Brazil is a very passionate country, and sport is often the outlet for this passion. Famous for football, and with the World Cup just around the corner, sport is well and truly top of the agenda. F1 is not fat behind football in the minds of the Brazilian sports fans, and what history they have. Emerson Fittipaldi won two World Championships in the 70s, and went on to win the Indy 500 and many other Indycar races in a long career. The late great Aryton Senna won three Championships before he was taken from us on that black day at Imola in 1994.
The F1 circuit in Sao Paulo is named after another Brazilian ace who tragically died in a plane crash just as his career in F1 was about to flourish – Carlos Pace. This famous old circuit has seen some great races over the years, non more so than the day when Lewis Hamilton won his first Championship, squeezing by Timo Glock on the long hill to the finish to take the Championship away from another local hero Filipe Massa, whose dominant drive that day in the rain looked to have sealed the Championship for Brazil.
With the championships already decided for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, this penultimate round still retained interest, and surprises! Rain often intervenes at this time of the year in Brazil, and with qualifying on the Friday for the grid for the third and final sprint race, the weather helped spring a real shock – Kevin Magnusson put his Haas on pole! With rain in the air, the Dane had dome well to get through to Q3, and his team sent him out right at the beginning of the session, fearing more rain. His lap was a good one, and as he finished, George Russell spun his Mercedes, which brought out a red flag. When the session restarted, the rain had well and truly arrived, and Magnusson was safely fastest!
The Sprint Race - 24 laps
Verstappen and Russell were second and third on the grid for what would be a 24 lap sprint to decide grid positions for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
Magnusson made a great start, and Russell tried to squeeze past Verstappen, but Max held him off. Further back the two Alpines tangled, much to the annoyance of Alonso, who made his feelings about his team mate known on the airwaves. For two glorious laps, a Haas lead the way, but it could not last, and first Verstappen, then Russell and others moved past – Magnusson eventually finishing in eighth place, but still smiling. By lap 12 Russell was right with Verstappen, and for the next two laps they ran pretty much side by side in a great display of aggressive but fair racing. The young Englishman eventually got the job done, and was away. He started on soft tyres, which seemed to give him an advantage over the medium shod Red Bull.
The battle had drawn Sainz and Hamilton up to the back of the Red Bull, and soon both got past, Sainz’s move was quite robust and left the Red Bull with some minor damage to its front wing. The Red Bull was simply not able to keep up with the Mercedes and Ferrari, eventually finishing fourth. Was it the tyres?
Russell got the job done, winning his first F1 race, if not a Grand Prix. Sainz finished second, but would have to start five places further back due to changing various engine parts – this elevated Hamilton to second – a Silver Arrows lock out at the front. Verstappen would start third with the second Red Bull of Perez fourth, ahead of Leclerc.
The big question now was going to be whether Verstappen would have an advantage by keeping two new sets of soft tyres back for the Grand Prix – would this enable him to get past the Mercedes cars?
The Grand Prix – 71 laps
The track temperature was several degrees higher on race day, which seemed to negate any advantage the soft tyre may have had. The two Mercedes made good starts, and held off Verstappen. Further back, Ricciardo spun Magnusson’s Haas round, and was himself collected by the spinning Haas, which put him into the barriers. An immediate safety car was deployed. The race restarted on lap 6, and immediately Verstappen and Hamilton clashed in the Senna Esses, blaming the other, but the stewards handed Max a five second penalty, served when he pitted for a new front wing – which put him down to 17th. Further round the lap, Norris and Leclerc clashed, which sent the Ferrari off, and back to the pits for repairs.
The race was looking like a two stop, Russell made his first stop on lap 25, handing the lead temporarily to Hamilton, who in turn stopped on lap 30, who lost track position to Sainz, who pitted seven laps later. Meanwhile Perez had the Red Bull up to second, but was been reeled in by Hamilton, the Mercedes cars were finally more than competitive with the Red Bulls and Ferraris. By lap 45 Hamilton was up to second, some 10 seconds behind his team mate.
The second stops went without drama, Russell maintaining his lead, Sainz back in second with Hamilton third. It all looked very straight forward now for George Russell. But then Norris pulled up in his McLaren, stopping on the edge of the circuit. A virtual safety car was called, but this was upgraded to a full safety car, leading to a spate of pit stops, including Sainz who stopped for soft tyres.
On lap 59 we were racing again, Russell handled the restart well, and strived hard to get out of DRS range from his looming team mate. Perez was struggling, Sainz retook him for third, and soon he was behind Leclerc and a rapid Alonso, who was really going well. Verstappen also took his team mate, the two Bulls now 6th and 7th.
Hamilton could not get close enough to Russell to deprive him of a brilliant first Grand Prix win, but was happy to be part of a wonderful 1-2 for Mercedes after all the struggles they have had with the car throughout the season. Towards the end, Leclerc was lobbying the Ferrari management to tell Sainz to let him past in the battle for second in the championship – this was ignored! Perhaps more controversially, Red Bull told Verstappen to let Perez passed, again for points for the battle for second in the championship. Max firmly refused to comply, and a serious meeting took place in the Red Bull team immediately afterwards.