Formula 1: Brazilian Grand Prix
Circuit: Interlagos (Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace)
Duncraig Dan, Chapter 20: In The Abode Of Ayrton
On to Brazil, where the whole week leading up was an appreciation of all things Ayrton Senna, with it being the 25th year since his fatal crash, full of things like Heineken having an Obrigado Senna campaign, Bruno Senna driving his uncle’s MP4/4 from 1988, Lewis Hamilton whipping together a tribute helmet, and even the helicopter providing the overhead shots of the circuit getting a livery with the same design as Senna’s iconic yellow crash helmet.
The rain hit during Friday practice, and in the changing conditions of FP1, Alex Albon found out first-hand, when he slid off on slicks on the wet grass, ending up in the wall despite topping the session, and then during FP2, Robert Kubica had the front end snap exiting the Senna Esses, and he went straight into the outside barrier.
Charles LeClerc was given a 10 place grid drop for taking on a fresh internal combustion engine, following an oil leak during practice in Austin which forced him to take on an older engine.
The only major moment of Q1 and Q2 was Carlos Sainz suffering an electrical problem with his McLaren before he’d managed to set a competitive lap, forcing him to start from last (The team gave him a fresh engine), and the Renaults narrowly missed out on reaching out on Q3, with Dan missing out by a tenth, but once again out-qualifying Nico Hulkenberg.
Max Verstappen scored his 2nd pole position of 2019, topping every session of Qualifying to beat out Sebastian Vettel, mainly thanks to the advantage the Red Bull had through Sectors 1 and 2, ahead of Hamilton, with LeClerc dropping down to 14th, and then the other usual suspects in Bottas and Albon, with both the Haas drivers starting in the Top 10, and Pierre Gasly once again popping up in Q3, to start 7th.
This made it 9 consecutive race weekend in which Hamilton hasn’t started on pole, his longest drought since he moved to Mercedes in 2013.
Another interesting fact was discovered after Qualifying, which is that there have only been 2 Formula One Qualifying sessions to take place on November 16, the birthday of Red Bull principal Christian Horner.
Red Bull qualified on pole for both of them.
Race (71 laps)
This was also Sebastian Vettel’s 100th Grands Prix for Ferrari, joining Hamilton as the only drivers to appear in 100 races for 2 different Constructors.
I should also add, Interlagos is a strange track, because the grid is uphill, making it very easy to roll backwards before the lights go out, but fortunately, these are 20 of the supposed best drivers in the universe, and nobody could be that moronic.
14/20 drivers started on Softs, with the exceptions being the Renaults, LeClerc, Kvyat and both the Williams.
At the start, Verstappen covered off Vettel, who was passed by Hamilton down the outside into the Senna Esses, and further down, Dan The Man was in a scrap with LeClerc and Norris down in 11th, 12th 13th, which the superior Ferrari won easily, as Charles began a massive salvage operation.
Ricciardo tried making a pass on Norris, but the little shit got his elbows out and pushed the Renault into the grass!
LeClerc was up to 8th by Lap 5, and he continued making up places with divebombs into Turn 1, something Carlos Sainz also perfected as he disposed of Sergio Perez.
On Lap 8, Duncraig Dan tried making a pass on Kevin Magnussen at Turn 4, but he forgot that the Renault simply doesn’t have the downforce of a Red Bull, and he locked up and spun the Haas, ruining each other’s race, as Magnussen was dumped to 18th, and Renault had to change the damaged front wing, dropping him to a clear last.
The stewards investigated, and ultimately deemed Dan at fault, giving him a 5 second time penalty, which on replay, was absolutely coming, as he went for a gap that wasn’t really there, and never got far enough up Magnussen’s inside for it to be a racing incident.
By Lap 19, Verstappen was starting to encounter a few problems with his tyres, and Hamilton was on the radio to ‘Bono’ suggesting Mercedes get aggressive on strategy, which is generally code for Hammertime and the wearing of the parachute pants.
Hamilton pitted on Lap 21, and went on to a used set of Soft tyres, giving Red Bull something to think about, and they called in Verstappen immediately as cover.
The Red Bull crew are the masters of the perfect pit stop, and produced a WORLD RECORD 1.82 second change, but Williams had pitted the lapped Kubica at the same time, and being the donkeys they are, released him straight into the path of Verstappen, giving Hamilton the effective race lead!
2 things there- Williams must have thought it was the Mid-90s affecting the lead of a race like that, and dear lord, Max lost the lead at Interlagos for the second year running because of interference from a backmarker.
Unsurprisingly, Kubica was pinged for an unsafe release, but surely having to drive that Williams is punishment enough.
Hamilton’s lead lasted only a lap, because Mad Max made a daring move into Turn 1 on Lap 23, but rising to the occasion, Hamilton regained the lead the next lap with a very ballsy move of his own into Turn 1, giving viewers the kind of nuts to the wall racing we haven’t seen pretty much all year.
Ferrari kept Vettel out until Lap 25, costing him a bucketload of time to the leaders, and Hamilton began suffering some kind of a battery problem, as his temperatures were running hot, allowing Verstappen back into the lead with a healthy margin, and Bottas pitted from the lead on Lap 27, being one of only 2 drivers to go onto the hard tyres, with the aim of a 1-stop to the end.
The Mediums appeared to be the way to go, with Vettel setting a fastest lap, as Ferrari went to “Plan C” with LeClerc, keeping him out until Lap 30.
Dan had somehow worked his way up to 11th as a result of the early stop, and was still setting fairly consistent times on his 30 lap-old Softs, but he would have to take that 5 second penalty at his next stop, which would probably drop him down to 18th, and he needed a Safety Car to have any realistic chance of getting anything out of the race.
The drivers were complaining about a major cross-wind hitting the circuit, particularly on the pit straight, which was having an effect on the cars.
Dan finally pitted on Lap 41, dropping him back to 18th, and Mercedes admitted defeat with the Hards and pitted Bottas on Lap 42, protecting the undercut from Red Bull with Albon in the general vicinity.
Hamilton came in on Lap 44, coming out ahead of Albon, and Red Bull covered again by pitting Verstappen, and with no Williams mechanics in sight, it worked out much better than last time.
Ricciardo once again encountered Magnussen somewhere off-camera out the back of the circuit, although there was far less controversy this time, as the Renault got the job done without firing the Haas off the road.
Bottas found himself fighting LeClerc after resuming, but the Silver Arrows, as the team had claimed, wasn’t working as effectively at top speed because of the altitude of the circuit (800 feet above sea level), which had something to do with the engines taking less oxygen than normal (Lower air density), putting more stress on the turbocharger and MGU-H.
Dunno how they did so well in Mexico then, which is a good 2km above sea level, but their problems proved prophetic.
On Lap 52, Bottas started smoking from behind after spending so many laps behind the Ferrari, and it proved to be terminal, but the Finn was smart enough to park it near an escape road, but Race Director Michael Masi decided to bring out the Safety Car, due to the position of the Merc at Turn 4.
God bless you Michael, because it was the heroin injection the race needed to descend into downright chaos.
Verstappen took the free pit stop and pitted for Softs, re-emerging in 2nd, leaving Hamilton a sitting duck on the restart, and Ferrari pitted LeClerc from 4th for Softs, as every car still remaining was allowed to unlap themselves, bringing Dan and several backmarkers right into the race.
In the meantime, Sainz, after starting dead last, had played a very good strategy with the Medium tyre, only pitting on Lap 30 after charging up the field to 7th, and with several drivers pitting under the SC, he vaulted up from 13th to 8th, and was able to manage the tyres under full course yellows to get him to the end.
Because of making sure the backmarkers couldn’t affect the outcome of the race, the field spent 8 laps behind the SC, setting up a barnstorming 12 lap finish between the World Champion, and the most utterly insane human being on 4 wheels.
The SC peeled in on Lap 60, and Hamilton tried holding everyone for as long as possible on the restart, and it worked out poorly, because Verstappen read him like a Page 3 girl, lined up alongside, and took the Merc with another ripping pass down the outside into Turn 1, and Albon took Vettel for 3rd, and with everyone around him on fresher tyres, the World Champion looked no hope of stopping Verstappen!
Further down, Grosjean was mugged on the restart, falling from 7th to 13th after an incident with Sainz (Turns out he had an engine problem), and Dan, after everything that had happened, was somehow 10th!
On the better tyres, Verstappen put a space on Hamilton, Vettel was putting pressure on Albon, but his race, and that of his Maranello counterpart, was about to end abruptly.
On Lap 66, LeClerc passed Vettel into Turn 1, but running out of Turn 3 up to Turn 4, Vettel thought he was clear down the outside, shifted in slightly, and despite only a light amount of contact, LeClerc’s right tyre went POP, and took the suspension with it!
LeClerc retired on the spot, Vettel’s left rear tyre exploded and destroyed his suspension, he made it a tad further up the road before stopping, and the SC had to be deployed again, due to debris on the track, and also to remove Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, which retired on the same lap due to front left suspension failure.
Seb’s radio after the incident was a pisser- The return of the Angry German Kid!
MEIN GOTT MUSS DASS SEIN!
That moment was absolutely Peak Ferrari, and it carries on Seb’s grand tradition of taking out his teammates in utterly stupid incidents.
It was also Ferrari’s first no points finish since Singapore in 2017.
Congratulations, you dumbarses.
For some utterly weird reason, Mercedes pitted Hamilton on Lap 67, and he re-emerged in 4th, but with 4 laps to go, it looked like Mercedes may have pitted themselves out of a podium, given there might not be any more racing!
I suppose that’s what happens when Toto Wolff takes a weekend off.
That said, things did go green again when the SC pitted on Lap 69, giving us 2 racing laps, and Hamilton very quickly cleared Gasly, and as he attacked Albon, the Thai left the door wide open, BUT HAMILTON, WHO WENT FOR A GAP THAT QUICKLY DIMINISHED, SPUN THE RED BULL AND DESTROYED ALBON’S MAIDEN PODIUM DREAM!
Just when it looked like Red Bull might get a 1-2, instead, it was Gasly, after his well-publicised demotion from the main team back in August, who was now up into 2nd place!
The stewards investigated, and it was pretty much a dead ringer for the Ricciardo-Magnussen incident, and would eventually get the same treatment.
With nobody to stop him, Verstappen made up for last year’s pain by winning in style, Gasly triumphed in an epic drag race with Hamilton up the hill to the line, to claim his first career podium, and Toro Rosso’s second podium of the year!
Yep, a Toro Rosso, armed with a plucky little Honda engine, beat a factory Mercedes in a drag race.
Let’s just say Pierre was pretty thrilled about it.
Sainz finished 4th on the road, the Alfas of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were 5th and 6th, their best result as Alfa Romeo in about 67 years, and Dan, after being last, damaged, penalised, and falling a lap down, took advantage of fate to take 7th.
I can only think Danny could very well have been in Carlos’ shoes had he not hit Magnussen, but that’s a big if.
The Actual Result
An hour after the race, the stewards finally delivered their verdict – Hamilton was penalised 5 seconds for spinning Albon, dropping him to 7th, PROMOTING CARLOS SAINZ TO 3RD!
Carlos did have to wait another hour, as he was one of half-a-dozen drivers investigated for supposedly using the DRS in the double-yellow zone at Turn 4 after the Ferrari accident, which all suspects were all cleared of, while Hulkenberg, who had finished 12th, was docked 5 seconds for overtaking before the start/finish line on the first restart.
That was McLaren’s first podium since Australia 2014 (I was there!), when Kevin Magnussen finished 2nd on debut, and like Sainz, Jenson Button was promoted to 3rd, thanks to Dan getting disqualified for fuel flow breaches.
Fortunately, the team did get their moment of glory on the podium, that they originally didn’t get because the FIA spent an hour fiddling with themselves before penalising Hamilton.
At his 101st Grand Prix start, Carlos also broke Martin Brundle’s record for the most starts before a maiden podium, made all the more grander by him starting from dead last.
Smoooooooth operator indeed.
With Hamilton’s penalty, this was the first race since the 2013 US Grand Prix in which neither Mercedes or Ferrari appeared on the podium, and funnily enough, that was the only other F1 race held on November 17, and guess what- A Red Bull also won from pole!
Of all the races this year, and there’s been plenty with less life than Wittenoom, that was right up there alongside Germany for sheer craziness and enjoyment, although I’d still put Germany ahead, because that might very well be the race of the decade.
I think that’s the key to getting Toro Rosso on the podium- Make the race as utterly insane as possible.
Just like that wild day at Hockenheim, Verstappen was simply superb, straight up beating Hamilton for race pace, and credit should also go to Red Bull for that tyre call when the first SC came out, which basically doomed Hamilton and the Mercedes pit wall, in what was something akin to revenge for the Mercs plucking a win from them at Hungary.
The team certainly didn’t forget it, sending their senior strategist Hannah Schmitz on to the podium to represent the winning manufacturer.
It was the first 1-2 finish for Honda in F1 since Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna in the McLaren-Hondas cleaned up at Suzuka in 1991, the same race in which Ayrton wrapped up his 3rd and last World Title.
And it was on the anniversary of Soichiro Honda’s birth, nonetheless.
Putting on my Green and Gold coloured glasses, considering the circumstances that Dan found himself in, 6th was a somewhat remarkable result, but of course, with Gasly 2nd and Sainz 3rd, that locks up McLaren for 4th in the Constructors’ championship, and Toro Rosso are now within 8 points with a race to come.
Toro Rosso went 11 years without a podium, and then they get 2 in the same year, and break their own points-scoring record.
Next Up: The season finale in Abu Dhabi in a fortnight!
As we all expected before the season, Pierre Gasly claimed a podium before Alex Albon.