2021 F1 Race 19: Interlagos
Don't call it the Brazilian Gran Prix, but do expect the Sao Paulo GP to sizzle.
With qualifying, free practice one and two, and the sprint race all done at cooler temperatures the Grand Prix had a slight unease in the build up as teams wondered whether the sun would shine or cooler track temperatures would force their hand on pit stop decisions. In first practice, Hamilton was unhappy with his suspension set up, but was fastest at the end of the session. Lewis would need to remain fastest as the new engine meant he would face a five place grid penalty on Sunday. However, a bigger problem lurked in the shadows for his car. At the end of qualifying, done on Friday due to the Saturday sprint race, his DRS was found to breach the rules on its 85mm allowable movement and so he was disqualified from the qualification session, a real blow considering he had managed pole position for the sprint race.
For Williams fans, there wasn't much to cheer about in overall pace but Latifi finally managed to beat Russel in qualifying. This ends Russel's record of out qualifying his team mate in every race (with the exception of him filling in for Hamilton at Mercedes at the end of the 2020 season).
Aston Martin will be disappointed with their qualifying pace with stroll out in Q1 and Vettel out in Q2, however, concentration may be slipping into 2022 as the 'best of the rest' 3rd place is out of theirs and Alpine's reach.
Alonso' pace in FP2 put him fastest, but wasn't replicable in qualifying, although he made it into Q3, and pulled every tenth of a second from the French car around each inch of the track.
Moving into the sprint race and concentration was split. Hamilton started at the back and had it all to do with Bottas and Verstappen fighting at the front. The Ferrari McLaren battle was a straight up fight as they prepared to battle for track position in the Sprint Race. Ferrari can claim victory with Sainz managing to not only finish ahead of the Mclarens but take a point for a phenomenal drive to hold P3 from a charging Perez while on soft tyres that looked ready to slip away from him at any moment. Bottas also took the soft tyres and managed to make them last against Verstappen on mediums despite a few charges along the main straight Bottas did enough and took the chequered flag. McLaren appeared intent on maintaining a strong position with Norris putting up very little defence against Hamilton for P6, knowing that the Mercedes man had a five place grid penalty to serve at the start of Sunday's race.
Into the race and all eyes were on Hamilton to see how he would reduce his deficit to the front runners, however it was the other cars on track on lap 1 that demanded the most attention. In the fierce battle between Ferrari and McLaren, ex-teammates Sainz and Norris made contact almost immediately off the line, resulting in a puncture and a very long drive back to the pits for Lando Norris. Meanwhile, turn four saw Perez jump ahead of Bottas as his Mercedes squirmed off the track. Hamilton was behind them quickly making places.
Several overtakes later it was time for Hamilton to pass Bottas, Mercedes wasted no time in swapping the cars, forcing Valterri to brake and wait for Hamilton to pass into turn 1, a slightly bizarre decision considering how far the number 2 driver was ahead at the time. Then came the incidents, Tsunoda and Stroll resulting in a safety car and Schumacher having his front wing bent under the car into turn one challenging Giovanazzi. The Stroll incident being the gift that wouldn't stop giving for Mercedes with him losing some bits of carbon fibre on the main straight several laps after his run in with Tsunoda which had resulted in a safety car that bunched the pack, it then handed Bottas a cheap pitstop under virtual safety car condition.
Perez fought hard against Hamilton, defending then attacking on the initial pass, regaining second place from Hamilton but in the end having no answer for the outstanding pace of the new engine in Hamilton's car into turn 1.
Then it was Verstappen, a battle ensued, with a hard defence on lap 48 making some question whether there was a penalty necessary as both cars went off track. Ten laps later though the battle became too much for Redbull and Hamilton managed to make a turn four pass. A position he then held to the end of the race.
For Ferrari it was a brilliant weekend, fifth and sixth place making them best of the rest on the day, McLaren could only manage one car in the points after Ricciardo was forced to retire. Norris managed to take tenth, an incredible result considering his incident at the beginning. Alpine will also be content as they secured eight and ninth, with Aston Martin finishing with one retirement and 11th place. An honourable mention for Mazepin, keeping his nose clean all race he managed to beat his teammate to the chequered flag.
The result means that Verstappen's lead is cut to fourteen points. For those looking outside of the championship fight, Perez will feel he still has a chance at third place with Valterri twenty five points ahead of him. It is all very close for fifth place, this position should hold interest for all race fans as it will likely be the first place awarded to those not in a Redbull or Mercedes. Norris holds the spot just 3 points ahead of Leclerc and 11.5 points ahead of Carlos Sainz.