Martin Brandl on the São Paulo Grand Prix

Martin Brandl, a former Formula 1 racer and now a popular commentator on British TV channel Sky Sports F1, recalls the dramatic events of the São Paulo Grand Prix, giving his views on the penalties, the title battle and video footage of the incident at Interlagos Turn 4.

The protagonist of the Brazilian stage of the championship in 2021 was Lewis Hamilton, unwittingly drawn into traditional Formula 1 games, and in their extreme version.

Before the start of the weekend, “intelligence reported” that Mercedes had prepared a new internal combustion engine for it – so in the remaining four races, Lewis will have two engines at his disposal. It turned out that this is true, respectively, in Brazil, he received a penalty in the form of the loss of five starting positions.

It made sense to take such a step, because the tracks in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi imply high top speeds, and this year Mercedes faced the fact that their engines lose power faster as they wear out than before.

In Interlagos, there is a long acceleration towards the 1st turn, and the track goes uphill there, and then the descent to the 4th turn follows – historically, this section is considered the place where overtaking occurs most often. The advantage of Honda’s power plants, which manifests itself on highways located above sea level – in the case of Interlagos, it is about 800 meters – in 2021 became slightly less, as Mercedes minders made some changes to the design of their turbocharger.

Add to that the new engine on car # 44 and some secret enhancement the team came up with to reduce drag and increase top speed, and it was nearly impossible to beat Hamilton in Brazil. No matter how events develop.

Hamilton attacks, but qualifying ends in drama

Sao Paulo was hosting the third and final qualifying sprint, so the weekend began with a one-hour Friday training session where everyone had to prepare for qualification. At first, the Red Bull cars seemed quite fast, while Lewis politely but insistently asked his team to adjust the front suspension settings to reduce the vertical oscillations of his Mercedes W12. At the end of the session, it was he who began to set the pace and did it until the very end of the weekend.

Lewis confidently won the qualification and had to start from pole in the sprint, until his result was canceled due to the fact that the rear wing of his car did not comply with the technical regulations. FIA experts confiscated the wing until the end of the weekend as evidence, before all the appeal deadlines had expired, so it was difficult to figure out how it happened that it did not pass instrumental control measurements.

Red Bull is confident that something is wrong with this rear wing, but Mercedes indignantly denied everything. Presumably, FIA experts examined the wing from Lewis’s car in great detail. It seems that the fate of the main trophies of the championship will be decided only in the season finale, the stakes are high, because the struggle takes on a fierce nature, and two teams and two contenders for the title sort things out not only on the track, but also outside it.

Chaos at the start amid growing tension

Hamilton started the sprint from the last, 20th position. He rode the formation circle at a leisurely pace, but on the way to the starting field he perfectly warmed up the tires and, even before the 1st turn, was ahead of four cars. He had a bright Saturday race, finishing fifth and just a little behind Carlos Sainz, who took 3rd place, and Sergio Perez, who was fourth.

The victory in the sprint went to Valtteri Bottas, and with it the pole in the Sunday race. Finn overtook Verstappen in turn 1, after which he took care of his soft tires until the finish line. Every year, closer to the middle of the championship, it seemed that he should be fired from Mercedes, but closer to winter they signed another contract with him. However, now, after it became known that George Russell will take his place in 2022, Valtteri’s performances make a very good impression.

Verstappen increased his lead in the championship by two points, earning them for 2nd place in the sprint, but on the day of the race there was some alarm in the air, although Lewis, having received a penalty for replacing the engine, had to start from 10th position.
It was rumored in the paddock that Lewis will have a hard time on Sunday, because the car with full fuel tanks is heavy, the temperature of the asphalt is higher than the day before, and he will have to fight his way through the traffic. But it turned out that all such reasoning is nonsense.

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes, did not hide at the starting field how angry he was with the fact that the FIA ​​allowed Red Bull to change elements of the rear wing in a closed park. So why wasn’t his team allowed to figure out what was wrong with the rear wing of Hamilton’s car during qualifying? It’s a good question, but the answer to it is mainly that the replacement of parts on Red Bull cars was carried out with the permission of the FIA ​​under the supervision of the federation inspectors, and these parts were in accordance with the technical regulations.

It seems that all this only provoked Lewis, and he immediately made his way to 6th place, and after some time his partner lost to him the third position. Ahead of him were only two Red Bull cars, which also ahead of Bottas’ Mercedes on the first lap.

Interesting games began.

Behind the leading group, Lando Norris at the start tried to outrun the slowly accelerating Carlos Sainz, his former team-mate, but hit the front wheel of his Ferrari, after which he received a puncture, but was still able to score one point in 10th place.

Yuki Tsunoda rushed into a desperate attack on Lance Stroll, and as a result, the asphalt from Senna’s “escah” was strewn with fragments of carbon fiber, and a safety car drove onto the track. This was in the hands of Hamilton, who immediately ran into Sergio Perez’s Red Bull gearbox.

Of course, the Red Bull riders foresaw this and at the restart they waited almost to the very white line before starting acceleration, trying not to allow Hamilton to take advantage of the slip stream.

A little later, the track was again strewn with carbon confetti after Mik Schumacher’s Haas contact with Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo, but this time a virtual safety car mode was introduced, which again helped Lewis, who was able to get ahead of Perez a few laps after the restart.

Duel of Lewis and Max attracts everyone’s attention

At first, Verstappen managed to win back about a third of a second on the winding second sector of the track, which allowed him to get a little ahead of Hamilton, whose Mercedes flew like a rocket before entering the straight. However, Lewis was unstoppable, and on the 48th lap, Verstappen had to defend himself, and in the 4th turn he squeezed the opponent to the outside curb.

Max will argue that both braked very late, and that he was driving on a muddy part of the track, and the cars were out of the track for this reason. I’m also sure Max will say that when he saw Lewis in the relegation zone, he turned the steering wheel to also drive through this zone and then accelerate again.

In the video, made by the Red Bull onboard camera, it can be seen that Max braked very late and could not choose at what point to start entering the turn, but he did not turn the steering wheel towards Lewis. The whole maneuver took place at the limit, so the stewards could easily make any decision. At least for such actions, the rider deserved a warning black and white flag.

Only on Tuesday did the Mercedes team send a request to the FIA ​​to reconsider the decision of the stewards, but such protests rarely lead to a change in the verdict.

In any case, Red Bull may say that Verstappen slowed down towards the end of the race, so a 5-second penalty would be unfair, because then their driver would be behind Bottas. Max could really go faster, but Mercedes easily parries: Bottas could too.

Lewis reacted calmly to the incident, and when the team reported on the radio that the stewards had left him without consequences, it probably only strengthened his resolve to get ahead of Max.

Which he did on lap 59. Max had to take a not very advantageous position in the 1st turn, defending himself from the rapidly approaching Hamilton, because of which he lost his rhythm in the next two turns. Lewis was able to take the ideal trajectory, which allowed him to overtake before the 4th corner using DRS. This meant that the victory would go to him, if any technical problems did not interfere.

While Max was driving in front of Hamilton’s Mercedes, Red Bull could still do something, but when he was behind, they no longer had any arguments.

Lewis win promises fantastic season finale

There are no Brazilian drivers left in Formula 1, but Brazilian fans now support Lewis, knowing that he admires Haymarket, especially since Ayrton would probably be impressed with such a performance.

The race in Qatar is ahead, and Valentino Rossi, who retired from MotoGP last weekend, knows this track incomparably better than any Formula 1 racer, and it suits motorcycles more than modern racing cars.

Verstappen’s leadership in the individual competition was reduced to 14 points – Sergio Perez just before the finish managed to take away the bonus point for the best lap from Lewis, so the fight for the title will continue at least until the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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