Lewis Hamilton got to con­tinue his ti­tle cel­e­bra­tions with an­other win, but for Max Ver­stap­pen this was the one that most def­i­nitely got away…


Hav­ing wrapped up the drivers’ cham­pi­onship with fourth place in Mex­ico, Lewis Hamilton’s next task was to slide the con­struc­tors’ ti­tle into the bag for Mercedes. He did so with a bat­tling drive against the odds in Brazil.

Hamilton started from pole po­si­tion but this oc­ca­sion­ally ill-tem­pered race was any­thing but a lights-to-flag af­fair. Hampered by his car’s ap­petite for rear tyres, and nurs­ing a po­ten­tially ter­mi­nal en­gine is­sue, Hamilton lost the lead to Red Bull’s Max Ver­stap­pen mid-race only to re­gain it when Ver­stap­pen tan­gled with a back­marker.

Fer­rari, the pre-race favourites, barely fig­ured: Kimi Räikkö­nen claimed third as Se­bas­tian Vet­tel faded from con­tention while con­tend­ing with a sen­sor prob­lem. Räikkö­nen was also har­ried to the flag by the sec­ond Red Bull of Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. In a race largely dic­tated by tyre man­age­ment, Vet­tel, and Hamilton’s team-mate Valt­teri Bot­tas, both had to make ex­tra pit­stops and fin­ished well adrift of the lead­ing pack.

QUAL­I­FY­ING The warm and sunny Sat­ur­day morn­ing flat­tered to de­ceive as dark clouds rolled in ahead of qual­i­fy­ing hour. Fore­casts dif­fered as to the pre­cise mo­ment

rain would ar­rive, but most agreed that its ar­rival was in­deed in­evitable.

Q2 was where Fer­rari rolled the dice im­me­di­ately, in­struct­ing both drivers to abort their first runs on Pirelli’s su­per­soft rub­ber and come in for soft tyres. Since fur­ther, heav­ier rain was im­mi­nent, this ini­tially seemed like a ridicu­lous gam­ble – es­pe­cially when Vet­tel had the mis­for­tune to be called in for a ran­dom weigh­bridge check. He would later es­cape se­ri­ous sanc­tion for roar­ing away in a fit of pique, wreck­ing the scru­ti­neers’ ap­pa­ra­tus in the process.

Vet­tel and Räikkö­nen duly posted laps fast enough for them to progress to Q3, guar­an­tee­ing they would start on the the­o­ret­i­cally more durable soft com­pound. By con­trast, Hamilton, Bot­tas, Ric­cia­rdo and Ver­stap­pen ran ‘banker’ laps on su­per­softs in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the rain, then failed to im­prove dur­ing later runs on softs.

So, while Hamilton went on to claim pole with a new track record lap in Q3, ahead of Vet­tel, Bot­tas, Räikkö­nen and Ver­stap­pen, the Fer­raris looked to be hold­ing the strong­est tac­ti­cal suit for the race. Surely Vet­tel and Räikkö­nen needed only to bide their time, run a longer first stint, and ex­er­cise the ad­van­tage of fresher tyres in the clos­ing stages?


In the event, it was the Red Bulls of Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo that shone at In­ter­la­gos. Ric­cia­rdo started 11th ow­ing to a five-place grid penalty for re­quir­ing a new tur­bocharger – a mar­shal in Mex­ico City had been overly zeal­ous with his fire ex­tin­guisher when Ric­cia­rdo re­tired there – but Dan swiftly made his way through the fastest of the mid­field­ers to snap at the heels of the rest of the ‘big three’ run­ners.

While Hamilton ef­fi­ciently con­verted pole into the race lead and Bot­tas beat Vet­tel in an arm-wres­tle at the first cor­ner, Ver­stap­pen caught the eye by pass­ing first Räikkö­nen, then Vet­tel, then Bot­tas. By the time the lap count en­tered dou­ble fig­ures, Ver­stap­pen was clos­ing in on Hamilton.

At this point it was ob­vi­ous that Hamilton and Bot­tas were strug­gling to keep their su­per­softs alive, while the Fer­raris were strug­gling to make the softs work. Räikkö­nen took ad­van­tage of Vet­tel run­ning wide after Ver­stap­pen went past to snatch fourth, but Kimi ul­ti­mately had lit­tle to of­fer in pur­suit of the Red Bull.


Bot­tas and Hamilton dived into the pits on laps 18 and 19 – much ear­lier than ex­pected – to fit medi­ums for the run to the flag, and Räikkö­nen and Vet­tel fol­lowed suit on laps 28 and 32. But the Red Bulls, cru­cially, kept their su­per­softs alive and racy un­til laps 36 (Ver­stap­pen) and 42 (Ric­cia­rdo), en­abling them to fit softs to take them to the fin­ish.

Over at Mercedes-benz High Per­for­mance Pow­er­trains in Brix­worth, Hamilton’s teleme­try was in­di­cat­ing a spike in ex­haust tem­per­a­ture, in­di­cat­ing an im­mi­nent fail­ure. He was di­rected to turn the wick down, so he was pow­er­less to pre­vent Ver­stap­pen driv­ing past on the straight at the end of lap 39. A rare sight, al­beit Drs-as­sisted.

As Ver­stap­pen be­gan to break clear, Räikkö­nen usurped Bot­tas for third and Ric­cia­rdo pounced on Vet­tel for fifth. But Ver­stap­pen had barely had time to get com­fort­able when he crossed swords with his old kart­ing and For­mula 3 neme­sis Este­ban Ocon at Turn 1, pitch­ing them both into a spin.

Ocon, run­ning an al­ter­nate strat­egy and re­cently switched to su­per­soft rub­ber, was fly­ing in the Force In­dia and at­tempted to un­lap him­self by go­ing around the out­side at Turn 1. Ver­stap­pen seem­ingly chose to make the move dif­fi­cult, and staked his claim to the rac­ing line at the switch­back Turn 2 even as Ocon moved up on what was now the in­side.

The clash turned what had been a 2.4s lead over Hamilton into a 5.2s deficit for Ver­stap­pen, and pro­voked a fu­ri­ous and un­seemly ex­change in the FIA garage after the race as Ver­stap­pen shoved Ocon off the weigh­bridge. The stew­ards took a dim view of the en­tire en­counter, hand­ing Ocon a 10s stop-go penalty for caus­ing a col­li­sion and or­der­ing Ver­stap­pen to do two days of ‘pub­lic ser­vice’ for caus­ing a fraças.

Ver­stap­pen’s floor was damaged in the clash so both he and Hamilton were con­demned to hob­ble to the fin­ish as Räikkö­nen crossed the line in close at­ten­dance, with Ric­cia­rdo on his tail. Late stops left Bot­tas and Vet­tel both run­ning around 20s down on the lead­ing group at the che­quered flag.

Ver­stap­pen breezed past a hob­bling Hamilton and looked set for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win…

… but tan­gled with Ocon as the French­man tried to un­lap him­self, lead­ing to a post-race fraças

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