums, about 1.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 6.5 seconds back of Vettel, with 25 laps to go. Half a second gone on the first lap as behind, Bottas, was now having a serious go at Leclerc. But the Ferrari was not going quietly and it was another lap in the dirty hot air for the Finn, the Ferrari retaining enough of an advantage on the straight bits that even with DRS, the Mercedes was unable to get the job done.
Happy wreaking destruction on the strategy of Mercedes, Ferrari decided to hold Leclerc out for the time being. AS lap 50 rolled into view, Verstappen had continued to close down Vettel and with 21 laps left he was just about in the DRS. Behind, Bottas had a good go into turn 2 and wound up crossing himself up and letting his prey get away.
With Verstappen firmly planted in his wing mirrors, Ferrari thought discretion being the better part of valor, brought Vettel in for a set of Softs, and a good run to the end of the race. 21 seconds, 20 laps and off he went as Bottas was now beginning to get critical on temps. Lap 52 and Albon was in for some Soft tyres as Red Bull sniffed an opportunity and out he went, just 5 seconds back of Bottas.
But the laps the Mercedes spent behind the Ferrari were beginning to take a toll and small plume of blue smoke erupted from the rear of his car and within a lap and a half his race was done, and he pulled over with terminal damage to the engine. This brought out local double waved yellows, and Verstappen was on the radio complaining that Hamilton failed to slow enough as he was now within a second.
Not that it mattered as the Racing Gods decided a safety car was the way to go and lap 55 Hamilton was told to do the opposite to Verstappen. Red Bull rolled the dice and brought Max in for a set of Softs to the end and dutifully Hamilton stayed out. Leclerc was in as well and Hamilton was begging for more power like Captain Kirk and he was told to preselect Strat 5 as that was all they had “at the moment”…
Being on reasonably used Mediums, the next order of business was to get the Safety Car to go fast enough to keep them up to temperature and he was on the radio to try and achieve exactly that result. Behind, Vettel was also somewhat concerned that Leclerc had been given new tyres whilst he hadn’t and hoo boy that was going to be fun during the debrief. Lap 58 and the field well on its way to unlapping itself, the end of the Safety Car period in sight and it was suddenly pick up sticks for the strategists as they awaited the lapped cars catching the back of the pack.
End of lap 59 and the Safety Car was in, with Hamilton full of doubt on the radio and Verstappen being told he’d already done this once. OOOH Hamilton slowed to a crawl and then floored it as they came up the hill and around to the start finish. Down the straight they rocketed and this time it was around the outside went the Red Bull as behind, it was Albon jumping both of the Ferraris whilst they distracted each other. Hamilton tried a desperate maneuver into Turn 4 to regain the lead, one that Verstappen remorselessly shut down, forcing him to back out. Behind, Albon kept Vettel at bay and was off in chase of Hamilton, with his fresh tyres now being all the everything.
Sainz, by staying out, had made it temporarily into 7th, but with old tyres it was going to be a long defense for the McLaren driver with 8 laps left. An engine problem for Grosjean saw off HAAS last, best hope for some points.
By lap 65 Albon had crawled into contention with Hamilton, but behind, Vettel had not given up and down the straight into turn 1 Vettel had a serious go and Albon was having none of it, going to the apex and forcing the Ferrari to back off. This rolled the boulder down the hill as Leclerc had the speed on Vettel with his new tyres and it was suddenly a case of Vettel trying to defend from Leclerc as the Monegasque took full advantage of DRS down the start finish straight.
Into turn 1 Leclerc got it done with an amazing dive, going from outside to inside and taking the lead into the Senna esses. But Vettel was in no mood to play, and his tyres were not that far gone and he kept it planted on Leclerc’s gearbox, gaining DRS down the straight to turn 4.He took to the outside as he closed down his teammate, who kept it planted in the middle of the track as he rocked by. But as the turn approached, he moved back to the center and the resulting contact broke Lelcerc’s suspension and sent him off with a puncture, destroying Ferrari’s day. This brought the Safety Car out, and Mercedes decided to gamble and brought Hamilton in for fresh tyres and on lap 67 the running order was Verstappen, Albon, Gasly, Hamilton and Sainz. Mental.
Stroll meanwhile had suffered a right front suspension failure and had pulled his car over, adding to the length of the Safety Car stint, still running strong on lap 68. Sainz for McLaren was keeping them updated on debris as Macca was desperate to extend the length of the Safety Car having left him out on a one stopper to maintain track position, but there was nothing to it and the announcement went out that the Safety Car would be in at the end of lap 69.
A two lap stint then and Versappen waited until just about the Start line before he dropped the hammer, and then he was away. Hamilton all over Albon, a little lock up by Albon into turn 1 not helping him any and down the hill the Mercedes stayed close. Albon was able to maintain a gap though and into the twisty 2nd sector they went, Albon on course for his first podium and then, into turn 10, he went wide for the traditional racing line. This sniff of an opportunity prompted Hamilton to have a peek up the inside and as Albon swung back to finish the corner there was contact, which tipped Albon into a half spin and sent Hamilton off to the inside. This promoted Gasly to second and into the last lap it was Hamilton with damage to his front wing chasing Gasly. The damage for Albon was worse as he was forced to wait until most of the pack was by before he could get going again. Hamilton chased valiantly but Gasly kept his head and into the final turn it was a drag race to the line. As Verstappen crossed the line the Mercedes and Toro Rosso were side by side and by the merest of a tenth, Gasly rocked it home in P2 as the Albon/Hamilton contretemps was being investigated by the stewards.
Amazing race by Red Bull, and massive win for Honda as well as Verstappen. Tragic for Albon, who was ever so close to his official blooding as a member of the sharp end, but you’d have to have a heart of cement to not feel good for Gasly, taking second after being kicked off the senior team was an astonishing story of redemption. Though one might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Sainz going from 20th to 4th on a one stop, the only one in the entire field, was also worth a shout.
A banner day for Alfa as well, with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi rounding out the top 6. Norris in P7 made it double points for Macca, and Kvyat in P10 gave the same to Toro Rosso. This left the every wily Perez sneaking into P9 for Racing Point as the final points holder, although the stewards were hard at work, looking into use of DRS on lap 53 under double waved yellows, as well as the Hamilton/Albon collision, which left the possibility open that there might yet be a McLaren on the podium.
Of course, Ferrari led the way in the sads department, and the argument as to whether it was strategy or lack of driver management that caused their disastrous own goal being one for late nights in the pub, but as to the proximal cause, the re-emergence of the Vettel that hearkens back to the incident at Istanbul Park would decidedly be it, his move on Leclerc destroying a quite likely podium for Ferrari.
The real agony is going to be at HAAS, after a difficult day, with Magnussen just on the outside looking in on the points. Perhaps the evening race at Abu Dhabi will give them the tiniest bit of redemption, sorely needed after the grueling season they’ve had.
Next week Honda’s board meet to decide whether to continue their participation in F1, and one would think today’s results might be a bit of a finger on the scale in terms of continuation. Regardless, everyone gets one last chance to get a result and there will be more than a whiff of desperation as the cars hit the track for the last time in just 2 weeks. And after today’s podium, Toro Rosso is just 6 points back of Renault for 5th in the Constructors and for best of the rest, Gasly is now 3 points up on Sainz so even though the top step is already spoken for, there’s still plenty left to play for, including that best of all prizes, glory….. and a bit of late breaking news, Hamilton hit with a 5 second penalty for causing a collision, and barring the results of the Sainz investigation for DRS under double waved yellows, Sainz and McLaren with their first podium in several forevers……
And remember to play nice in the comments!!