The Brazilian Grand Prix promised much from the off with rain and a closely matched top three teams – Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull and Ferrari – adding to the potential. In qualifying, it was Lewis Hamilton who eventually took pole position in the Mercedes, with Sebastian Vettel lining up alongside him on the front row. The second Mercedes and Ferrari, with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen at the wheel, made it an all-Finnish row two.
Max Verstappen, starting in 5th position, was about to put in a quite sensational drive as he lined up on row three to await the lights. Note the two Ferrari’s are the only top 10 runners on the soft tyre, the rest of the front runners on the supersoft. Furthermore, the forecast or not forecast – depending upon who you spoke to – rain did not appear for the start, which was a nice clean one.
There is no doubt that when Verstappen is in the frame, he is utterly sensational as a racing driver, and the opening laps at Interlagos reaffirmed this. Hamilton got away cleanly at the lights to take the lead, his team mate Bottas made his way into second place, and the two Ferrari’s settled in behind. It was soon clear Verstappen was not hanging around as, on lap 3, he makes easy meat of Raikkonen’s Ferrari, and just as neatly takes Vettel on the next lap. Vettel, a little unsettled by this, ran wide and let his team mate through.
Asa Verstappen closed in quickly on Bottas, a little further back his team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who had taken a grid penalty for a gearbox change, was also making superb progress, as if further proof was needed that the Red Bull’s were on song in race trim. Verstappen swept pass Bottas on lap 9 and set about chasing down the leader, Hamilton. The leading Mercedes was visibly having a hard time of it, an observation passed on to Verstappen by his team, and the young Dutchman knew this could be his race.
Pit Stop Shuffle
With Verstappen turning in fastest laps as a matter of course, Bottas was the first to pit on lap 18, with Hamilton following him in the next lap. Verstappen continued to lap fast in an attempt to take the gap out for when his stop was due. As this section of the race unfolded, Hamilton told his team he was of the belief they had lost ground to Verstappen by pitting too early. When the Red Bull did pit, from the lead, on lap 35, Verstappen emerged in third. Ricciardo – yet to stop – now led, with Hamilton second.
Ricciardo finally went for the pits on lap 38, with Verstappen a mere second – sometimes less – behind Hamilton who resumed the lead. There was absolutely no doubt the Red Bull had the legs of the Mercedes at this point. Sure enough, Verstappen pulled off a confident pass for the lead at turn one on lap 40. The race, all things being well, was his for the taking. Except it was not to be.
Back Marker Disaster
On lap 44 Verstappen encountered Esteban Ocon, running in a lowly position in the Force India, and duly passed him, but the young Frenchman believed he had a faster car and attempted to pass back at turn two. They touched, both spun, and Hamilton swept by into a fortuitous lead that he would keep to the end. Raikkonen, meanwhile, had not only been waved past his team mate Vettel, but proceeded to get by Bottas. This was vintage Kimi, the old man of the field undergoing something of a purple patch right now as he nears the end of his Ferrari days.
Mercedes turned the settings down on Hamilton’s car as they feared a problem with the engine, but the World Champion took the flag just 1.4 seconds ahead of an irate and very frustrated Verstappen, who knew this was his race. Raikkonen finished a fine third despite a late surge from Ricciardo – this was a great drive from a low grid position by the Australian, who leaves Red Bull for Renault at the close of the season – with Bottas and Vettel next in the running order.
Charles Leclerc, the man who will take Raikkonen’s place at Ferrari next season, brought the Sauber home in 7th position, with the Haas pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen next and the final point went to Sergio Perez for Force India.
This was Hamilton’s 72nd grand prix victory, and it sealed the Constructor’s Championship for Mercedes. Verstappen, at the weighing station, got himself into an altercation with Ocon, in which he pushed his rival and called him a rather insulting name. This is the action of a young man who was extremely frustrated, but accidents happen. Next time, perhaps he will be a little more wary of back markers when he’s in the lead.