Interlagos Insanity: Looking back at the crazy Brazilian Grand Prix
Chaotic. That's one way the final ten laps of Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix could be described. Two safety cars, the Ferrari's clipping each other, Lewis Hamilton making a rare mistake and taking out another car, and a Toro Rosso on the podium. Again. Yep, you read that right! And that was only the beginning of things.
Save for a mere skirmish between leader Max Verstappen and Robert Kubica coming out of the pit lane and contact between Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo, nothing had really come together to make this race a memorable one. Then on lap 52, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas was forced to pull over on the entry to turn 4 with an engine failure. Bottas, who was on the tail of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc had smoke pouring out of the rear of the car from the previous lap, parked the car in what was deemed a position suitable for a safety car to appear. This is where it gets exciting..
Verstappen, who had regained the lead from Hamilton after his tussle with Kubica earlier in the race, was prompted to pit by his team straight away, whilst Hamilton opted to stay out. A call made by Red Bull strategist Hannah Schmitz, and one that would ultimately prove crucial. As the race restarted, Verstappen wasted in time in once again regaining the lead from Hamilton, but he was not the only Bull on the move as Alex Albon made an incredible move around the outside of Sebastian Vettel on the entry to turn 1 at the restart. Vettel, who also opted not to switch tyres like Hamilton, now had teammate Leclerc behind for company.
Leclerc, on the faster tyres was not keen on keeping behind his more experienced teammate, and made that clear when he dived down the inside of of Vettel, taking fourth place off the German. Vettel was not lying down however, as he attacked instantly on the exit of turn three and the worst possible outcome occurred. Despite it being the lightest of touches, Leclerc and Vettel came together, breaking Leclerc's front right wheel and suspension and leaving Vettel with a bad puncture, destroying his floor. Both Ferrari's were out, and the safety car came out once again.
With both Ferrari's and Bottas out of the way, the top three saw Hamilton sandwiched between the two Red Bull's of Verstappen and Albon. Hamilton was adamant that he was not making the same mistake twice and pitted from second, dropping to fourth as surprisingly, Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly inhabited third place. With only two laps to do when the debris was cleared and the cars were taken away from danger, it was anybody's guess. As expected, Hamilton made quick work of Gasly to take back third, however Albon was proving that he was no pushover, and things came to a head once again as Hamilton hit the side of the Red Bull, sadly spinning Albon out of contention for his very first F1 podium.
This, however meant that Gasly re-took the podium spot and moved into second as a damaged Hamilton raced after the Toro Rosso. Verstappen eventually took the win the following lap, however as Hamilton went side by side with Gasly up the hill in a tense drag race for second, Gasly and the power of the Honda engine kept the reigning champion behind by less than six thousandths of a second to take his own first podium on the line. Gasly was emotionally elated, screaming and cheering his way to Parc Ferme. I don't think he could believe what happened, and neither could I. After all his Red Bull troubles, Gasly does the first podium with Toro Rosso, incredible.
Hamilton settled for third, but just because the chequered flag fell didn't mean it was over yet. Thanks to a steward's investigation into the Hamilton/Albon accident, Lewis Hamilton was handed a post race five second penalty and because of the tightness of the field thanks to the two safety cars, he dropped to seventh. This promoted last starting Carlos Sainz to third, his first F1 podium and McLaren's first podium in almost six years. So the end result was a Honda powered one-two and a McLaren third place. It was Honda's first win in Brazil since Senna's emotional home win at the circuit in 1991, and as Senna's 25th anniversary a theme for celebration over the course of the weekend, one couldn't help but feel Senna was surely on Honda's side as a means of thanks for the good memories.
Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz. Who predicted that podium? Definitely one un-expected podium but you cannot help but look at that podium and smile. If this is the type of chaos and unpredictability that we can expect when the new regulations go live in 2021, then bring it on!