Honda reigns supreme in season’s penultimate race in Brazil

Wednesday November 20 2019

Red Bull's Max Verstappen won the Brazilian Grand Prix to obliterate the memories of the incident he had last year with the Force India of Esteban Ocon that cost him the win when they came into contact as the Dutchman was leading.

Verstappen kept well clear of the frenetic action behind him for the better part of the race and would have won in Brazil by a comfortable margin were it not for the Safety Car that came in twice towards the end of the race.

Verstappen secured pole by 0.123 second to the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. The German had managed to out qualify his teammate, Charles Leclerc, but Lewis Hamilton, in the Mercedes, had split the Ferraris.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas was fifth while the second Red Bull driven by Alexander Albon was sixth. Leclerc, however, had a ten-place grid penalty because of installing a new power unit and therefore started 14th.

Verstappen had no problems at the start getting to Turn One comfortably in the lead. Hamilton passed Vettel by sweeping the outside of Turn One.

By the second lap, Leclerc had already gained three positions. He passed three more cars in the next three laps. Verstappen held a comfortable lead out in front early in the race. Although Hamilton was not far behind him, he was not close enough to mount a challenge.


Leclerc passed Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo for seventh on the seventh lap. Further behind, Lance Stroll in the SportPesa Racing Point and Carlos Sainz in the McLaren were also putting in stellar performances, both having gained five positions each.

On the eighth lap, Renault's Daniel Ricciardo made an attempt to pass the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. That did not work and the resultant collision caused damage to the front wing of the Renault, while Magnussen spun. Ricciardo was given a five-second penalty and his visit to the pit stop demoted him to last.

A two-stop strategy was the preferred choice by majority of the teams. Hamilton was brought in first among the lead cars on the 20th lap. Verstappen was told to do the same on the subsequent lap.

His pit crew managed a mind-boggling 1.9 second pit stop in an attempt to keep their man ahead. All that amounted to nought as the Williams of Robert Kubica blocked Verstappen on the exit of the pit lane in what was clearly an unsafe release into the path of an oncoming car.

As Verstappen re-joined the track, Hamilton was at the back of Leclerc trying to find a way through. The Dutchman saw the two cars zoom past and realized that Mercedes had succeeded with the undercut.

Within a short time, however, he had caught up with Hamilton and no sooner had the Brit passed Leclerc than the Dutchman overtook him. Hamilton was able to pass Verstappen going into Turn One but then Verstappen got right back at him. The Dutchman was able to open a comfortable lead.

Hamilton came in for his second tyre swap on the 43rd lap, Verstappen, a lap later. Soon afterwards, Bottas, who had pitted a second time two laps before his teammate, caught up with Leclerc and began piling on the pressure. Leclerc, however, defended well.

Bottas kept chasing the Ferrari for about six laps until smoke started coming out of the back of his car and he had to quit. Although he made a brave attempt to park where the car would easily be towed away without the need for a Safety Car, it was still deployed. Hamilton was told to do the opposite of what Verstappen would do at the pit stop entry.

The lead car went in so the Brit stayed out. As soon as the race restarted, Verstappen swept past Hamilton on the outside of Turn One. Hamilton was in danger of dropping more positions as those behind him were on fresh tyres against his mediums which were already fifteen laps old. The Safety Car brought Leclerc to within touching distance of the race leaders.

At the opportune time, he passed his teammate by diving down the inside of Turn One, five laps from the end. Vettel struck back at the next DRS zone, overtaking his teammate and then steering left such that his rear left tyre touched the front right wheel of Leclerc's car. Disaster struck both drivers as they suffered punctures that put them out of the race.

The resultant Safety Car saw Mercedes opt to pit Hamilton, hoping he would have enough laps to recover positions or inherit the lead. That was not to be, however, as Hamilton, behind Albon who was running second and having passed the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, hit the Thai driver on the penultimate lap as he dived on the inside of a right-hander but then had Albon 'shut the door' on him.

Albon spun, ruining his chances of a first ever podium finish. Hamilton soldiered on and finished less than a car's length behind Gasly. The Toro Rosso driver was elated at his first ever podium finish while Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for colliding with him which demoted the six-time world champion to seventh position.

Interlagos was Verstappen's first ever win from pole. If the Ferraris had not collided, Leclerc would have been in a fine position to challenge Verstappen for third place in the drivers' standings come the final race in Abu Dhabi.

It's now a tall order for the Monegasque to surmount the eleven points between him and the Dutchman and he will be hoping for a miracle at Yas Marina.

Two records were broken in Brazil, Red Bull had the fastest ever pit stop timed at 1:82 seconds for Verstappen and secondly, the three men on the podium, Verstappen, Gasly and McLaren's Carlos Sainz, combined to make it the youngest ever.