Verstappen wins manic Brazilian Grand Prix from Gasly and a promoted Sainz

Max Verstappen won a classic Brazilian Grand Prix after a dramatic conclusion to the race saw collisions between Lewis Hamilton and Alexander Albon and the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen had been the class of the field throughout the Interlagos weekend, dominating all three segments of qualifying to ease to the second pole position of his career on Saturday, and was almost oblivious to the chaos behind him as he secured his third victory of the 2019 season.

The Dutchman was joined on the podium by Hamilton and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who claimed his first podium finish in F1, just eight races after being replaced by Red Bull Racing in August.

However, Hamilton was issued with a five-second time penalty after the chequered flag for his clash with Albon, demoting him to seventh place and allowing Carlos Sainz – who started the race from the back of the grid after failing to set a time in qualifying – to score his maiden podium and McLaren’s first top-three finish in almost six years.

It also meant that Alfa Romeo recorded their strongest finish of 2019, with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi finishing fourth and fifth respectively, Daniel Ricciardo recovering from an early collision with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas to claim a fine sixth ahead of Hamilton’s revised seventh.

Speaking to former grand prix driver Rubens Barrichello during the pre-podium interviews, Verstappen, who passed Hamilton on track on two separate occasions en route to victory, said: “Lewis was very quick so I had to keep pushing and all the time with the strategy he pitted one lap earlier, so we had to be really on top of our pitstops. Two times we had a good move with him, so that brought us back into first and from there onwards I could control the race with the tyres I had. Unbelievable. It was a lot of fun out there and of course great to win the race.”

Having experienced a rollercoaster season in 2019, struggling to settle at Red Bull before being reborn at sister team Toro Rosso, Gasly was delighted to secure his first visit to the podium.

He told Barrichello: “It’s my first podium in Formula 1 and, for sure, I will never forget it. It’s such a special moment. It’s so emotional and to get it with these guys, with Toro Rosso, they’ve given me a fantastic car since I came back. I’m just so happy for Honda, for Toro Rosso. It’s an amazing day.”

Hamilton had emerged as Verstappen’s main threat almost as soon as the race began, swooping around the outside of Vettel to snatch second at Turn 1.

Despite being unable to pressurise Verstappen throughout the first stint, Hamilton had closed the gap to around 1.8 seconds before becoming the first of the lead runners to pit on lap 20, committing to a two-stop strategy by remaining on soft-compound tyres.

Verstappen responded immediately, pitting for another set of softs on the following lap, but despite the efforts of his Red Bull pit crew – who changed all four Pirellis in just 1.9 seconds – the Dutchman was delayed by Robert Kubica’s Williams, which had been released into his path at the end of the pit lane.

Forced to take evasive action and sit behind Kubica until the pair rejoined the circuit, Verstappen lost the lead to Hamilton, who having executed the undercut found himself stuck between the yet-to-stop Leclerc.

This allowed Verstappen to march back up to Hamilton and, after both cars cleared the Ferrari, the Red Bull sailed past the British driver into Turn 1 to retake the lead.

With the Mercedes cars hindered by the high-altitude nature of the Interlagos circuit, as they were in Austria and, to a lesser extent, Mexico earlier this season, Hamilton struggled to match the pace of Verstappen, who had established a gap of around three seconds by lap 33.

Despite sealing his sixth world championship at the previous round in Austin, Hamilton had become increasingly agitated over team radio in pursuit of an 11th win of 2019 before Mercedes pitted him for a second time on Lap 43, switching to medium tyres.

Again, Red Bull mirrored Mercedes’ move as Verstappen pitted for mediums on the following lap, another 1.9-second stop allowing him to retain the lead.

The Dutchman remained reasonably comfortable at the front when Bottas pulled to the side of the road with smoke emitting from his Mercedes, beginning the process of turning the race on its head.

Having abandoned his second stint on hard-compound tyres on Lap 41, Bottas was making progress on fresh mediums when he came up behind Leclerc – who had made the same mistake of switching to hards – on Lap 46.

A mix of typical Bottas tentativeness and Mercedes’ vulnerability in high-altitude conditions meant the Finn was stuck behind the Ferrari for several laps before his engine expired.

The resulting safety car led to Hamilton being instructed to do the opposite to Verstappen as they approached the pit lane, with Red Bull taking the initiative on this occasion and pitting the Dutchman for a set of softs, rejoining in second place but with much fresher tyres.

As the race restarted on Lap 60, Verstappen launched a sensational move around the outside of Hamilton to reclaim the lead as Albon executed an almost identical move on Vettel for third, putting his wheels onto the grass to take the position.

Verstappen used the advantage of new tyres to scurry into the distance as Hamilton found himself fighting off Albon while Leclerc, who had capitalised on the safety car to trade his hards for softs, pressurised Vettel. Leclerc then passed Vettel with a late move at Turn 1 on Lap 66 before Vettel countered on the run towards Turn 4.

In an incident reminiscent of Vettel’s infamous collision with Mark Webber in the 2010 Turkish GP, however, the German moved slightly towards his team-mate as they ran side-by-side and made contact with Leclerc’s right-front, destroying the Monegasque’s suspension and giving himself a puncture.

Another safety car period saw Mercedes make a somewhat questionable decision to pit Hamilton for a set of softs, dropping him to fourth behind Albon and Gasly with just a matter of laps remaining.

As the race restarted, Verstappen checked out at the front as Hamilton made instant progress, overtaking Gasly around the outside of Turn 1. Hamilton then began to creep up on Albon but misinterpreted the rookie’s wide line into Turn 8 as an open door, colliding with the Red Bull driver and leaving him down the order. He eventually finished 14th.

“I massively apologise to Albon,” Hamilton told Barrichello after the race. “I went for a move where the gap was kind of there, but obviously it closed right at the end and completely my fault. But, still, a great race. Max did a fantastic job today, they just outclassed us in terms of overall performance and we couldn’t keep up with them on the straights. But, honestly, I raced my heart out, I gave it everything, I left nothing on the table and I took a lot of risks today as you saw.”

The collision promoted Gasly to second, with the Toro Rosso driver holding off Hamilton to secure the team’s second podium finish of 2019 following Daniil Kvyat’s third-place finish in Germany.

That a Honda-powered car managed to win a drag race to the line against a Mercedes is arguably the biggest reflection of the progress the Japanese manufacturer has made since joining the Red Bull family in 2018.

And determined to make the most of that progress, no doubt, is Verstappen, who continues to demonstrate that he may be the heir to Hamilton’s throne.

In the final shakedown, Lando Norris was classified eighth, with Sergio Perez a typically battling ninth to continue Acronis partner team SportPesa Racing Point’s record of scoring points in every Brazilian GP in the hybrid era. Kvyat completed the top 10 to make it a memorable day for Toro Rosso and give them a big fillip in the midfield battle with one race remaining.

Oliver Harden

Oliver Harden

Sportswriter, F1 columnist.