The Undercut: The Brazilian Grand Prix – when push comes to shove...
Well. That was an eventful one wasn’t it? On and off the track.
Interlagos, as is often pointed out, is a dilapidated old circuit, about as far removed from the likes of Yas Marina as it is possible to get and as a city, you’d probably fancy a night out in downtown Damascus compared to Sao Paulo, but for F1, this place always delivers.
Often the weather has a big impact here and although we had the juicy prospect of a thunderstorm during the race, it didn’t materialise – though there would be a fair bit of thunder in parc fermé after the race (more of that later).
The intrigue and excitement started to kick off in qualifying and it looked for a while like the sharp end of the grid could be decided by penalties – not of the tiresome engine type, but of the naughty driver variety.
Lewis Hamilton, who again wound up on pole, appeared to move into the path of Sergey Sirotkin in a fast moving Williams (not often you hear that these days) with the Russian jinking hard left to avoid what would have been a massive old shunt.
While it initially looked on TV like a slam dunk penalty infraction for the champion, it turned out that neither Sirotkin, his team or the stewards were unduly bothered. It appeared to be six of one and half a dozen of the other, so no investigation was required.
Of more note was Mr Red Mist, Sebastian Vettel, once again allowing his lack of patience to get to him.
As any watcher of F1 may know, during qualifying in particular, the weight of the car is checked on a set of scales near the pit entrance and it is a completely random process.
So, if you send you car out, as Ferrari did, in changeable conditions with seconds to go, you do run the risk of a quick visit to Weight Watchers, as Sebastian found out.
Initially, in the confusion of what happened next, the stewards issued a report, saying he had not turned his engine off (meaning the car cannot be weighed accurately) and that he drove off, instead of being pushed off, sending the scales shooting backwards, destroying them in the process and missing an official's ankles by inches.
As it turned out, this was only half true, as after a bit of gesticulating on both sides, the engine was turned off and turned back on again to get back to the Ferrari pit, pronto.
Although it is unclear what rule was broken (there does not appear to be one saying you have to be pushed off the scales) his impatience warranted a €25,000 fine, though just imagine if he’d injured somebody behind the car? It could have been an early ‘plane ticket home.
As it was, the front few rows of the grid, behind pole sitter Hamilton, were comprised of Vettel, then Valtteri Bottas, with Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo making up the top six, with all the ‘Category B’ drivers behind in more or less where they always end up.
On race day, Max Verstappen, nabbed by Sky F1’s Rachel Brookes, who was on ‘loitering outside the toilet door duty’ again, said he fancied a podium but there were too many cars to overtake for the win.
Pull the other one Max, it’s got bells on it.
At the United States Grand Prix, he went from near last on the grid to second at the flag, not the first time this year he’s gone on an overtaking frenzy, so winning from fifth was well within his range.
And so it proved, with the Ferraris a bit sluggish off the start, it wasn’t long before he’d mugged those two and then set about breezing past Bottas and by half distance he took the lead from Hamilton, whose Mercedes motor was not having one of it’s better days – in fact the team were convinced it was due to grenade itself near the end of the race.
The Red Bull team thought at this point, with there being no obvious threat from behind, that this was job done for the day and over the radio, Max was told to ‘stroke it home’.
Even for the speed the car had and the incredible form Max was in, this seemed to be tempting fate a little, what with thirty-odd laps to go, and so it was soon to prove.
Presumably bored with crashing mostly into his team-mate, Force India’s Esteban Ocon, decided, as is his right, to unlap himself and get past Verstappen.
All well and good but doing that in the middle of a corner, going wheel to wheel with the race leader, when you are down in sixteenth place is not really the done thing.
Hamilton, used to getting such race day presents from Ferrari, gladly accepted this one from Force India, and despite his engine now being hotter than the inside of Verstappen’s helmet, he went on to take win number ten of the year, bagging the constructors' title for Mercedes into the bargain.
Apparently, this team championship win means that everybody back at the factory, each and every one of the 850 staff, will get a bonus of around £10,000.
Maybe they’d like to club together and get Esteban a little thank you gift?
Of course, you all know what was coming next.
On the slow down lap, his engineer radioed Max saying, “I just don’t know what to say mate”. Max did though and although most of it was not suitable for broadcast on tea-time telly, the gist of it was that he hoped he didn’t find Esteban in the paddock, as he might want to have a rather strong word or two.
As it happened, Verstappen *did* find Ocon, in the weighing room and there then followed three shoves to the chest, a few lessons in Dutch language and a prompt bit of storming off.
To be expected and forgiven?
No, it would appear not.
It seems the FIA have a rule against showing any emotion when a back-marker completely destroys your weekend by robbing you of a sure-fire win, so they duly sentenced Max to two days of picking up litter outside their offices in Paris.
Over on Twitter, reaction was mixed but for some, it was almost as if Max had walked up to the Frenchman and thumped the living daylights out of him.
Cue a huge amount of hand-wringing and angst from people saying there is no place for violence in F1.
True enough but if three little shoves in the chest is considered violence worthy of such outrage, then I’d suggest these folk need to look out into the real world and maybe get a grip on what is violent or not.
Yours truly mentioned the time Ayrton Senna gave Eddie Irvine a clip around the ear for some far smaller misdemeanour and this was seized upon as glorifying and accepting physical violence.
Blimey, I hope none of these delicate souls watched any of the weekend’s rugby internationals – they’d need a week in a darkened room listening to whale song to recover.
Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, reckoned Ocon was lucky to get away with what he did, and yes, without wishing to see harm come to anybody, he was right.
Surely, it is far better that steam is let off when the drivers are NOT on the race track?
History has shown us, with tragic consequences in the past, that carrying forward anger into the car is not a good thing, so if a little dust up in the pits is what it takes, then so be it.