The Brazilian GP should be the season closer in my opinion even though it’s not the best tourism location to promote the sport. It’s got an amazing layout with incredible racing history and often produces memorable race weekends, especially if it rains. The 2019 Brazilian GP weekend seemed promising with a wet start to the Friday practise sessions but it was predicted to be a dry Sunday.
Still, the wet conditions saw both Red Bulls go for a spin with Alex Albon ending his day with a broken front suspension. Before the crash, he did set the fastest time of the session which set the tone for the weekend – Red Bull’s dominance.
In qualifying, Max Verstappen topped the list in every session and claimed his second F1 pole position. He would be starting alongside Sebastian Vettel who was just a few hundredths of a second faster than Lewis Hamilton. While Charles Leclerc was fourth fastest in qualifying, he had a 10-place grid penalty for using an extra power unit so he started P14. This allowed fifth-fastest Valtteri Bottas to start on the second row and ahead of Albon. Pierre Gasly was able to qualify best of the rest just pipping Romain Grosjean while Kevin Magnussen was 10th fastest. Kimi Raikkonen was splitting the two Haas cars in the time charts and Leclerc’s penalty allowed Lando Norris to start on the fifth row. Carlos Sainz had an issue with his MCL34 and didn’t get to set a time in qualifying, starting from the pit lane instead.
On Sunday, when the lights went out, Verstappen had a great start off the line while Hamilton got up to speed quicker than Vettel. The Mercedes driver went around the outside of Turn 1 and got up into P2 with the second Silver Arrow bearing down on the Ferrari. Leclerc was looking to make ground and was able to make up a few places on the opening lap. The Ferrari driver tried to bully his way past McLaren’s Lando Norris but the rookie fought till the final corner after which it was an easy overtake for the quicker Italian racecar to move up to P11. Norris and Daniel Ricciardo also enjoyed an early battle behind the Monegasque.
Verstappen had opened up a gap on Hamilton followed by Vettel with Bottas and Albon a bit further back. Mercedes made the first move and pitted Lewis after 20 laps for a second (albeit slightly used) set of the soft compound tyre. Red Bull pitted Max the very next lap and the crew managed to put on a fresh set of four soft tyres in record time – 1.82 seconds. Literally, that is the new world record for the fastest race pit stop in F1. Check it out here:
However, this monumental team effort was not allowed to bear fruit as the Williams team released Robert Kubica straight into Max’s path at the pit exit. Even though Max was able to avoid contact, the incident had cost him valuable time that his pit crew had earned him as he rejoined the race behind Lewis. At this point, Vettel was leading the race with Hamilton and Verstappen behind Leclerc who had made his way to P4. On the fresher tyres, both leading drivers were able to make short work of getting past Leclerc who was on ageing medium tyres. Just as they made it past Charles onto the start-finish straight on Lap 23, Max had the DRS advantage and made a dashing move to overtake Hamilton down the inside of Turn 1. The Red Bull was once again in front of the Mercedes and effectively back in the lead.
Albon pitted after 24 laps and opted for the medium tyre while Ferrari pitted Vettel the next lap with the same tyre choice. Bottas pitted the lap after that opting for the hard tyre instead likely aiming for a single stop strategy. Leclerc was the last of the front runners to pit, on Lap 30, to switch to a set of hard compound tyres as well.
Both the front runners were on a two-stop strategy with the soft tyres but it was the Brit who seemed to be struggling more than the Dutch driver. Surprisingly, Bottas pitted before them both, switching his hard tyres for a set of medium tyres instead. Mercedes tried the undercut yet again, pitting Hamilton on Lap 44 for a set of medium tyres. Red Bull responded by pitting Verstappen the next lap, pulled off another 1.9 second stop and with no Williams in the way, he’s out ahead of Lewis. Vettel is leading the race but not for long. Both Max and Lewis zip past him and the Ferrari comes into the pits on Lap 50 for a set of used soft tyres. Albon pits on the next lap to switch to soft tyres again.
The next big moment came on Lap 52. Bottas battling Leclerc for P4 and must have over-exerted the engine as it began to spew out white smoke after the back straight. The Finn tried to pull it over near an easy exit road but to no avail, as the stewards deployed the Safety Car on Lap 54 to retrieve the broken down W08. The pit games are open and this time Red Bull take the initiative, pitting Max right away onto a set of used soft tyres for the final stint of 17 laps. Mercedes go for the opposite strat and leave Hamilton out on track on the relatively fresh medium tyres. Ferrari follows suit, pitting Leclerc onto a set of fresh soft tyres which brings him out on track behind Albon. Hamilton leads the pack under the SC.
The racing resumes at the start of Lap 60 and Hamilton is not able to get the jump on Verstappen. The No.33 gets into the slipstream of the No.44, lines up alongside for Turn 1, sticks to the outside which gets Max the inside line into Turn 2 and moves back into the lead. Max Verstappen is magical around this circuit and this time at the helm of the RB34 he is unbeatable. It was an absolutely brilliant move!
Behind the leaders, Albon got a good run on Charles at the restart and was also able to use the slipstream to catch up and get past around the outside of Turn 1. Leclerc tried to close the door but it was too late and instead opened the door for Vettel to pass him too, down the inside of Turn 2. Seb used his momentum to catch up on Albon too but the Red Bull rookie was able to fend him off.
A few laps on, Leclerc was quicker on his fresher tyres and caught up with Vettel. At the start of Lap 66, he dove down the inside of his teammate into Turn 1 but Vettel was able to stick behind the youngster’s slipstream. The German driver got DRS advantage down the back straight and was on the right-most line as Charles moved to defend the inside line. Then, disaster. For no logical reason whatsoever, Vettel decides to try and shut the door on his teammate and ends up making contact – his rear left tyre with Leclerc’s front right tyre. At peak straight-line speeds! Charles’ punctured tyre and breaks itself off at that pace, going straight off the track while Vettel’s rear-left is punctured too. The ripped up rubber strands shred into his barge board and force him to stop at the side of the track a little further ahead. That about sums up the Ferrari duo’s relationship this season I think. You can see the full incident in this clip here:
As the SC gets called out again, Hamilton dives into the pits for a set of soft tyres for the last couple of laps. He only loses two places with his stop, rejoining the pack in P4 behind Gasly with Red Bull running one and two with Verstappen in front. Lewis may not get to have a final go at Max but he gets two laps to reclaim P2 as the racing resumes at the start of Lap 70. The Merc gets past the Toro Rosso quickly but is held up behind the Red Bull of Albon.
Alex goes for a wider entry into Turn 10, door wide open for Lewis to dive in and he does. But the rookie cuts in and Hamilton ends up spinning him around by bumping into his rear right tyre. The Merc’s front wing is slightly damaged and it stutters for a moment as if unsure of what just happened. But Lewis gets back on the pace just as Pierre Gasly comes past and up into P2. Albon has to wait for the bunched up field to pass before rejoining the race at the back. The rookie’s chance at a podium in his debut season in F1 taken away in just one corner on the penultimate lap. He finished the race in P14.
Hamilton’s going to get a penalty for that one but he’s still in P3 and behind a Toro Rosso. He uses the Merc’s advantage through the corners to catch up but Gasly drives a brilliant defensive line while Verstappen has already secured his win. As the two cars come out of the final corner, we get one of the best F1 drag races to the finish in recent years – Lewis down the inside line and Gasly to the right of him. It’s neck and neck. I could almost feel how hard the Frenchman was slamming his throttle to the floor, sinking lower into the cockpit even. He makes it to the chequered flag, the Toro Rosso’s front wing ahead of the Mercedes.
Gasly bags his first ever podium result in F1, in only his second season and that too in a Toro Rosso. His joyous outburst over the team radio was illegible but still understandable. Check out the epic moment in this clip here:
But the 2019 Brazilian GP was claimed by another incredible young talent – Max Verstappen. This circuit has been the best location for his talents since he moved up to Formula 1. His masterful drive in the wet in 2016 where he managed to finish P3 is still one of his best performances to date. He was poised to win at Brazil last year as well but was thwarted by his impatience and an idiot of that season called Esteban Ocon as they collided with just a few laps left. Max still finished P2 then but this time, he finally did it and did so in dominating fashion. Verstappen took the top step of the podium at Interlagos, the home track of legends like Artyon Senna and Reubens Barrichello.
Hamilton may have crossed the line in P3 and stood on the podium for the celebrations but he knew he won’t get to keep it. He was handed a 5-second time penalty for his incident with Albon and then classified P7.
That meant the final podium spot went to McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. This was the Spaniard’s first-ever F1 podium result too and it seems just like his racing, the TV viewers around the world didn’t get to enjoy that moment either. What makes this podium that much more special is that he started the race in last place. He was also the only driver to complete the race on a single-stop strategy, starting on a fresh set of soft tyres before switching to medium tyres on Lap 30 for a 42 lap stint.
Like me, you may have missed Sainz’s action on TV, you can watch him make his way up the order (like a smoooth operatoor) here(look out for his fantastic overtake on Perez in the early laps):
But this was a big deal not just for Sainz but for the whole team too. It was McLaren’s first F1 podium result since the 2014 Australian GP, i.e., first podium trophy in 2,072 days. Sainz’s podium and Norris’ P8 finish also secured McLaren’s fourth place in the constructor’s championship – best of the rest and ahead of their engine supplier, Renault.
It was one of the best results for Alfa Romeo as Kimi finished P4 and Antonio Giovinazzi who started 12th secured an F1 career-best result in P5. Ricciardo managed to finish P6 after starting 11th on the grid, despite a 5-second stop-and-go penalty for colliding with Magnussen on Lap 8. He even needed a new front wing after that incident which is when he put on a set of fresh soft tyres for an impressive 32 lap stint. Daniel served his penalty on his second pit stop. The Aussie was somewhere at the back of the pack but the two safety cars in the final 16 laps allowed him to make his way back up the grid. An impressive result, given the circumstances. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg was also having a rough race. He started 13th on the grid and crossed the line in P12 but was handed a 5-second time penalty for overtaking under the SC and classified P15.
Racing Point lost out to their Constructor’s Championship rivals Alfa Romeo as Sergio Perez finished P9 after starting 15th while Lance Stroll retired earlier on in the race after 66 laps. The final points position went to Daniil Kvyat who stated 16th on the grid. It was another disappointing Sunday for Haas with no points as Magnussen finished P11 and Grosjean finished P13. The Williams driver’s scored no points and Robert Kubica finished last in P16 while George Russell crossed the line in P12.
The final race of the season is coming up at Abu Dhabi and all the titles have been wrapped up already. I know it won’t be anywhere near as exciting as this Brazilian GP was and there’s not much left to root for, except maybe a Bottas win. Stay tuned for more updates and don’t forget to subscribe to The Auto Loons blog and follow us on Twitter too (@autoloons).
Final race standings
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:33:14.678
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +6.077
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +8.896
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +9.452
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +10.201
- D. Ricciardo Renault +10.541
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +11.139
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +11.204
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +11.529
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +11.931
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +12.732
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +13.599
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +14.247
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +14.927
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +18.059
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF
- S. Vettel Ferrari DNF
- C. Leclerc Ferrari DNF
- V. Bottas Mercedes DNF
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