Five things we learned from Brazilian Grand Prix
Written by Chris Winterburn
With both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles both having already been sewn up, you would have been forgiven for thinking the 2019 jaunt to Sao Paulo would have been a race without any real drama, yet it proved to be one of the best races of the year.
Max Verstappen returned to winning ways with a near-flawless race weekend, yet there was controversy in the latter stages of the race, in front of a vibrant crowd at Interlagos. As such, we learned a lot from the penultimate race of 2019.
1, Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow have a real problem in their paddock
The collision between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc was the latest in a long line of problems between the two Ferrari drivers this term, yet what made it worse was the fact you could see it coming even before it took place.
With the race due to restart after a safety car, Leclerc was on fresher tires and was right behind his German teammate, it was obvious that he would be in prime position to take the place.
However, it was almost as if Vettel was taken by surprise when Leclerc breezed past him, angering him. He lacked the power to take the place back but attempted to anyway, and the result was a collision which forced both to retire.
Mattia Binotto was very diplomatic in the aftermath, as was the Monaco-born driver, but it’s obvious this can’t keep happening.
Ferrari had nothing to race for on Sunday with their second place in the constructors’ championship already confirmed, but a double-retirement caused by an inter-team collision was the last thing they would have wanted.
It’s difficult to envisage a scenario where Leclerc isn’t the number one driver for the Italian team in 2020, and Vettel will not be happy with such a development. Ferrari will have to manage this brewing rivalry carefully, especially if they are to challenge for the titles next year.
They can’t afford to have two drivers who place their own rivalry above the needs of the team, and that, albeit at a very low scale, was exactly what happened in Sao Paulo.
2, Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton is box office
It may have taken much of the season, but in Brazil we finally got the direct battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and it didn’t disappoint.
The Dutch driver has long been seen as the natural heir to Hamilton’s throne as the dominant force in F1, but a loss of form of late had left many wondering if the Red Bull ace was lacking the maturity and determination to sustain a battle with such an experience veteran.
Yet, he held his nerve on Sunday, and we saw classic racing between the pair. There were beautiful overtaking manoeuvres, great vehicle management and two teams who got their own respective game-plans spot on.
Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport lacked the same straight-line speed as the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team and it wasn’t a surprise when Verstappen came out on top to win the race, but what a preview for 2020.
Verstappen’s performance showed he had the requisite driving ability to challenge Hamilton within the microcosm of a race, and it was really exciting to watch.
2020 could be the year where Mercedes sees a serious, sustained challenge to their crown and the Brazilian Grand Prix showed the neutral what could be a competitive rivalry you can’t afford to take your eyes away from for years to come.
3, Pierre Gasly deserved this moment in the sun
In sport one of the most painful experiences for an individual is to be told you’re not needed. Be that as a footballer who is left on the bench, or a cricketer who only makes it onto the team as the 12th man, the feelings remain the same.
This is exactly what happened to Pierre Gasly during the summer break in the F1 season, when Aston Martin Red Bull Racing sensationally dropped him to their sister team, Toro Rosso, in exchange for the highly-rated Alexander Albon.
Now whilst it was obvious that the move to the premier team came too soon for the French driver, it would have been easy for him to throw in the towel and let his level of performance drop even further, but he didn’t. Gasly has worked incredibly hard since returning to Toro Rosso and his first ever podium finish in Formula 1 was a deserved reward.
Not since Sebastian Vettel won the Italian Grand Prix in September 2008 have Toro Rosso been on the podium, yet Gasly was excellent as he finished second in Brazil.
Obviously, events went in his favour with the two safety cars near the end, however he had to be in the position to benefit from the misfortune of others in the first place.
Gasly’s race pace was strong and his bravery has to be commended, especially with how he held off Lewis Hamilton in the last lap of the race and steered his car home.
Gasly will hope to once again race for one of the elite teams in the sport, and his performance in a much weaker car in Brazil will have done his stock the world of good.
4, Alexander Albon is the perfect foil for Verstappen
It’s difficult for teams in F1 to find suitable partners for their really elite drivers. We saw Rubens Barrichello as one of the greatest in this role during his time with Ferrari behind Michael Schumacher as well as Mark Webber with Vettel, yet there have often been partnerships which haven’t worked at all well.
The aforementioned Vettel and Leclerc is the latest example, whilst we’ve seen Lewis Hamilton have real problems with both Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso.
With Verstappen clearly the elite driver at Red Bull, it was important for the team to find a teammate who wouldn’t necessarily be in direct competition with him, but who would be capable enough of performing to the expectations of the team.
Gasly couldn’t do this, he often seemed as though the task was too much for him, but in Albon they have found a level head who gets the best out of his car, and who doesn’t cause problems for team harmony. 2020 is likely to be very, very enjoyable for the Austrian team.
5, Interlagos remains well established on the Mount Rushmore of F1 circuits
Whilst always a fixture at the business of the season, the Brazilian GP at Interlagos is an event like few others.
The nature of the circuit creates the possibility for exciting driving, especially the wide start-finish curve, and it’s no coincidence that we saw one of the better races of the season on Sunday.
Whilst other circuits are seeing F1 move away from them, there is no chance of that with Interlagos, it’s an institution within the sport and Sunday’s spectacle showed us exactly why, and long may it continue.