What a weekend! This weekend had it all! Controversy, F1 politics, championship rivalry, overtakes and undoubtedly one of Hamilton’s greatest F1 performances. What more could you want?
Before the race even began there was drama as Mercedes rear wing failed a regulation test. The DRS, essentially a flap the driver can open on the rear wing during some areas of the lap—was too big, by 0.2mm. Mercedes has passed this test several times and it seems to have been a failure on the wing—not a design to get around the rules—and the FIA seem happy with that. Nonetheless, Hamilton was disqualified from the qualifying session; his pole position was removed. Verstappen was also fined fifty thousand euros for touching another competitors car in parc ferme, after poking around at Hamilton’s rear wing.
In a blistering twenty-four lap sprint race, Hamilton moved from last on the grid up to fifth in a masterclass on overtaking and determination. With a five-place engine penalty, this meant Hamilton would start the main race on Sunday from tenth on the grid.
To the race! Bottas lined up on pole and initially got a good start, however, Verstappen took more pace into the opening corner and squeezed his competitor slightly wide to take the lead. The momentum Bottas lost by being pushed wide was capitalised on by Perez who passes him a few corners later. Norris and Sainz had the smallest of brushes which unfortunately left Norris with a puncture and after limping round to the pits he was left at the back of the field. Leclerc got a good start moving from seventh to fifth, as did Vettel who gained three places, moving into seventh position. But undoubtedly one of the starts of the year goes to Hamilton. The Brit started in tenth and by lap six was running comfortably in third position.
Lap six also saw a brief safety car period with Tsunoda having tried a very optimistic move on Stroll to turn one. Although both cars do continue, there was debris on the track, for which a safety car period was needed to clear up.
With Verstappen in front and Perez in second Hamilton begins to hunt them down for the victory. After several laps behind Perez, he passes the Mexican into turn one, only for Checo to fight back into turn four, retaking second position. On the next lap, Hamilton manages to pass and stay in front with Verstappen as his next target.
Further back there’s good racing at a track where drivers can overtake. Ferrari’s stand firm in fifth and sixth, Gasly makes up positions from eighth on the grid, having entertaining battles with the Alpines along the way and Norris steadily gains places in a good recovery drive. Bottas, in fourth, benefits from pitting under a short virtual safety car period, allowing him to jump Perez, and ultimately take third position.
Back at the front, the story of the last two races has been Hamilton chasing a down Verstappen for the win but being unable to catch him. In Brazil, however, we see the fortunes turn in Hamilton’s favour. Red Bull go for an undercut strategy, pitting Verstappen before Hamilton, and using fresher tyre to try to get a speed advantage. But Hamilton keeps coming and in a controversial moment the two go off at turn four. They both took too much speed into the corner and neither would have made it—if you’re a Verstappen fan. Or Verstappen ran Hamilton out wide to keep the lead—if you’re a Hamilton fan. To me, it looks very much like that latter. Ultimately though this was just holding back the inevitable, and a few laps later the Mercedes steams. Hamilton makes Verstappen defend into turn one, and then uses the Red Bulls lack of momentum to take the position from him down the back straight before turn four. Verstappen has no answer. Hamilton then blasts away from the Red Bull and in twelve laps builds up a lead of over ten seconds before taking the chequered flag.
Hamilton found significantly more pace in the Mercedes this weekend. This could be down to new engine components he had for the race, for which he took the five-place grid penalty. There could be developments on the car, or perhaps both, together with a phenomenal drive. Red Bull seem unhappy about the Mercedes rear wing, apparently mentioning it to the FIA and even inspector Verstappen checked it out after qualifying. But Red Bull have said or done nothing official with regards to commenting on it or putting in an official complaint to the FIA. Whatever it is that Mercedes have done to find the extra pace, if I were Red Bull, I would be worried because that Mercedes was unstoppable.
Mercedes- Hamilton 1st, Bottas 3rd: Mercedes should be very happy with their performance and speed today. Hamilton had one of his career-best drives and Bottas brought in a solid third for the team. Whatever improvements they’ve made have put them in very strong standing for the remaining races of the season.
Red Bull- Verstappen 2nd, Perez 4th: A good solid performance from both team and drivers. Red Bull didn’t have a response to the speed of Hamilton today. They didn’t do anything bad, but they just had no reply to Mercedes speed this weekend.
Ferrari- Leclerc 5th, Sainz 6th: A solid performance, clearly best of the rest today. Ferrari should be happy with this result, especially with Mclaren having a poor day.
Mclaren- Norris 10th, Ricciardo DNF: Unfortunate for Mclaren today, Norris was unlucky to get a puncture from slight contact with Sainz. He had shown a very good pace and could probably have been mixing it with the Ferrari’s. Ricciardo was running a solid eighth for much of the race before retiring with a crack in his chassis causing a loss of power. Not what the team needed in the battle with rivals Ferrari, who are now 31.5 points ahead.
Alpine- Ocon 8th, Alonso 9th: Good race for Alpine, who showed pace at Interlagos all weekend. They ran a good strategy with Alonso, helping him jump from 12th to 9th and Ocon put in a solid performance, overtaking teammate Alonso on the final lap to come in 8th. Alpine and Alpha Tauri are now tied on 112 points for fifth in the championship.
Alpha Tauri- Gasly 7th, Tsunoda 15th: Tsunoda made an extremely optimistic move on Stroll into the first corner resulting in the two coming together. Gasly put in another solid performance progressing up to 7th, probably the highest he could realistically expect to finish from his starting position, barring any strange incidents.
Aston Martin- Vettel 11th, Stroll DNF: Vettel was unlucky to finish without a point after a good drive, but ultimately it seemed that the Aston Martin didn’t have the pace of rivals around him. Stroll retired after suffering damage from the contact with Tsunoda.
Williams- Russell 13th, Latifi 16th: A forgettable weekend for Williams who had very little pace. Looked like another track that just didn’t suit the Williams.
Alfa Romeo- Raikkonen 12th, Giovinazzi 14th: Raikkonen suffered front wing damage early after a collision with Schumacher, but made some progress through the field after falling to the back. Giovinazzi couldn’t make much progress from his starting place.
Haas- Mazepin 17th, Schumacher 18th: This was the best outing from Mazepin this year, at one point running up in fourteenth and for a few laps keeping faster cars behind at bay. Granted most of them had fallen behind after having pitted for various reasons, but still, seemed like Mazepines strongest showing. Schumacher had a bit of a forgettable race, apart from the coming together with Raikkonen and finished last.
This weekend looked like it would be pivotal for the championship, with Hamilton losing pole and starting from the back it seemed like damage limitation, like Verstappen and Red Bull could take a points haul over Hamilton. However, what happened was Hamilton seemed to find an extra gear, an extra level of performance, and when two competitors are already at the top of the game and one can shift up an extra gear—that is often how world championships are won.
Championship rivalry seems to be hotting up with Red Bull being unhappy with how Mercedes seemed to have achieved their top speed in Brazil—insinuating a possible illegal design on the rear with. Meanwhile, Mercedes are unhappy at perceived FIA favouritism towards Red Bull, saying their DRS rear wing failure should have been treated as a failure on the part, not a disqualification, as well as being displeased Verstappen got away with pushing Hamilton off track. Looks like it’s hotting up for an exciting and nail-biting conclusion to the season with only three races remaining.
This weekend was possibly one of the greatest drives by one of the greatest drivers: coming from twentieth to finish fifth, then starting tenth to finish first, ultimately gaining twenty-five positions to take the victory. No one has won at Interlagos from lower than eighth on the grid—well, not until now anyway!
Driver of the Day: Hamilton
Honourable mentions: Gasly, Alonso, Leclerc, Norris
Sao Paulo Grand Prix Race Results
- Perez (Fastest Lap)
Saturday saw the final outing of the year for the sprint race qualifying format. It proved perhaps the most eventful weekend of all three we’ve seen this year. I think it adds another dimension to the weekend and an extra bit of excitement. The races, I fear, could become a little processional as drivers only seek to maintain position for the grid, but I still don’t think that’s a very strong argument against them. The opening sections of these races have been very entertaining, and as we race more of them drivers and teams will get more used to them and, probably, develop explore various strategies for these weekends. 2022 should see six of these sprint race weekends! Can’t wait!
Qatar- fast and flowing track, expect overtakes into turn one.
Where to Watch
USA: Sunday 21st November Live on ESPN race start at 9:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 21st November Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 2:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky Showcase 6:00 pm GMT and Channel Four 6:30 pm GMT, Sunday 21st November