Taking a 49th win of the V6 Turbo Hybrid era of Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton took a dramatic victory at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil, making the top step of the podium to seal a fifth consecutive Constructors’ Championship Mercedes.
As so often this season, the race was not without its fair share of incident. Having sealed one half of the double at the Mexican Grand Prix two weeks earlier by vanquishing Sebastian Vettel in the fight for the Drivers’ Championship, the battle for the Constructors’ title rolled onto the penultimate race of the season, with Ferrari still standing a mathematical chance of challenging the stronghold at the top of the standings that was in the hands of the Silver Arrows.
Despite Hamilton failing to set the pace in any of Formula 1’s three practice sessions of the weekend, it was the Briton who secured pole position in constantly changing and ever-unpredictable weather conditions, with Ferrari’s Vettel completing the front row of the grid while it was an all-Finnish second row, with Valtteri Bottas edging ahead of Kimi Raikkonen by 0.015s.
Getting a perfect launch from pole position, Hamilton successfully maintained his lead into Turn 1 while it was a far from ideal getaway for Vettel in second, with the German driver suffering from a sensor problem that meant he fell victim to Bottas who braved it around the outside of the four-time champion to accompany Hamilton at the front of the field.
With Red Bull Racing openly admitting that it was focusing on its race set-up as opposed to establishing clear pace over the course of one lap for qualifying, Max Verstappen once again demonstrated a true overtaking masterclass as the Dutchman’s worries from the start of the 2018 season appeared to dissolve following a recent improvement in form and avoidance in getting caught up in incidents.
Starting from fifth, the Flying Dutchman quickly cleared Raikkonen before devouring Vettel for third on lap four, finding a route past the two soft tyre starting Ferrari drivers. Quickly catching up to the tail of Bottas, Verstappen once again executed a successful move to jump into second place, with only Hamilton standing between him and the race lead.
Swapping his race-starting supersoft tyres in exchange for a set of longer-lasting medium compound rubber on lap 19, Hamilton surrendered the lead to Verstappen with the 21-year-old extending his opening stint after starting on the same compound of tyre as Hamilton. Pitting later, Verstappen rejoined in third, close behind Hamilton while Daniel Ricciardo had moved into the lead.
Third quickly became first for Red Bull on lap 40 as Verstappen crept up on and ultimately passed Hamilton using DRS while Ricciardo darted into the pits for his mandatory stop. Now in total control, the race was Verstappen’s to lose which is ultimately what happened five laps later when he came to blows with Esteban Ocon in the Senna S section of the circuit, with the pair spinning out which allowed Hamilton to regain his former position as leader.
It was an unfortunate racing incident, two drivers who have been outstanding in many respects this year tangling on the circuit and in parc ferme afterward – Verstappen ordered to carry out two days of public service at the direction of the FIA after physically shoving Ocon after the race. Yet in the close knit F1 community, insults and blows will surely be quickly forgotten and the pair were later seen shaking hands and making up in the paddock later.
Just seen @Max33Verstappen and @OconEsteban shaking hands in the paddock.
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) November 11, 2018
“He came out of the pits, I stayed behind him for nearly two laps but I was much faster than him and the team advised me to unlap myself,” commented Ocon after the race. “I went on the outside at turn one – the same move I made on Fernando [Alonso] and on many others before, but Max didn’t give me any space. Once I was beside him I couldn’t just disappear, so we collided. But it was my corner and I had the right to the space. I was saddened by his behaviour after the race: he was very aggressive and the guys from the FIA had to intervene. That’s not the way to handle these things.”
I respect the FIA’s decision but just to be clear, if you are faster you are allowed to unlap yourself. I overtook 7 times into turn 2 this race it was always tight, but always fair… #EO31 #brazilgp #swipe⬅️ pic.twitter.com/UrmujIj09Q
— Esteban Ocon (@OconEsteban) November 11, 2018
Suffering from extensive floor damage on the right-hand side of his car as a result of the contact, Verstappen dropped five seconds behind Hamilton, and despite winding the gap down to two seconds, the time difference between the pair was ultimately too much to overcome, handing the Briton victory.
“These guys have worked so hard and the last six years has been an incredible journey with them,” said Hamilton post-race following Mercedes’ fifth consecutive Constructors’ Championship victory. “This is what everyone worked for, for the whole year. Everyone wakes up, goes to work every day and tries to bring the best out of themselves and then really pull together as a unit. I’ve always said how much of an honour it is to drive for them [Mercedes] and today was the best style we could do it because we were struggling. We had problems with the engine and he [Verstappen] passed us like we were a sitting duck at one stage. Obviously, he made a mistake and that brought us back into contention and I’m just so proud of everyone.
“I’m just a chink in the chain. They give me the tools and I try and do the best I can with it,” he added.
Despite suffering from damage, Verstappen wrapped up second for Red Bull Racing while Raikkonen stood on the final step of the podium for Ferrari, holding off a hard-charging Ricciardo who took fourth after starting from 11th place following a grid penalty.
Driving a difficult race that was caused by extensive tyre wear, Bottas contributed 10 points to Mercedes’ total weekend haul of 35 by finishing in fifth while Vettel cruised home to a lowly and disappointing sixth at the bottom of Formula 1’s ‘Class A’ Championship.
For Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc, it was the best of the rest, finishing in seventh place while he was closely followed by the Haas F1 pair of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen who secured an 8-9 finish for the American outfit.
For Acronis technology partner Force India, Sergio Perez was able to secure a points finish by taking the chequered flag in 10th place after delivering a clinical and clean performance over the course of the 71-lap affair.
The 2018 Formula 1 season will come to a close in two weeks with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the stunning Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates.
Top image: Mercedes AMG F1 Team at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix. © Steve Etherington.