Opus Max
2019 Brazilian Grand Prix
text & photos | Richard Kelley
edit | Henry Lau

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen kept his focus while everyone about him lost theirs to take a magnificently managed victory in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix


Red Bull’s Max Verstappen easily won a brilliantly aggressive Brazilian Grand Prix that featured a series of epic final laps that saw both Ferrari’s crash themselves out of ultimately second and third-place finishes. In their place was Toro Rosso’s reenergised Pierre Gasly who claimed second, (and his first F1 podium) in a near photo-finish after narrowly beating Lewis Hamilton in a drag race to the chequered flag.

While recently-crowned six-time World Driver’s Champion Lewis Hamilton finish third on the road, he later received a five-second penalty for colliding with Red Bull’s Alex Albon as they jousted for second place on the last lap.

That penalty both promoted and formally lauded McLaren’s Carlos Sainz’ masterful drive to third place. Ironically, Sainz’ engine experienced a gremlin denying him a single qualifying lap in Q1, thereby forcing the Spaniard to start the Grand Prix dead last.

In other words, it was a classic old-time Brazilian Grand Prix.

2019 Brazilian Grand Prix

Polesitter Verstappen quickly controlled the lead at the start, while Hamilton successfully attacked second qualifier Sebastian Vettel on the outside into Turn 1 and grabbed second place.

Hamilton quickly dropped back from Verstappen through the first stint with Verstappen holding a lead of around 2.4s. Verstappen chose to initially create as much speed and separation as possible on his Soft tyres to Hamilton but at the price of his front tyres. Hamilton’s slightly milder pace enabled him to slowly grind his way back to the Dutchman as the race went on. Just as Hamilton reduced the gap to 1.8s, the Brit dived into the pit lane for a new set of Softs at the end of lap 20 of 71.

Hamilton’s Early Stop

Hamilton’s taking on a second set of Softs committed Verstappen to a two-stop strategy. Even though Red Bull pitted the Dutchman one lap later,  Robert Kubica’s Williams baulked him in the pit lane, slowing Verstappen enough that Hamilton’s massive pace advantage on new rubber allowed him to jump ahead of the Dutchman with relative ease.

Hamilton then closed on Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, but the young ace masterfully held his ground and kept Hamilton in place. In no time Verstappen was back on Hamilton’s gearbox.

Two laps later, Verstappen passed Hamilton into the Senna S. Once again in the lead, Verstappen drew steadily away from Hamilton. The Brit was back to his engineers within a few laps, lamenting his inability to close on Verstappen and suggesting the team bring him in again for another undercut.

Verstappen Covers Hamilton

Mercedes called Hamilton in on Lap 43, but no sooner had Hamilton rejoined than Verstappen pitted and this time, came out ahead of the Brit.

The race looked to be in stasis with 18 laps to go when Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas lost his engine while running in fifth place. He slowed and seemed to have placed his stricken car safely off the track and while corner workers displayed a local double waving yellow until a recovery vehicle could arrive. Still, race control ultimately ordered a full Safety Car period to collapse the field during car recovery.

Hamilton’s tyres were now nine laps old – Verstappen’s just 8. Mercedes ordered Hamilton to do the opposite of any action Verstappen might take, and when the Dutchman dived in for another set of Softs, Hamilton remained out to take over race the lead, but now on tyres 11 laps older than Verstappen’s

As the field closed up, Hamilton would need to do something special to keep Verstappen from passing, however with Hamilton’s worn older tyres, a drag race would make him was a sitting duck. To help the situation as much as possible, the Brit slowed the pack to a crawl to back them up. Just as the Safety Car cleared the track, Hamilton then leapt forward at the restart to smother Verstappen’s attack.

Verstappen Takes Control

Verstappen would have none of it. He was even with Hamilton on the outside going into the first corner and grabbed the lead at the second half of the Senna S. Within a minute the Dutchman had checked out, leaving Hamilton trailing over three seconds in arrears.

Behind, Red Bull’s Alex Albon quickly took third from Vettel, then held his ground as Vettel counterattacked.

Vettel attacked Albon again as he closed on Hamilton, but the Thai repulsed the Ferrari, and Vettel lost a bit of speed, dropping back and bringing teammate Charles Leclerc into play.

Two laps later, Leclerc passed Vettel on the inside into the first corner. Vettel countered on the straight before the Descida do Lago. He drew alongside Leclerc on the left in the draft and then perhaps leaked into Leclerc’s path.

The Tangle

The two Ferraris tangled with Leclerc’s front suspension giving way as his front right wheel and tyre exploded, forcing instant retirement. Vettel – who later blamed Leclerc – had his right rear tyre speared – the flailing carcass then destroying most of the right floor.

With another safety car now activated for a somewhat extended period, Hamilton hit the pit lane for another new set of tyres. He would rejoin the race in fourth behind Albon and Pierre Gasly.

The safety car period ended, leaving a two-lap, all-out slugfest to the flag. Verstappen once again separated his Red Bull from any attack. Hamilton took up the chase with Albon. He would collide with the quick Thai, dropping Albon down to 14th.

Hamilton carried on, recovering enough to put draw his Mercedes even with Gasly on the pit straight, but his Honda-engined Toro Rosso won the last lap drag race in style.

Delayed Penalty

After the podium ceremony, Hamilton received a five-second penalty dropping him to seventh, with Carlos Sainz Jr well-deserved third place matching McLaren’s best result of the season.

Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi combined for Alfa Romeo’s best result of the season in fifth and sixth, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who valiantly fought back from a broken front wing and a five-second penalty early on in a collision with Kevin Magnussen to finish seventh.

It was then McLaren’s Lando Norris in eight, Sergio Perez ninth for Racing Point and Daniil Kvyat taking the final point for Toro Rosso.