On Sunday, November 17, 2019, at the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo, Brazil, the Brazilian Grand Prix will take place, marking the twentieth race of the Formula 1 World Championship. The World Championships have already been decided, with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes as the champions. However, Ferrari is eager to end the season on a positive note after a challenging start that improved over time, despite the last Grand Prix in the United States ending in disaster. Sebastian Vettel expresses optimism about the penultimate race in Brazil:
"When racing in São Paulo, it's always unpredictable; anything can happen. I don't know why, but there's something special about this track and these places. Something crazy always happens, and if it doesn't, you can be sure it will the next year. It's another track that has been friendly to our team in recent years. I remember, for example, that Kimi was on the podium here last year, while two years ago, I won the race".
Vettel also praises the Brazilian audience, considering them as co-pilots:
"Certainly, in terms of atmosphere, it's a special race. Brazilians are probably the loudest audience among the races on our calendar. They shout so loudly from the stands that we can hear them even in the car. Brazilian fans really seem to get in the car with you".
Brazil cannot be mentioned without thinking of Ayrton Senna. Charles Leclerc reveals that the Brazilian driver has always been his reference point:
"Brazil is not just a nation with a huge passion for our sport; it is also the homeland of Ayrton Senna, the driver to whom I have probably been most inspired. He was a great talent and a special person, and this Grand Prix always brings his legend to mind".
Leclerc also comments on the circuit:
"It's extremely fun: a short lap with very different corners and reasonably long straights. The track layout has changed a lot over the decades to become what it is now. When I played video games as a child, I always chose this track, so I can say I'm a big fan".
Ferrari's team principal, Matteo Binotto, adds:
"We arrive at the penultimate Grand Prix of the season after the frustrating race in Austin where we couldn't achieve the result we felt we could obtain. On Saturday, with Vettel, we missed the seventh consecutive pole position by just a hundredth, but at least we had confirmation that, in terms of performance, we were competitive as always".
It's no secret that rival teams, especially Red Bull and Mercedes, have raised several clarification requests to the FIA regarding the functioning of power units. Before the United States Grand Prix, a directive was issued specifying that manipulating the flow meter to inject a greater amount of fuel into the engine was considered non-compliant with the regulations. Just before the Brazilian Grand Prix, a second circular, TD 38/19, is released, further specifying the prohibition of using cooling system liquid in the combustion chamber. The recent discussions mainly focus on regulatory clarification regarding power units, with Ferrari's rival teams seeking numerous clarifications from the FIA without officially protesting. In the customary media briefing on Thursday, Charles Leclerc denies any anger or desire for retaliation against opponents:
"Everyone within the team knows what we are doing, and there is absolutely nothing wrong. We are confident that things will return to normal here. In Austin, there were a series of things that didn't go the right way. Clearly, reverting to the old engine specification was not ideal, and the difference was visible during the race. But personally, I have no extra motivation to prove that they were wrong. The weekend won't be easy, but I believe it could be the best opportunity to take the penalty. I will try to limit the damage as much as possible, aiming to achieve our best possible result, and I'm quite sure we will see the benefits of this choice in Abu Dhabi. Overall, I think it's a positive thing".
The days following the United States Grand Prix were marked by controversies following Max Verstappen's statements accusing Ferrari of cheating regarding their power unit. Before the Brazilian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel also weighs in on the matter, saying:
"There's not much to say about it. I think that comment was immature. I ignore it because it's irrelevant; we want to respond on the track".
The German driver then talks about the United States Grand Prix, where he retired due to a failure of the rear-right suspension after securing a good second position in qualifying.
"Austin was not a good weekend for us, especially on Sunday. However, we are working hard to keep up".
On Friday, November 15, 2019, the first free practice session is characterized by wet track conditions due to rain. Drivers initially use wet tires, then switch to intermediate tires, and finally to slick tires as the track conditions improve. Alexander Albon sets the fastest time, with the Thai driver leading Valtteri Bottas (who sets the time with intermediate wet tires) by 0.5s, and Sebastian Vettel by 0.9s. In the final part of the session, while testing soft tires, Albon goes off track at Turn 12, hitting the barriers. In the impact, the Thai driver damages the front right wing and suspension. Due to the incident, the session is interrupted two minutes before its scheduled end. Neither Lewis Hamilton nor Max Verstappen set valid times. Both had not set valid times in the first period of the session, characterized by wet conditions, and when they entered the track in the final part of the session, they were penalized by the session interruption due to Albon's incident. Verstappen even spins with slick tires. During the first free practice session on Friday, Nicholas Latifi replaces Robert Kubica at Williams. In the second session on Friday, the two Ferraris prevail, with Sebastian Vettel faster than Charles Leclerc by 0.021s. The Monegasque driver does two warm-up laps before attempting the performance, unlike Sebastian Vettel, who only completes one lap. Less than 0.2s behind the German's time is Max Verstappen, who leads the two Mercedes cars. Hamilton is hindered by slower drivers in both his fast attempts, both by Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas. The Finn, in turn, is obstructed by Charles Leclerc, who, leaving his pit box, cuts in front of the Mercedes.
Pierre Gasly cannot complete the session due to a power unit problem, as well as his teammate Daniil Kvyat, who is forced to park his car against the barriers. This leads to the session being interrupted. This is not the only red flag interruption of the session; the first is displayed due to an incident involving Robert Kubica, who loses control of his Williams at Turn 3 due to a loss of grip caused by water raised by a curb that another car passed over. After the incident, the driver is taken, as a precaution, to the track's medical center. The team's mechanics will have to rebuild the car's chassis. During the first day of practice, Ferrari was under scrutiny to see if the two FIA directives on the power unit issued after the United States Grand Prix had any effect on the performance of the engine produced in Maranello. The third sector of the Brazilian track was the perfect test to check for any power reductions in the Ferrari power unit, and the cars closed Friday at the Brazilian Grand Prix in first and second positions. Additionally, from GPS readings, Ferrari would maintain a 0.7s advantage on the straights against Red Bull, an advantage that would rise to 0.8-0.9s against Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time but remains cautious:
"Evaluation of today, I believe, has been a decent day; we have understood what to do with the car, and by now, we know it quite well. This will help us in balancing and performance for tomorrow and Sunday. Now we'll do our homework and see what we can do in the next two days".
As often happens, the work between Friday and Saturday will be crucial to fine-tune the SF90 setup:
"We can analyze all the details, and by getting many of them right, we have the chance to improve the car, which was already decent today. There's room for improvement, and I'm confident we can do it. The race will be challenging; others are faster than us, and this aligns with what we've seen in the recent races. We need to work on ourselves for the rest of the weekend".
Charles Leclerc closed the first day of practice with the fourth-best time in FP1 and the second time in FP2. In both sessions, the Monegasque driver positioned himself behind his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, although the two were separated by just 0.021s at the end of the afternoon session.
"I still need to work on the car for the race pace. Qualifying simulations were quite good, which is positive. The race pace was consistent but not fast enough. We still have work to do".
Asked about the best tire choice for the start, currently undecided between Soft and Medium compounds, Leclerc says:
"It's hard to say; both choices have pros and cons. We'll see tomorrow how we fare; for qualifying, we need to check the difference between the compounds, which we don't know exactly yet".
Red Bull Racing set the fastest time with Alex Albon in FP1, while Max Verstappen posted the third-best time in the afternoon session. However, the Dutch driver emphasizes the less representative nature of today's practices:
"It hasn't been the best day for testing, but it's the same situation for everyone. Nevertheless, the start of the weekend is positive. We'll see how the car performs with a different temperature tomorrow".
Asked about Ferrari's performance, this time the Red Bull driver prefers not to respond:
"I don't know; we'll see. Today is not really representative".
Regarding the performance on the fast lap, Verstappen says:
"You can't trust the lap times too much. The three top teams are all very close, and it will depend on how we respond to the evolution of the track tomorrow".
As for the reliability issues with the Honda power unit experienced by both Toro Rosso cars in FP2, the Dutch driver concludes:
"I'm not worried; I've saved quite a few kilometers in the last races, so it's fine".
Even Alex Albon complains about the difficulties of the track conditions during the practice sessions:
"The track is quite difficult and very technical, so it will take some time to learn it. However, the first attempt in FP2 wasn't bad; in the second, I made a mistake, but overall, not bad. The car seems strong, and slowly we're closing in on the gap. We need to optimize things a bit. For me, it's difficult to understand because I haven't had a clean lap today. We'll see where I went wrong and try to improve tomorrow".
Mercedes returns to the track in Brazil for the first time since 2013 without the guidance of Toto Wolff from the pit box but having secured both the Constructors' and Drivers' World Championships mathematically. The first day of practice shows a competitive Mercedes in terms of race pace but struggling with the quick lap. Lewis Hamilton finished the practice in fifth place, noting especially the performance of the two Ferraris.
"It's been a relatively good day; we've worked a lot. The Ferraris are fast on the straights again, so it will be interesting. There are two more sessions to get things right, but we've started on the right foot. I don't know if we'll be able to recover the three-tenths gap to Ferrari in qualifying".
Valtteri Bottas finished the practice with the fourth-best time and said at the end of the day:
"Considering everything, it didn't go badly. The others are strong; Ferrari has always been strong with the power unit, but Red Bull will also be in the fight. According to our calculations, Red Bull loses about 0.7s on the straight to Ferrari, with Mercedes trailing by 0.8-0.9s. It seems that the FIA technical directives have had no effect".
On Saturday, November 16, 2019, during the third and final practice session, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time. The weather conditions are different from the previous day, with warmer temperatures. The British driver precedes Max Verstappen by 0.026s, who sets the time using the slipstream of another car on the straight. The Ferraris close with the third and fourth times, focusing more on finding the setup for the race. Alex Albon closes with the fifth time ahead of Valtteri Bottas, penalized by other cars in his fast lap attempts. A few hours later, in the first phase of qualifying, Ferrari drivers set the first reference times. Sebastian Vettel laps in 1'08"556, ahead of Charles Leclerc by only 0.036s. Shortly after, Alexander Albon's Red Bull Racing takes the lead with a time of 1’08"503. At the mid-session, Carlos Sainz Jr.'s McLaren suffers a technical issue, and the driver is forced to abandon the session without even setting a timed lap. The classification now sees Max Verstappen in the lead, setting a time of 1'08"242. Behind him is Lewis Hamilton, 0.4s slower than the Dutchman. The last of the drivers from major teams to set a time is Valtteri Bottas, who is only sixth, 0.2s faster than Kevin Magnussen. The fight to advance to the next stage is very close. Nico Hülkenberg manages to improve at the last attempt, as do Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo, and Lando Norris. The Alfa Romeo drivers also improve, unlike Lance Stroll. In addition to the Canadian, Daniil Kvyat and the Williams drivers are eliminated, as well as Carlos Sainz Jr.. The first phase of Q2 sees no cars on track. Later, Lewis Hamilton sets a time of 1’08"088 using Soft tires, preceding Valtteri Bottas before Alex Albon inserts himself between the two. Charles Leclerc, who will be penalized, opts for Medium tires but still sets the best performance, later beaten by Max Verstappen. The other Ferrari driver, Sebastian Vettel, records the third-best time, despite using Soft tires. Midway through the session, those outside the top ten would be Norris, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Pérez, and Hülkenberg, but there are only 0.383s between seventh (Grosjean) and fifteenth place (Hülkenberg). The last attempts are partly made in vain due to yellow flags being displayed for a spin by Antonio Giovinazzi. Hülkenberg improves but remains in the elimination zone, as do other drivers already in danger. In Q3, the drivers wait a few minutes before taking to the track. Later, Romain Grosjean sets the fastest time, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Pierre Gasly.
Subsequently, Lewis Hamilton takes the lead, preceding Valtteri Bottas by a few thousandths of a second, with a time of 1’07"851. Vettel beats the Englishman's time, turning in 1'07"631. Shortly after, Verstappen takes the lead in the timesheets, with a margin of only 0.008s over the time of the Ferrari driver. Later, the other Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, places himself between Vettel and the two Mercedes. Alexander Albon follows, closing the group of the most performing cars, separated by only 0.312s from his teammate's time. In the final attempt, Leclerc sets the record in the first sector, while Verstappen does not improve. However, at the end of the lap, he improves his performance, lapping in 1'07"508. The Monegasque also improves but remains with the third time, before being beaten by Lewis Hamilton. Max Verstappen secures his second pole position, while Sebastian Vettel completes the front row. The second row, due to Charles Leclerc's penalty, is monopolized by Mercedes. However, the Monegasque secures the mathematical certainty of the FIA Pole Trophy, as the driver with the highest number of pole positions in the season. It is the first time since its inception in 2014 that Ferrari has won this trophy. Max Verstappen is thus a potential winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix, after being stopped only by the incident with Esteban Ocon in 2018. The Dutch driver says at the end of qualifying:
"Today the car was really excellent. During qualifying, the track temperature changed a bit, so we had to adapt. Right from Q1, the car was flying, very pleasant to drive, and I am thrilled with this pole. In the second attempt, I tried a different line, but the track was slightly warmer, so I gained a little more. Initially, I went wider in the first attempt, but in the second, it was better. All good. Compared to last year? I will definitely try to finish the race, then we'll see".
Sebastian Vettel set the second-best time, trailing Max Verstappen by 0.123s. During the qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Anglo-Austrian car appeared to be competitive even on the straights, surprising Sebastian Vettel:
"I didn't have a chance to check, but I don't think they introduced a new specification," the German stated in the press conference after the session. "It was a bit of a surprise".
The Ferrari driver is particularly astonished by the Red Bull's performance on the straights:
"In many qualifications, we saw that we were faster than others on the straights, losing a bit in the corners. Instead, today, we had the same speed as Max and Alex in those points. I don't know why; we didn't do anything different".
Speaking about the race, the German driver said:
"The goal is to have a clean race, not like last year. I am satisfied with the car's performance, but I cannot say if Ferrari and Mercedes are at the same level. It all depends on aerodynamic loads. The first turn is on my side, so if I have a good start, things can go well. The important thing was to secure the front row".
Regarding the race pace simulations done during FP3, the Ferrari driver said:
"We tried because we weren't happy with the balance. Tomorrow, however, it will be hotter, and normally high temperatures help us, so we hope they rise. It will be important to manage the tires and make the right strategic calls".
Max Verstappen's second career pole position is also the second of the season for Red Bull, or the third, according to the Dutch driver's playful provocation in the press conference. Certainly, in the last races, the Red Bull team has returned to play a leading role on both Saturdays and Sundays, making it perhaps the main contender for victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Christian Horner celebrates his birthday in the best way:
"It was my birthday, let's take the pole, then we'll worry about the race. We have been in contention for the pole in the last three races, so this is really encouraging".
Credit, of course, goes to Max Verstappen's superb lap, as emphasized by Christian Horner:
"I think he found himself perfectly with the car, and the whole package worked really well. The track conditions were difficult to improve in the last attempt, and he managed to gain there. It was brilliant on his part".
Horner gives credit to Honda, which is giving Red Bull several satisfactions despite still questionable reliability, as evident on Friday.
"All the credit goes to Honda; they did a great job. That they got their second pole position in the era of the hybrid turbo is wonderful, and this is a high-altitude track, so they deserve a lot of credit".
Ferrari's Team Principal, Mattia Binotto, sportsmanlike congratulates Max Verstappen, who has recently attacked Ferrari with harsh statements about the legality of the power unit made in Maranello:
"Max deserved the pole, nothing to say. I think he also made a mistake in the first attempt, as happened to Leclerc and Vettel. Second and fourth is still a good result. In the end, it's a sport, they are athletes, it's also a technical sport, it's right to always be fair to everyone".
Ferrari will have Sebastian Vettel as the first and perhaps only chance to try to return to the top step of the podium. Charles Leclerc, on the other hand, will have to undertake a recovery from the fourteenth position due to the ten-position penalty added to the fourth absolute performance obtained in Q3 after finishing second in the second qualifying session with a great time on Medium tires. The Monegasque driver does not define starting with Medium tires as a definite strategic advantage, while the Team Principal trusts in a very long and consistent first stint:
"In Brazil, anything can happen, and it is important for Leclerc to start with the mediums. We have many sets of fresh tires, we will have to be ready for any kind of solution. The track will be different from qualifying because it is evolving a lot".
Looking ahead to the Brazilian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen is the favorite, but Ferrari and the other pursuers are within a few tenths of a second:
"The opponent to beat, even in terms of the race, remains Verstappen, but those behind are not far away; we are all there within a few tenths, and we are all very strong. It's difficult to make predictions; certainly, in the last races, we had tire degradation issues. We worked a lot on it, and we'll see in the race if the work done in FP3 pays off in terms of balance".
Charles Leclerc ended his qualifying only in fourth place after showing throughout the session that he could fight for pole position.
"I am very disappointed in myself. Without the mistake in the last corner of the first attempt in Q3, I would have been very close to the pole or at least second. I lost a lot, about three and a half or four tenths, just on this corner. Again, I am very disappointed, but I will learn, and in the end, it doesn't change much, having the ten-position penalty. Doing the best lap or being close would have been good for everyone, so it's a shame".
However, Leclerc had made the difference in Q2 when he came very close to Verstappen's best time, even though he was using Medium tires chosen to attempt a different strategy to recover from the middle of the grid:
"On this track, there is little difference in terms of tire degradation between Medium and Soft, so I don't know if we'll have a real advantage, but at least we're trying something different. We learned more by doing long runs this morning in FP3, but I don't think it will be enough to reduce the gap from the other two top teams. I will always aim for the best possible result, but it will be more challenging than other Sundays".
Certainly, attention should also be paid to Lewis Hamilton, who will start from the third position:
"Congratulations to Max, who obviously did a great lap. We seemed quite competitive in FP3, but then we lost a bit in qualifying, or they gained. Despite that, I'm still happy because overtaking the Ferraris is always difficult; that's where we lose due to less power, but I still gave it all I had. I'm happy with the result; I did my best lap on the last attempt, so fantastic. Tomorrow? It will be difficult for us to win, the track is very demanding, and obviously, it's a historic place. When we come here, it's always exciting; I always have a design on my helmet that recalls Senna because I always remember his feats, especially here. I always have a lot of support here, thanks to all the fans".
On Sunday, November 17, 2019, at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen resisted Sebastian Vettel's attack, who was then passed by Lewis Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas took the fourth position, ahead of Alexander Albon, Pierre Gasly, Romain Grosjean, and Kimi Räikkönen. Charles Leclerc, starting in fourteenth place, was eleventh at the end of the first lap. On the third lap, Kimi Räikkönen passed Romain Grosjean, while Charles Leclerc was ninth. The Ferrari driver continued his comeback in the following laps, overtaking Grosjean, Räikkönen, and Gasly within the first ten laps. On the eighth lap, the cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen made contact at turn 4; the race direction deemed Ricciardo responsible for the contact, penalizing him by five seconds. During the 20th lap, Lewis Hamilton returned to the pits and again put on Soft tires. In the next lap, Max Verstappen also made the same move. Changing tires in just 1.82 seconds, the Red Bull Racing mechanics set a new speed record for a pit stop. The previous record also belonged to the Anglo-Austrian team and was set during the German Grand Prix, again for a pit stop by Max Verstappen, with a time of 1.88 seconds. Verstappen risked contact with Robert Kubica in the pit lane, losing valuable seconds that put him back on the track behind Lewis Hamilton. The Red Bull Racing driver managed to pass the British driver at the end of the lap, who had a problem with the engine setup. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel took the lead, followed by Valtteri Bottas. On the 24th lap, Alexander Albon also pitted, fitting Medium tires. Another lap, and Sebastian Vettel also pitted, fitting Medium tires. A different choice for Valtteri Bottas, who stopped on the 26th lap, fitting Hard tires. Max Verstappen thus returned to the lead, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc (who, starting with Medium tires, had not yet made a pit stop), Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Alexander Albon, and the two McLarens. During the 29th lap, Charles Leclerc made his pit stop and fitted Hard tires. Verstappen continued undisturbed in the lead, with about a 3-second gap to Hamilton, 12.7 seconds to Vettel, and 21.7 seconds to Bottas. The Finnish Mercedes driver made his second stop during the 41st lap, switching to the use of Medium tires.
During the 43rd lap, Lewis Hamilton also stopped, fitting Medium tires, followed, after a lap, by Max Verstappen, who followed the same strategy. After a few laps, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc engaged in a long battle for the sixth position, with the Monegasque driver managing to maintain the position. Vettel, who was leading the race after the pit stops of the first two drivers, pitted for the second time during the 49th lap. The German switched to the use of Soft tires. During the 50th lap, Alexander Albon also stopped at the box to fit new Soft tires. The standings once again saw Max Verstappen at the top, followed by Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc, and Valtteri Bottas. During the 52nd lap, Bottas' race ended due to a technical problem, forcing him to retire. The race direction, after two laps, decided to deploy the Safety Car on the track. Max Verstappen opted for a new stop, while Lewis Hamilton decided to continue and took the lead. Charles Leclerc also returned to the pits to make his second pit stop. At the restart, Verstappen immediately passed Hamilton, who had tried to create a gap between the row of cars and the safety car. Behind, Alexander Albon also overtook Sebastian Vettel. The German tried, without success, on several occasions to pass the Red Bull Racing driver. During the 65th lap, Charles Leclerc surprised his teammate Sebastian Vettel at the S do Senna. Vettel tried to pass him along the Reta Oposta; the two cars made contact and were forced to retire.
The race stewards deployed the Safety Car on the track for the second time, also due to Lance Stroll's retirement, who with his car had ended up on debris left by Vettel's Ferrari. Verstappen led the group, followed by Albon, Gasly, and Hamilton, who, in tire crisis, was forced to make a new pit stop, costing him the loss of two positions. At the restart, the World Champion easily passed Gasly and rose to third place. During the 69th lap, in an attempt to overtake Alexander Albon, Lewis Hamilton touched the Thai driver's car, who spun and fell out of the top ten. Hamilton lost a position, passed by Gasly. In the last two laps, the Englishman tried to overtake Toro Rosso's driver again; the two arrived neck and neck at the finish line, but Gasly resisted Hamilton's attack. Max Verstappen won for the eighth time in his career, for the first time starting from pole position; Pierre Gasly, second, achieved his first podium in his career, while Lewis Hamilton, later penalized on the race time for the contact with Alex Albon, who finished third, dropped to seventh place. Carlos Sainz Jr., starting from the last position, thus climbed to third place. It was also the first podium in Formula 1 for the Spaniard, the first Iberian to achieve it since Fernando Alonso in the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. At the Interlagos circuit, Max Verstappen won the Brazilian Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the World Championship. At the end of the race, the Dutch driver expressed his joy, emphasizing, however, that:
"Even Lewis was very fast, I had to keep pushing. Every time for the strategy, he pitted one lap earlier, we had to make perfect pit stops. A couple of times, we overtook him with nice maneuvers to reclaim the first position, after which I managed to continue the race after the Safety Car with the tires I had. But it was incredible. The race was really fun, and it's great to win it. I tried to push as much as I could to get closer because that was my only chance, getting closer and trying to use the DRS. We knew we had good straight-line speed throughout the weekend, and I'm certainly very happy to have pushed hard to overtake him".
Pierre Gasly achieves his first career podium:
"The first podium in F1 is a moment I will never forget. It's a really special moment, I don't even know what to say. I'm so excited, and achieving this result with these guys, Toro Rosso, who gave me a fantastic car since I came back, is fantastic. I'm grateful to Toro Rosso and Honda for the car they gave me. Many times on the podium, in other categories. These are emotions you never forget. I kept believing until the end. I saw there was a lot of battling, and I tried to push as much as possible. The opportunity came at the end. It was a great race conclusion. I tried to hold the position until the end, I prayed that the Honda engine would give me everything it had. We made great progress, without which this result would not have been possible. I'm really happy, I really don't know what to say".
While Lewis Hamilton, before being penalized, says:
"I couldn't overtake Pierre on the inside. He did a great job, was very fair in how he positioned the car, and I really have to apologize to Albon because I tried to make the move, I saw the space, but he rightly closed it. It was my fault honestly. Max did a fantastic job. They were better than us overall; we couldn't keep up with their pace on the straight. I raced with heart, gave everything I had, didn't leave anything in the tank, apologize for the mistake. Max? We really tried everything, tried to use every weapon we had, but they pulled away on the straight".
Before the contact with Lewis Hamilton during the 70th lap ended his ambitions, the Brazilian Grand Prix was about to give Alex Albon the best result of his career. Author of an exceptional performance, the Thai rookie managed to make a masterful pass on Sebastian Vettel during the restart after the Safety Car caused by Valtteri Bottas's retirement, bringing him to the third position. When a Red Bull one-two seemed imminent, with Max Verstappen winning his third race of the season, the Mercedes driver aggressively attacked the Thai driver, causing contact and a subsequent spin, shattering his chances of an exceptional result.
"Honestly, I have to review the dynamics. I felt I had margin from Lewis coming out of turn 9, and I thought we were at the right distance. Right after, there's a blind spot where you can't understand how far the car in front of you might be. I thought he was far enough, and I would have given him space, but I really didn't expect it. We made contact, and it was a shame because I think Hamilton could have tried to pass me anyway in turn 1 because he had fresher tires and was strong at that moment. But I could say to take the positive aspects. I don't think we were lucky. The battle with the Ferraris was good".
As mentioned, later Lewis Hamilton was penalized, favoring Carlos Sainz Jr.'s podium finish. It had been since 2014 that McLaren had finished an F1 race on the podium. After troubled years with Honda, after Fernando Alonso's team radio messages, after setbacks, retirements, and disappointments, Carlos Sainz Jr. crowned McLaren's good season (mathematically fourth in the Constructors' Championship) with a podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix. A third place achieved after Hamilton's penalty, but above all, reached after starting from the last row and completing the final laps with used Medium tires. Carlos Sainz Jr. doesn't show too much regret for not standing on the actual podium in place of Lewis Hamilton.
"Yeah, what a day! Definitely a strange first podium since I didn't get on it right after the race, but I'm so happy with how it went today. Finishing third after coming from the last position on the grid was a big challenge, but we fought with everything we had until the end. This was a race full of surprises, and I think I was the only one with a one-stop strategy. Indeed, it was very difficult to keep opponents behind after the two safety cars, but I think I defended my position well, also taking advantage of the situation in front of me. After a good first stint, a great pit stop, and a long and difficult final stretch, I can thank the whole team, in Interlagos and in Woking. My first podium is, of course, very special, but we have to keep working to improve our overall pace. That must be our real goal".
The Brazilian Grand Prix for Ferrari ended in the worst way, with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel eliminating themselves in the final laps after battling for fourth place, which could have propelled one of them toward a podium, especially after the Safety Car caused by Valtteri Bottas's retirement. Both drivers blamed each other via radio immediately after the contact, which occurred on the Reta Oposta when the German tried to regain the position taken by the Monegasque in turn 1 with a borderline attack. From the initial images, it seems that Vettel made a slight closing move in the straight on his teammate, but Leclerc is very diplomatic at the end of the race:
"Surely the situation will need to be analyzed later with the whole team. First of all, we are both sorry for the guys; they deserved much better. From my point of view, I passed him in turn 1. Then I knew that until turn 4, he would try again. When Seb tried on the inside, I went inside, so he chose the outside. There wasn't much space, but enough: he tried to go inside at the end of the straight, but I was there, so we touched, and the race ended. I don't want to say who is more responsible".
Can what happened strongly influence their relationship?
"We are both mature enough to understand that these things happen. Certainly at the wrong time, given that in the championship, both of us are battling for the third position, but that's how it is. I am very sorry, but I am sure that the relationship with Seb will be the same as before".
On his part, Sebastian Vettel explains his version of the events:
"Too bad for the team. We could have achieved a better result, and we deserved it today. Obviously, we were fighting among ourselves, and at the chicane, it was quite an aggressive fight. I had much more battery than him, I had a better exit than him at turns 2-3, I thought I had already passed him, and I don't know why we touched. Unfortunately, this ended the race for both of us".
Asked about the possibility of having closed off his teammate too much, the German Ferrari driver comments laconically:
"I was going straight, so...".
After hearing the explanations of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, the team principal of Ferrari, Mattia Binotto, commented on the incident:
"If we look at ourselves as a team, we are disappointed and sorry. I believe that the two drivers must realize that today they damaged the entire team. It's true that these are small contacts that can happen, but the consequences are significant. I don't want to judge who was wrong or not; it's not important. We will do it calmly and together, analyzing the videos thoroughly. When one judges in the heat of the moment, there's always a risk of making a mistake. Each of the two drivers has their own opinion, their own point of view. Today, they were free to compete with each other; the second constructors' place is somehow guaranteed and assured; they are fighting for their position in the drivers' standings, but these are small mistakes that cost us dearly in our image and as a team, considering all the work we do. It's not good. Will there be a heated debriefing? Not necessarily. We are also considering not doing it. In certain moments, it is right to send a strong signal to the team and the drivers. This is not the way. So, we also need to send a signal; probably we won't do it. Relationships? I have already spoken with both of them before any interview. They need to understand that things always happen between two people. Each of them will have some blame. More importantly, they need to understand the project; today it wasn't necessary".
However, problems for Ferrari do not seem to end there, as the FIA opens an investigation against the Maranello team. In fact, after the Brazilian Grand Prix, some commissioners take some components of the Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Red Bull fuel systems to conduct comparative investigations. The elements under observation are specifically the fuel connectors between the flow meter and the endothermic engine. The FIA had issued a directive just before the Brazilian Grand Prix stating that systems capable of increasing (storing and/or recycling) the passage of fuel in the FIA sensor measurement interval are considered irregular. It is likely that the FIA's investigation into Ferrari was triggered after new cheating allegations at the end of the United States Grand Prix by Max Verstappen. According to the Dutch Red Bull driver, the two Ferraris had reduced the power of their power units in Austin to calm the incessant rumors about their alleged irregularity. Both Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, and Sebastian Vettel had bluntly rejected these claims, considering them disrespectful and immature. From Maranello, however, comes the denial for now. According to Ferrari sources, the fuel sampling after the race by some commissioners is a routine operation, and therefore, there is no ongoing investigation by the FIA. We'll see if that's really the case.