Max Verstappen Wins Epic Race at Interlagos
F1 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix was held at the legendary track of Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Its location between two artificial lakes lent it its Interlagos nickname, which is also the name of the neighborhood. This was the 48th running of the Brazilian GP, and 47th running of the F1 world championship round.
Red Bull showed unbeatable speed right from Friday, and they went on to dominate the whole weekend until the chequered flag. Mercedes had no driver on the podium, while Ferrari just destroyed their race by themselves. It was Honda's first win at Interlagos since 1991. The final podium was classified as Honda, Honda and Renault powered cars.
Thursday Pre-Race Preparations
Weather will always be a factor at Interlagos. The outlook for the weekend was a mix, with forecasts of rain for Friday and Saturday, and dry and cloudy weather for Sunday.
Charles Leclerc took new PU (Power Unit) components and subsequently received a ten-place grid drop on Sunday's race – a crucial race for him to score big and finish the drivers' championship in third place.
Some decisive midfield battles needed to take place: a fight between McLaren and Renault for the 4th position, Renault fight to retain 5th position from Toro Rosso, and a fight for Carlos Sainz to take the 6th position in the drivers' championship from Alexander Albon.
FP1 at Sao Paulo started with a damp track, which meant less than usual running by teams, but they did go out for a flurry of laps in the last 15 minutes. Alexander Albon went quickest for Red Bull using intermediate tyres. FP2 was dry, and Ferrari took the first two positions followed by Max Verstappen.
Qualifying simulation data pointed out that the Prancing Horse will be the team to beat. The Red cars were gaining a considerable chunk of time on rivals on the home straight, nearly 0.7 sec. Despite being the second fastest, the Red Bull looked to have the raw pace to challenge for the pole position. Mercedes came in as third fastest as was expected by the team. McLaren again took charge of the midfield fight, with decent showing on the short run conducted.
Race pace numbers crunched, and no surprises there – Mercedes was the team to beat, but Red Bull was very close on race pace with only 0.2sec/lap slower. Ferrari was farther by two tenths behind. However, Red Bull tended to gain time from Friday to Sunday, so that looked too close for Mercedes to relax. Racing Point led the midfield pack with long-run pace some 1.3sec/lap slower than the Silver Arrows. Renault, McLaren, Toro Rosso, and Alfa Romeo were all very tightly bunched, separated by just 0.3sec/lap.
Mercedes in the hands of Lewis Hamilton posted the benchmark time in slightly warmer conditions compared to yesterday. Red Bull again looked electric, and with hot conditions predicted for qualifying, odds were in favour of Red Bull as compared to Ferrari and Mercedes.
Qualifying at the Brazilian GP track is always very tightly contested, and a few hundreds can be a difference for progressing from one session to another. Interlagos is a short track, anticlockwise, and has a mixture of long-duration corners, so drivers don't make silly mistakes. Honda power propelled Max Verstappen to the fastest time on soft tyres. Carlos Sainz incurred engine issue on the out lap and failed to set a time leading to the 20th position on the grid for Sunday's race. Apart from him, the two Williams, Lance Stroll, and Daniil Kvyat, also were unable to progress.
Q2 was no different Max Verstappen again quickest with a time of 1:07.503, only three tenths behind track time. Charles Leclerc used medium tyres to progress to Q3, as he will take a grid penalty for extra PU components. Mercedes did not show any pole position pace and were 0.5 sec slower than Red Bull. Lando Norris, the two Renaults, Sergio Perez, and Antonio Giovinazzi could not go any further.
Verstappen was in supreme touch and took the provisional pole at the end of the first run, even after making a mistake. Sebastian Vettel slotted into second. Second time around, Verstappen kept the car under control and improved his time and took pole position with a time of 1:07.508. Vettel stayed 2nd, while Hamilton could only manage 3rd. Leclerc could not extract everything out of the car and finished in P4. Previous two Grands Prix winner Valterri Bottas finished a disappointing 5th, Albon 6th, Pierre Gasly 7th, Romain Grosjean 8th, Kimi 9th and Kevin Magnussen 10th.
The car was perfect, said Max Verstappen, describing how they adjusted for the changing track temperature throughout qualifying. The Dutchman said that the car flew straightaway from Q1, delighting him and his team with the pole position.
Max Verstappen should have won 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix had Esteban Ocon not taken him out at Senna Esses. But this year there was no stopping the Dutchman. Verstappen made a perfect getaway from P1 slot and led into the first few sequences of corners. Behind, Hamilton aggressively took away the second place from Vettel and slotted behind Verstappen. Farther down, Lando Norris had a great scrap with fast-starting Leclerc, who later passed him on the home straight.
On Lap 21, Mercedes called Hamilton in to try to undercut on Max, who pitted next lap to take new softs emerged behind Lewis. Verstappen hunted down Hamilton and made a sweet overtaking manoeuvre on Lewis up the hill, and down into Turn 1. Lewis came in again on Lap 44 to take medium compound tyres, while Max did the same the next lap, and emerged ahead of Mercedes, thanks to a record 1.9-sec pit stop compared to Lewis's 3.3 sec.
Lap 51 marked the start of an epic last 20 laps. Valterri Bottas after having an average race was stuck behind Leclerc, when suddenly a puff of smoke from the engine signalled engine failure, and therefore the end of his race. Safety Car was deployed on Lap 52 to recover his Mercedes. Verstappen dived in to take new softs, while Lewis stayed out, which turned out to be a miscalculation by Mercedes.
The Monegasque, after starting 14th, passed Vettel on Lap 66, but Sebastian tried a DRS move on him and made slight contact with Leclerc resulting in punctures to both of them and subsequently crashing out of the race. With both red cars out, the second Safety Car was out due to debris on the track, and Mercedes again made a silly mistake by pitting Lewis and dropping him to 4th. On the restart, Verstappen disappeared into the lead, and Hamilton overtook Gasly for 3rd and then tangled with Albon, spinning him around, dropping him from 2nd to 14th. Cruel end of the race, but Pierre Gasly powered past Lewis and finished 0.062 sec ahead at the finish line. Hamilton received 5 second time penalty post-race investigation, promoting Carlos Sainz to 3rd place. This was the first podium for Sainz on his 101st Grand Prix, and the first podium for McLaren since 2014 Australian GP.
Pierre Gasly took the first podium of his F1 career, with an average podium age of 23 years, eight months and 23 days, a new record in F1 history beating the previous record of Monza 2008.
Verstappen won his 3rd win of 2019 season, and the 8th of his career. Alfa Romeos took a brilliant 4th and 5th, Daniel Ricciardo 6th, Hamilton 7th, Lando Norris 8th, Sergio Perez 9th, and Daniil Kvyat 10th.
Verstappen exclaimed, “What a race!” and indeed what a thriller it was. Though the Dutchman clearly controlled the race from the start, he recounted that his team had to keep pushing all the time with strategies because Lewis was very quick. He made two heart-stopping moves past Hamilton, which he said, “brought us into first, and from then, I could control the race with the tyres I had.” – Max Verstappen
We now move to the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi for the season finale. Coming up next!