The Formula 1 World Championship titles may be done and dusted for 2019, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise after a sensational Brazilian Grand Prix won by an imperious Max Verstappen.
The higher-altitude Interlagos circuit served to showcase the massive improvements that Red Bull Racing’s engine partner have made to their power unit in recent years, with the Japanese engine-builder taking a 1-2 finish – its first since the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka – with Verstappen leading home Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
Lewis Hamilton completed the podium, narrowly losing out in a drag race to the line against the French youngster, but was demoted to seventh place with a five-second time penalty for punting Verstappen’s teammate, Alexander Albon, into a spin. That instead meant the final step of the podium went to Carlos Sainz Jr. – who started from last place – who gave McLaren its first rostrum result in 118 Grands Prix.
The podium result alone should give a clear indication of just how unpredictable and exciting this 71-lap race was. On top of that, Valtteri Bottas suffered a rare mechanically-induced retirement in his Mercedes-AMG – a rare failure for the seemingly bulletproof Silver Arrows – and Ferrari once again imploded after Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc collided late in the race.
Fastest throughout qualifying, Verstappen won a hard-fought and brilliantly executed race where his skill, a superb package, and two perfectly-timed, lightning-quick pit stops all combined to hand him victory one year on from losing a win here when he was turfed out of the lead by Esteban Ocon.
This was the sort of flawless execution that underlines his credentials as a future World Champion. There was no hotheadedness, no driving errors. He had to twice overtake Hamilton on the track in high-pressure moments.
He and Hamilton looked set to run similar two-stop strategies (Soft/Soft/Medium) and although Verstappen converted pole into the race lead it was Hamilton who managed to be in front after their first round of pit stops. Verstappen immediately responded, breezing by Leclerc’s Ferrari and then immediately pouncing on Hamilton before the six-time World Champion could get his tyres up to temperature.
Bottas’ retirement with a smoky engine triggered a Safety Car interruption, forcing Red Bull Racing and Mercedes-AMG to gamble on making a third pit stop. The latter instructed Hamilton to do whatever Verstappen didn’t, and when the Dutch driver peeled into the pits for a third set of Soft Pirelli tyres, Hamilton inherited the lead.
His time in front was all too brief, and as soon as the race was restarted Verstappen scythed back in front once again.
Then came the collision between the Ferrari drivers. Leclerc had just overtaken Vettel into Turn 1, but the German tried to counter attack down the back straight. They raced side-by-side, with Vettel attempting to squeeze his Monégasque teammate. Predictably they touched – the contact broke Leclerc’s suspension and punctured Vettel’s left-rear tyre, leading to the instant retirement of both drivers.
Predictably they blamed each other. “Seb went round the outside but I left the space and then he squeezed me to the inside,” said Leclerc, while Vettel countered: “I didn’t have space on the right and I tried to pass.”
It was another chapter in the tragicomedy that is Ferrari’s 2019 campaign. The FIA Stewards ruled that neither driver deserved further sanction, although both have been summoned to Ferrari headquarters where both drivers will need to apologise to their team members and an examination will doubtless rule Leclerc the innocent party. How Ferrari leadership deals with this latest incident in the internecine war will be key to their 2020 campaign.
Their contact and the simultaneous retirement of Racing Point’s Lance Stroll triggered another Safety Car. This time, Mercedes-AMG rolled the dice and curiously called Hamilton in from second place for a third stop. That dropped him behind Albon, and when the race returned he would have just two laps to trying and make headway.
It was a rare strategic misstep by the Silver Arrows – technical director James Allison later describing the call as “just plain dumb” – and ultimately the call was the wrong one.
On the restart, Hamilton tried lunged up the inside of Albon at Bico de Pato. The Thai driver, on course for his first podium finish, left the door open but turned down on Hamilton and was spun down the field.
Hamilton dropped into third behind Gasly and it took the Frenchman’s best defensive driving to keep Hamilton at bay over the final lap. The pair had a drag race to the finish line, with the Honda-powered Toro Rosso winning out by a whisker.
Gasly was understandably ecstatic. Dropped mid-season by the Red Bull Racing team in a straight swap with Toro Rosso rookie Albon, he has regained his confidence and a superb drive from sixth on the grid gave the former GP2 Series champion his first podium finish.
The Italian team’s second podium finish of the season saw it move ahead of Racing Point into sixth in the Constructors’ Championship standings and just eight points behind fifth-placed Renault.
Hamilton’s celebrations on the rostrum were understandably muted. Admitting in the immediate post-race interviews that he was completely at fault for his contact with Albon, he seemed certain in the knowledge that a post-race penalty would come his way. A five-second time penalty duly followed, dropping him to seventh place.
That promoted McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. to the final step of the podium, giving the every-improving Woking squad its very first podium in the turbo-hybrid era. Sainz drove brilliantly from last on the grid, managing his tyre wear through a one-stop strategy and gamely holding his own against much faster cars at the final restart. With Lando Norris finishing eighth, the team has now secured fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.
Also moving up in the standings was Alfa Romeo, which earned its second double-points finish of the season and ended a four-race pointless streak. Kimi Räikkönen finished fourth ahead of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, with the pair finishing in the points on merit and pace to chalk up the team’s best result of the season. The Swiss-run outfit leaps ahead of the Haas F1 Team and now lies just 10 points behind Racing Point, which netted just two points for Sergio Pérez’s muted run to ninth.
Despite punting Kevin Magnussen into a spin early on and damaging his front wing, Daniel Ricciardo put his head down and finished sixth. Renault teammate Nico Hülkenberg threw away a possible points’ finish by overtaking behind the Safety Car and was classified fifteenth behind the unlucky Albon.
|FORMULA 1 HEINEKEN GRANDE PRÊMIO DO BRASIL 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (71 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||71||1:33:14.678||25|
|2.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||71||+ 6.077||18|
|3.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||71||+ 8.896||15|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||71||+ 9.492||12|
|5.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||71||+ 10.201||10|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||71||+ 10.541||8|
|7.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||71||+ 11.139||6|
|8.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||71||+ 11.204||4|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||71||+ 11.529||2|
|10.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||71||+ 11.931||1|
|11.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||71||+ 12.732|
|12.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||71||+ 13.599|
|13.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||71||+ 14.247|
|14.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB15||71||+ 14.927|
|15.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||71||+ 18.059|
|16.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||70||1 lap behind|
|17.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||65||Collision|
|18.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||65||Collision|
|19.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||65||Accident|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||51||Engine|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Valtteri Bottas posted the fastest lap of the race, however is not awarded an additional 1 championship point as he was not a points’ finisher.
- Lewis Hamilton – provisionally classified P3 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing a collision with Alexander Albon.
- Nico Hülkenberg – provisionally classified P12 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for overtaking under Safety Car conditions.
Images via Red Bull Content Pool and Sky Sports