Lewis Hamilton is gifted an unexpected victory over Max Verstappen, presented by Force India’s Esteban Ocon
Lewis Hamilton was gifted the Brazilian Grand Prix after Max Verstappen was spun out of the lead on Lap 44 by old Formula Three sparring partner Esteban Ocon, who was attempting to unlap himself. Until then, Hamilton was just another challenger passed at ease by the resurgent Verstappen, who was using his domination of the Brazilian Grand Prix at Autódromo José Carlos Pace as a master class in racecraft.
When the dust settled, Hamilton technically won from the pole to earn his 72nd career Formula One victory, his series-leading 10th this season and his second Brazilian Grand Prix. Despite severe floor damage, Verstappen fought back from 5.5-seconds down following Ocon’s faux pas to close within1.469 seconds at the flag. Hamilton’s victory also clinched Mercedes’ constructors’ title, becoming only the second team – after Ferrari – to claim five consecutive constructors’ crowns.
The result also gives Hamilton the incredible record of 50 wins out of the 99 post-2014 hybrid era Grands Prix.
Kimi Raikkonen finished just ahead of the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo – who had battled through the field from his eleventh place start – to take the third spot on the podium, with Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel fifth and sixth after making extra pit stops for tyre wear.
As the cars sat waiting for the starting lights, second-place starter Sebastian Vettel’s in-cockpit camera showed the German having difficulty setting up a smooth launch sequence. At lights out, the Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen, starting with harder tyres, struggled to get off the line and were immediately pounced on by their supersoft-shod rivals. Vettel lost a position to Bottas, who went around the outside of Turn 1. Just behind, Raikkonen was already under attack from Verstappen, who passed the Finn under braking for Turn 1 on Lap 3 and dealt the same move on Vettel just one lap later.
Vettel ran wide at Turn 4 moments later, ceding his fourth position to Raikkonen. In the opening few laps, Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull had already fought from eleventh to sixth. Verstappen wasn’t finished, catching Bottas with DRS and slipstreaming his way past the Mercedes for second place.
Bottas was able to hold up both Ferraris before making his pit stop at the end of lap eighteen, coming in for medium tyres. Race leader Hamilton was called in one lap later on Lap 19 of 71 for the same compound, with Verstappen now released into clear air and setting fastest laps. Mercedes were able to warm up their medium tyres quickly and start preventing any ‘overcut’, but it led to their tyres giving up earlier.
Ferrari elected to bring Vettel in first, followed by Raikkonen four laps later. This allowed Vettel to move ahead of his teammate, but Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes still stymied both.
With Raikkonen on the fresher tyres, the Ferrari tacticians swapped their drivers to allow the Finn a shot at Bottas. While Raikkonen sized up his compatriot, both Red Bull cars were still running strong on their first set of supersoft tyres. Verstappen pitted first, rejoining just three seconds behind Hamilton and on softer, faster tyres.
Verstappen was on the back of the Mercedes on the exit of the final corner and, with DRS active, he sailed past Hamilton and took the lead into Turn 1 with 31 laps remaining.
Ricciardo was also busy closing up to the Bottas-Raikkonen-Vettel battle, which was now being headed by Raikkonen, who had finally found a way past Bottas.
By Lap 44, Verstappen was in charge after a flawless drive and focused on creating more distance to Hamilton. During Friday and Saturday, Verstappen had focused on race pace over qualifying and his decision was now paying off just as the lapped car of Force India’s Esteban Ocon, on fresh supersoft tyres, closed on his Red Bull on the main straight.
Ocon went around the outside of Verstappen in Turn 1 attempting to unlap himself. Blocked, Ocon then speared into the side of the Dutchman’s Red Bull which was still more than half a car-length ahead, as Verstappen turned toward the apex on the inside of Turn 2. The pair spun off, gifting the race lead back to Hamilton.
Verstappen immediately recovered, but his car had significant floor damage that robbed him of the speed and cornering advantage he possessed just moments earlier. Now in second place, some five seconds down on the Mercedes, Verstappen set about driving the wheels off the Red Bull to catch Hamilton. Ocon still unsigned for an F1 seat for 2019, would later receive a ten-second stop-go penalty.
With twenty laps to go, Verstappen had shaved a second off Hamilton’s lead as Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo were now all within ten seconds of the leader. Ricciardo would finally pass Bottas for fourth place with twelve laps to go.
With five laps remaining, Verstappen had sliced Hamilton’s lead down to just two seconds, with the Dutchman flipping every cockpit power setting to MAX for the final all-out assault, but back markers kept him from closing in on Hamilton with DRS. The Brit took the victory 1.4-seconds ahead of the Red Bull charger.
Finishing behind Bottas and Vettel as mentioned earlier were Charles Leclerc in seventh place ahead of the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, with Force India’s Sergio Perez completing the top ten.
Max Verstappen has been ordered to complete two days of “public service at the discretion of the FIA” as punishment for his post-race scuffle with Esteban Ocon, who in turn, was lucky it wasn’t Piquet, Senna or Schumacher in their prime instead.
Verstappen needs to focus on being a man ready to win the championship. This harsh lesson burns but he is driving as well as we’ve ever seen at the moment and only Lewis Hamilton is looking on better form. Should the optimism in the Red Bull / Honda package with new FIA aero rules – Adrian Newey edition click, the Dutchman will be the man to beat in 2019 and onward.
Mercedes continues to struggle with tyre management. Had Verstappen not been spun, Hamilton’s visibly worn tyres would have never have allowed him to catch the Dutchman. Bottas’ tyre fortunes have been no better. Brazil was his third fifth-place finish in a row.
What if Ferrari’s 2019 line-up was Charles Leclerc and Kimi Raikkonen? Both men are steady point-gathering machines this season, with the Finn looking particularly racy and Leclerc going speed each race. Sebastian Vettel’s unrelenting loss of the championship, on the other hand, has taken away much of his spirit since his Spa victory.