In the weekend just gone, we find ourselves in the sunny city of São Paulo, Brazil, for one of the last races of the season.
We start, as we always do, in Q1. This time, taking place on a Friday due to the third and final Sprint Race being held on the Saturday. With just one Practice Session occurring earlier in the day, there was potential for a few surprises due to the teams’ lack of preparation. Despite this possibility, both Haas’ of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, ended the session in P20 and P19 respectively. Joining them, was the Williams pair of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, placing P18 and P17 respectively. The final driver to be knocked out in Q1 was the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll (P16), making it back to back eliminations for the Canadian. However, the most surprising thing of the session was seeing the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton taking P1 by over half a second.
Moving into Q2, we saw both the Alpha Romero’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi ending the session in P14 and P15, just behind Yuki Tsunoda in his Alpha Tauri in P13. The final two spots in Q2 were taken by the other Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel in P12 and the first Alpine of Esteban Ocon in P11. Again, Hamilton was the pacesetter, taking P1, with four tenths separating himself and his Championship rival, Max Verstappen.
In Q3, the first to top the time sheets, was again, Sir Lewis Hamilton, by four tenths of a second, with Verstappen in P2, closely followed by the other Merc of Valterri Bottas in P3, and the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez in P4. As we look back towards the tail end of the top ten, we find the Alpine of Fernando Alonso in P10, around a tenth behind the first McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo in P9, who was also around a tenth of a second behind teammate Lando Norris in P8. Both the Ferrari’s came next, placing P6 and P7 as Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc respectively. In P5, was the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly, as the final laps of the session finished, Perez remained P4, despite improving upon his first time. With P3 being taken by Bottas, who was unable to make it a back to back Mercedes front row lockout, with both Championship contenders set to line up side by side for the Sprint Race.
Moving onto Saturday, there was much overnight drama. First, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was found to have been infringing upon the FIA’s rear wing specifications, which disqualified him from qualifying, therefore relegating him to the back of the grid.
This means that Max would inherit Pole for the Sprint Race while his Championship rival starts from the back of the grid, with just 24 laps to make it up the grid before taking another ICE unit for the race on Sunday. Along with this, Verstappen was issued a €50,000 fine after he lifted and examined Hamilton’s rear wing after qualifying while under Parc Ferme conditions.
A crazy Sprint Race ensued, which saw Bottas, on the soft compound tyres jump Verstappen off the start, who was on the medium tyres, and hold position until the finish line. Sainz also had a quick start on the softs, getting up to P2 by the end of the first lap before falling to P3, ahead of Perez who also was on the mediums. This gave the Fin an additional three championship points, along with Verstappen claiming two, and Sainz taking the final point on offer.
Despite this, all eyes were on Hamilton, as starting from the back of the grid, the Brit had all but guaranteed a good show. These expectations were blown out of the water with a truly astonishing drive, climbing from the back, all the way up to P5. This included highlights such as the Mercedes passing both Haas’ and Williams’ cars by the first corner, but the pick of the bunch was made on Norris for P5, making a lunge down the inside of turn one from seemingly nowhere. Hamilton wasn’t the only driver to make some sensational overtakes, as the McLaren driver made a fantastic overtake on Leclerc on lap 9, able to pass him on the straight before turn four, selling the Ferrari man a beautiful faint towards the inside before cruising past him around the outside.
Despite his unbelievable climb up the order, Hamilton had to be pushed backwards again due to his grid penalty for taking on a fresh ICE unit, putting him P10 for the start of the race. Unlike the Sprint Race, the vast majority of drivers decided to start the race on the Mediums.
As the five lights go out and the race begins, Norris gets away brilliantly, pulling up long the outside of the Ferrari of Sainz. It appeared as though he had passed his former teammate, coming back across him, only to have his rear left tyre collide with Sainz’s front right, giving the McLaren a puncture before anyone had even reached the first corner. Ahead of this, Bottas got away well, but Verstappen, on the inside line, was able to get away even better, pulling up alongside the Mercedes, and squeezing him out as the two reach turn two. Perez also made a good start, getting past Sainz for P3. Bottas ends up going wide at turn four, conceding P2 to the Mexican, making it a perfect start for Red Bull, and a worrying one for Mercedes. Hamilton meanwhile, was able to climb to P8 off the start, and by the end of the lap, had climbed to P6, passing Gasly, by turn eight, and Vettel on the main straight.
By the time Norris makes it round to the pits, putting on fresh Hards, and returns to the track, already 1 minute behind the leader. It takes until lap three for Hamilton to climb up to his finishing position from the Sprint, picking off Sainz going into turn one, and on the next lap, he dispatches of Leclerc. Further back in the pack, Tsunoda makes a late dive down the inside of Stroll at turn one, making contact which ripped off the Alpha Tauri’s front wing, as well as taking off some of the Aston Martin’s bodywork. The young Japanese driver is then forced to pit for a new front wing and puts on some Hard tyres.
By lap five, Mercedes had ordered for the two drivers to swap, which releases Hamilton to chase after the Red Bull’s. The 5 second gap he needed to close would be completely erased, as the Safety Car is called out for the debris left from Tsunoda and Stroll. This triggers Russell to pit onto the Hards.
It takes until lap ten for the Safety Car to return to the pits, and for the racing to continue. Both Red Bulls are able to remain ahead of the charging Hamilton. On lap 11, Ricciardo is able to pass Ocon for P9, and further back, Schumacher tries to pass Raikkonen going into turn one. In doing this, he clips his front wing against the Alpha Romero’s front left tyre, which leaves his wing dragging under the car. This brings out the Virtual Safety Car (VSC), which allows Verstappen to remain over a second ahead of his teammate. During this, it is confirmed that Tsunoda is to receive a ten second time penalty for his earlier incident with the Aston Martin.
It takes Hamilton until lap 18 for him to find his way past Perez around the outside going into turn one. However, Perez is able to stick with the Mercedes, and is able to use DRS on the run to Turn 4 in order to remain ahead. Despite the hard defending, by turn one on the following lap, Hamilton is able to make the overtake stick on the Red Bull.
By lap 22, Ricciardo had picked off Vettel for P8, and on lap 24, Stroll pits for the Hard tyres. Gasly is next to pit on lap 26, returning to the track in P15. Hamilton pits the following lap onto the Hards, returning into P6, as Ricciardo and Sainz also pit. Verstappen responds by pitting on lap 28, coming out just one point six seconds ahead of Hamilton. This is followed by Perez pitting on lap 29, who emerges just behind Ricciardo.
On lap 30, Gasly is able to pass Norris for P10. The VSC is called out for the second time in order to clear some more debris which has fallen off Stroll’s car along the main straight. This allows Bottas to pit without losing much time, coming out ahead of Perez. It takes until just lap 32/71 for Hamilton to close the gap to Verstappen to 1 second, giving him DRS. On lap 35, Alonso pits onto the hard compound tyres.
On lap 41, Verstappen comes into the pits again, ensuring that Hamilton cannot get the undercut on him. Mercedes respond by pitting Bottas on the following lap, which triggers Red Bull to bring in Perez on lap 43. Hamilton comes in on lap 44. It takes until just lap 47 for Hamilton to attempt a move on Verstappen at turn four, however can’t get ahead, and on just the following lap at the same corner, the two Championship rivals go in side by side, with the Merc attempting the move around the outside, however, Verstappen pushes the Brit off track, with both of them going well off the tarmac, allowing the Dutchman to keep his lead. A contentious moment for sure, as the Red Bull driver is not penalised for the defence.
Stroll is the first retiree from the race on lap 50, with Ricciardo doing the same the following lap with a Power Unit problem. Gasly pits on lap 52 from P7. It takes until lap 59 for Hamilton to make another attempt to pass the Red Bull. This time, he is able to make the overtake along the straight before turn four, officially leading the race. By the next lap, Hamilton is clear of Verstappen by 2 seconds, while further back, Gasly has been able to pick off Ocon at turn four, and passes Alonso for P7 on the next lap, also at turn four.
On the penultimate lap (lap 70/71), Perez pits onto the Soft compound in an attempt to take the point for Fastest lap away from Hamilton. As Hamilton crosses the line for his 101st career victory in F1, Perez spoils his perfect performance by stealing the fastest lap, coming home P4, with the podium being filled by Verstappen (P2) and Bottas (P3). Both Ferrari’s came next in P5 and P6 (Leclerc and Sainz respectively), followed by Gasly (P7), and the Alpine’s of Ocon and Alonso (P8 and P9 respectively), with Norris rounding off the point paying positions in P10.
Overall, a very entertaining and controversial weekend, as the problems continue well into the week, with Mercedes requesting a Right to Review on the incident between Hamilton and Verstappen on lap 48 on Tuesday (November 16).
The driver of the weekend, undoubtedly, was Sir Lewis Hamilton following a fantastic lap for Pole Position, along with his miraculous charge through the field during the Sprint Race, as well as a phenomenally efficient race after serving a DQ and engine penalty. This result also reduces his gap to his Championship rival to just 18 points.
The loser of the weekend has to go to McLaren, following a strong Sprint Race which saw both cars in contention for a good points haul, all of which fell apart with an early puncture with Norris, and a retirement from Ricciardo. This sees Ferrari take a big step ahead of McLaren in the Constructor’s Championship, putting a gap of 31.5 points between themselves and the Papaya outfit.
Feature image credit: Eurosport