Verstappen wins Brazilian thriller


When Sebastian Vettel looked at Max Verstappen in the post-qualifying press conference, and queried the Red Bull's amazing pace, all that was missing was the deerstalker, magnifying glass and pipe.

Having suffered at the hands of Red Bull's suspicions in recent weeks one can rest assured that Ferrari is very much on the case.

Over the years Interlagos has provided us with numerous thrillers, indeed it was following one particularly dramatic race, turned on its head by the weather, that Bernie came up with his idea for sprinklers to be installed trackside at circuits.

Only last year we saw Mex Verstappen throw away certain victory by insisting to take on back-marker Esteban Ocon, and today the Dutchman could throw it all away once again.

The opening complex of corners at Interlagos has provided much entertainment over the years, and with Max, Seb and Lewis heading the grid today, not to mention a fired up Charles Leclerc a few rows back, we could be in for some more fun and games.

We've said it before and we'll say it again, the race cannot be won at the first corner, but it can be lost.

The Red Bull's pace, certainly in the hands of Verstappen has indeed, to quote Seb, been a "surprise", and the Dutchman has to be heading into this race odds-on favourite.

While Hamilton has nothing to prove - not that this normally stops him - Vettel will be keen to make up for the disappointment of Austin which brought an impressive string of strong performances to an end.

And then there's Leclerc, starting 14th following his engine change, and as keen as ever to get down and dirty with the big boys.

Albon and Bottas have both had scrappy weekends thus far, and will be keen to wrap up with a decent points haul, both set to gain should there be any silliness ahead on the opening lap.

As ever it's the supporting cast where the real fun should be had, with both Haas drivers in the top ten, along with Raikkonen and Gasly.

All too often we've seen Haas' performance drop-off woefully on race day, the American outfit seemingly at the mercy of the track temperature. Meanwhile, Raikkonen will need all his guile if he is to bring home a decent points haul in his 311th GP outing, thereby equalling Fernando Alonso as the second most experienced driver in the history of the sport.

Just behind Magnussen, we have Norris, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, Perez and Kvyat, the Russian keen to make up for a miserable qualifying session.

And then there's Sainz, starting from the back with a brand new power unit and keen to resume an impressive run of points finishes.

Assuming they survive the first corners, the battle between Verstappen, Vettel and Hamilton should be thrilling, with all three cars showing strength in some sections and weaknesses in others. Understandably, Hamilton is relishing the prospect.

The quickest strategy today is a one-stopper, using the softs for 26 to 29 laps and the hards for 42 to 45 laps.

The second-quickest is to run the softs for 34 to 37 laps, and the mediums for another 34 to 37 laps. About as fast as this is actually a two-stopper: with two stints on the softs of 18 to 21 laps each, plus a medium run for 29 to 35 laps. These stints could all be done in any order, with a soft-medium-soft plan potentially making sense as a two-stopper, for example.

The reason for this is that with warmer conditions today compared to Friday, the hardest compound as well as a possible two-stopper all become much more interesting.

What's slightly slower is a one-stopper with the mediums for 24 to 27 laps, and the hards for 44 to 47 laps.

The pitlane opens in glorious sunshine, and one by one the drivers head out.

Air temperature is similar to qualifying at 21 degrees C, however at 49 degrees the track temperature is much warmer. At least Haas will be happy. That said, it is noticeably windy, which could cause problems in terms of balance.

The national anthem done, there is a late scare for Albon following an issue with his tyre blankets.

With all but Leclerc of the top ten qualifiers starting on softs, the red-banded rubbers has also been chosen by Norris, Giovinazzi, Perez, Stroll and Sainz. The rest are on mediums.

The field heads off on the parade lap, all get away cleanly, with Verstappen leading the way, for only the second time in his F1 career.

Hamilton reports a difference in his front brake temperatures.

The grid forms.

They're away. Verstappen is away well while Vettel, though initially away well, starts to lose ground, and is passes by Hamilton who goes around the outside in Turn 1.

Heading down the back straight its Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas, while further back Norris is attacking Raikkonen, who is attacking the Haas pair.

The McLaren driver begins to lose ground and now comes under attack from Ricciardo who is fending off Leclerc. As the Australian and the Monegasque battle, the Ferrari jinks to the right, causing the Renault to back off just a little.

Leclerc makes short work of Norris who is then attacked again by Ricciardo. The Australian almost follows through behind Leclerc but the McLaren driver isn't having it. Passing Norris in Turn 1, Ricciardo is subsequently re-passed by the McLaren driver on the back straight, the Briton almost forcing the Renault on to the grass. Great stuff

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Albon, Gasly, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Magnussen and Giovinazzi.

Leclerc passes Giovinazzi for tenth, as Verstappen sets a blistering pace out front as he builds as 2s lead.

Sainz passes Perez to take 15th, a strong opening from the Spaniard.

Having dropped to 17th, Hulkenberg is advised to "use overtake when possible".

Up to 8th, Leclerc's next target is the wily old fox that is Raikkonen.

At the end of lap 6, courtesy of a tow and DRS, Leclerc sweeps past the Alfa to take 7th. Next up is Gasly.

Ricciardo, with Sainz in hot pursuit, is all over Magnussen. The Australian makes a move, but the Haas driver isn't having it, they touch and the Dane spins while the Renault has front wing damage. Ricciardo subsequently pits for a new front wing, rejoining in 20th on softs.

"******* idiot," says Magnussen.

Russell is complaining that a tear-offs his car has picked up is causing him problems.

The crowd cheers as Leclerc passes Gasly for sixth as they head into Turn 1.

The Ricciardo/Magnussen incident is under investigation.

Verstappen warns of a "little vibration" from one of his front tyres.

Giovinazzi continues in tenth, with Norris, Stroll and Sainz closing in.

"We are on Plan A plus 2," Vettel is told. The German is currently 5.7s adrift of the race leader.

Ricciardo is handed a 5s time penalty for causing a collision. However, that won't help Magnussen who is now down in 17th.

Asked about his tyres, Norris responds: "They're OK, I'm just stuck behind the guys ahead. The tyres are fine."

Check out our Sunday gallery from Interlagos, here.

"Plan B," Bottas is told.

"Tyres are still good," reports Hamilton, however the same cannot be said of Vettel who is clearly losing ground.

Perez is the first driver to make a scheduled stop, at the end of lap 18, he rejoins in 17th on mediums, ahead of Ricciardo.

Verstappen starts to express concern at his tyres. "These tyres are going to go," he warns.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 20, a move which catches everybody off guard. Sticking with used softs it is clear the Briton is on a two-stop strategy.

Sainz makes short work of Stroll to take 11th

Next time around Verstappen pits, the Dutchman also sticks with softs, albeit a brand new set. However, as he heads down the pitlane he loses vital time behind Kubica's Williams which has also pitted, he rejoins in sixth.

Hamilton makes a great move on Leclerc to take 4th, but moments later the Dutchman passes the Mercedes, much to the crowd's delight.

Replay show a very possible unsafe release for Kubica, which caused Verstappen to slam on the anchors.

"I need information guys," says Hamilton, as Red Bull prepares for Albon's stop.

On lap 25, Vettel, who is currently leading, is told to "box". He duly obliges, and switching to mediums it looks as though he's going for a one-stopper. He rejoins in 5th.

Next time around Bottas pits, thereby promoting Verstappen to the lead. The Finn switches to hards.

"Have I got an engine problem," asks Hamilton, but his team tells him that his temperatures are a little high and nothing to worry about.

Norris and Hulkenberg both pit on lap 27.

"I can't keep up with him," complains Hamilton.

"We need you to push as hard as you can," Leclerc is told, "but think about the tyres, think about the tyres."

The Monegasque subsequently pits, switching to the hards. Sainz also pits.

"The wind is picking up guys," reports Hamilton.

After 31 laps, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Albon, Leclerc, Gasly, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Perez. All ten have pitted.

Kubica is handed a 5s time penalty for his unsafe release.

"It's got windy right," asks Hamilton, who clearly isn't happy. "We're not seeing a big increase," he is assured.

"Plan B, Plan B," Vettel is told. "You're faster than the leaders."

"I need maximum focus," says Sainz as he closes on Kvyat. "You're doing a good job," he is told.

"Tyre wear is less than expected, all is peachy at the moment," Vettel is told, his crew having admitted that when the German used the expression previously they didn't have a clue what he meant.

Now Bottas is expressing concern at the wind. The Finn is warned he has to protect against the undercut from Albon.

Now Verstappen is asking about the wind.

Ricciardo pits at the end of lap 41, as does Bottas. The Finn rejoins in 6th on softs, having run the hards for just 11 laps. Odd.

"What are you waiting for, I can't come any closer than this," says Hamilton.

The Briton subsequently stops, switching to mediums he rejoins in 3rd.

"Lewis, you out lap is critical," he is warned. Meanwhile, teammate Bottas posts a new fastest lap (10.698).

Next time around (lap 44), Verstappen pits, the Red Bull driver rejoining in second just ahead of Hamilton.

"You did a very good job on that last stint," Verstappen is told, "same again please."

Bottas attacks Leclerc in Turn 1, and though the Ferrari driver heads him off, the Finn continues to attack. Next time around, even with a tow and DRS, the Finn is unable to make it stick.

Meanwhile Giovinazzi and Kvyat pit, rejoining in 13th and 17th.

"I need more power," urges Verstappen as he maintains a 2s gap to Verstappen, who is 1.3s down on race leader Vettel.

Still Bottas continues to hound Leclerc, but the Monegasque is in no mood to roll over.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 49, rejoining in fourth on softs, 3s down on Albon.

The Thai driver subsequently pits.

Oh dear, problems for Bottas, there appears to be smoke coming from the rear of the Mercedes. Making one final, unsuccessful attack on Leclerc, the Finn subsequently pulls over to become the first retirement of the day. "I lost the power," he reports.

"Lewis didn't slow down enough," reports Verstappen referring to the yellows that followed Bottas' retirement. "Yes, we saw that," comes the reply.

At which point the safety car is deployed.

"Box, box, box, box," Hamilton is told, but then advised to do the opposite of what Verstappen does. When the Dutchman pits, the Briton stays out. Norris, Stroll, Magnussen also pit.

Next time around, still under the safety car, Leclerc pits. He rejoins in 5th on softs.

With 15 laps remaining, it's: Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel, Albon, Leclerc, Gasly, Grosjean, Sainz, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi.

"What tyre is he on," asks Hamilton of Verstappen. "I need more power," he adds. "I'm a sitting duck."

"Safety car needs to speed up, man, Jeez," says the world champion.

"How many places do we lose if we box," asks Vettel. "Stay out, stay out," is the response.

Hamilton asks at which corner the safety car will turn its lights out and pull off as he prepares for the re-start. He is told between Turns 10 and 11.

With the safety car about to be withdrawn, and with 11 laps remaining, Hamilton's mediums are 15 laps old, while Verstappen's softs are 4 laps old.

The race resumes and Verstappen nails Hamilton around the outside in Turn 1, while Albon catches Vettel by surprise, the pair going wheel to wheel. As the German seeks to take back the position he comes under attack from Leclerc.

Losing ground to Verstappen, Hamilton is now under attack from Albon.

Gasly is sixth ahead of Sainz, with Raikkonen eighth, ahead of Giovinazzi and Ricciardo.

The stewards are looking at an incident involving Sainz and Grosjean at the re-start.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Interlagos, here.

Albon, Vettel and Leclerc trade fastest sectors as they battle for third.

Hulkenberg is under investigation for overtaking at the control line at the re-start.

Vettel makes a move on Albon in Turn 1, but the rookie slams the door well and truly shut.

"Don't test him," Verstappen is told, "pull away."

Having lost ground to Albon, Vettel is passed by his Ferrari teammate in Turn 1. Moments later on the back straight the pair touch, the race is over for both of them.

"What was he doing?" asks Vettel, while Leclerc is equally confused. "******* hell, Seb!" he shouts.

The contact was minimal but the consequences disastrous.

As the safety car is deployed, Hamilton pits. As does Russell.

With just 5 laps remaining has Mercedes made a mistake in pitting its driver.

Stroll has retired after appearing to run over some debris.

Complaining about the debris on the track, Sainz says "we don't want to race", Verstappen also calls on the safety car to be left out a little longer... as you would.

Vettel watches from the side of the track.

All of which means that, as it stands, Gasly is going to join the Red Bull pair on the podium.

That said, the safety car is withdrawn with 3 laps remaining.

Heartache for Gasly as Hamilton sails round the outside in Turn 1. The Briton then sets off after Albon.

Hamilton closes on Albon who makes a lot of room for the Briton but they still touch, causing the Thai driver to spin.

Gasly passes the pair and as Hamilton hunts him down Sainz closes in.

The stewards are to investigate the Hamilton/Albon clash.

Hamilton gives it everything, but Gasly holds him off to take a remarkable second.

All the way up the hill the pair are side-by-side, but the Honda appears to have the edge over the Mercedes, not something we thought we'd be writing a couple of years back.

Verstappen wins, from Gasly, Hamilton, Sainz, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Ricciardo, Norris, Perez and Kvyat.

Magnussen is eleventh, ahead of Russell, Grosjean, Albon, Hulkenberg and Kubica.

Phew! Well whatever Jair Bolsonaro might think, F1 needs Interlagos, the track that never fails to provide great racing and real entertainment.

As Hulkenberg is handed a 5s time penalty for overtaking at the re-start, there remains the question of the Hamilton/Albon clash, the hapless Thai driver finishing 14th just moments after looking set to join his teammate on the podium.

"I massively apologise to Albon," says Hamilton, "I went for a move and the gap just closed. Completely my fault. I took a lot of risks today, I gave it everything."

A truly entertaining race, which had a little bit of everything. Heartache for the likes of Albon, but just reward for Gasly and Sainz. As for Ferrari, well that one will run and run.

On a weekend we recall the legendary Ayrton Senna it would be nice to think of the great man smiling at what he has just seen.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Interlagos, here.

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Published: 17/11/2019
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