As the 2019 Formula One season draws to a close, Sunday (Nov. 17) marked the second-to-last race of the season at the Interlogos circuit in Brazil which could be one of the last races at this circuit. (Brazil is looking to move the race to Rio De Janiero potentially next season.) If it is the final race, then it was surely a great one in the end, as Max Verstappen was able to battle through both strategy and dramatics. He scored his third F1 win of the season and eighth overall of his career.
In a massive surprise, Pierre Gasly came home in second place driving a Toro Rosso. It’s the first time in Toro Rosso history they’ve scored two podiums in one season, marking a massive bounceback for Gasly. He struggled mightily to begin the season in the Red Bull main car, only to be demoted back to Toro Rosso for Alex Albon halfway through his first season with the team. As a result, Gasly did everything he could to prove Red Bull wrong, running very well in his old car in posting a career-best result.
Gasly’s incredible run came as he beat third place Lewis Hamilton back to the finish line in a side-by-side, thrilling battle to the end. As mentioned, Hamilton came home third but the position is not official after contact with Albon with two laps to go, an incident which was under investigation by F1 officials when coverage ended.
Carlos Sainz came home in fourth but we wait to see where he officially finishes. He could end up with his first podium. Kimi Raikkonen was fifth while Antonio Giovanazzi gets his best career finish in sixth. Daniel Ricciardo battled back from a five-second penalty and unscheduled pit stop to finish seventh while Lando Norris wound up eighth. Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top-10 finishers.
At the start, Verstappen got away cleanly. Hamilton was able to clear Sebastian Vettel around the outside through the Senna S as the pack singled out except for the battle between Leclerc, Ricciardo and Norris. Leclerc was pushing to gain as many spots to start the race after having been handed a 10-place grid penalty for changing engine components. (He started 14th). Fighting on the outside of the Renault and McLaren, Leclerc was able to jump into the points positions after just three laps.
Up front, Verstappen was off and running to start the race, using his soft tires up from the start and running away from Hamilton. The move indicated that Red Bull was going for a two-stop strategy in order to end the race on softs.
On lap 8, there was a battle between Ricciardo and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen going into turn 4. Ricciardo made a move to the inside and Magnussen just barely gave him enough space. But Ricciardo went into the corner very deep and slid up into Magnussen, sending him spinning. Ricciardo was sent to last on the grid as he needed to pit for front wing damage and Magnussen continued without pitting but ran 18th from that point. Ricciardo was handed a five-second time penalty as a result of the collision.
The Ferrari of Leclerc continued to show strong pace as he was already through the midfield teams and within the top six in only 10 laps (and on the medium tires, no less). Leclerc showed that he was a contender despite starting that far back as the frontrunners ran into a stalemate. The top three of Verstappen, Hamilton and Vettel ran very similar lap times; no one seemed to be better than the other as they were all separated by two seconds each.
Hamilton and Mercedes were the first ones to blink as the six-time champion pitted for used soft tires, fully committing to a two-stop strategy as well. Verstappen and Red Bull had to pit the next lap to try and cover off the undercut. But then, the Red Bull was held up by the Williams of Robert Kubica, who aggressively left the pits just before Verstappen arrived. That allowed Hamilton to get by the Red Bull effort and charge into the lead.
Kubica, meanwhile, was handed a five-second time penalty for Williams releasing him when they did ahead of Verstappen. What is interesting about that call from the FIA is back in Germany, Leclerc was called for an unsafe release ahead of Romain Grosjean and it only resulted in a team fine. Here, however, Kubica was handed a time penalty on a call made by the team and their system (Kubica could not see Verstappen coming behind him.)
From there, the battle for the lead was on as Leclerc held up Hamilton a bit. Verstappen caught up and got past the Mercedes into turn 1, then covered him off going into turn 4.
Verstappen and Hamilton charged through the top runners on their new tires when the team games began. Albon let his teammate Verstappen by rather easily, but then held up Hamilton. Vettel stayed out much longer on the softs to then change to mediums, potentially making it to the end of the race. Valtteri Bottas pitted for hard tires, definitely looking to make it to the end of the race so there were many different strategies on tap in Brazil. Leclerc was in third on his medium tires and pitted a bit earlier than the tires could go on lap 30, but could not stand to lose as much pace as he was and pitted for hard tires to go to the end of the race.
As the race’s second half unfolded, all of the drivers began to complain of a strong headwind picking up. Hamilton lost his patience on his soft tires that were used when they put them on. Since there was a lot of blistering on those tires, he eventually pitted on lap 43 for mediums. Verstappen then came in on the next lap and was able to come out ahead of Hamilton with just over 20 laps to go. However, Vettel was still in the lead as he was looking to make it to the end of the race. Verstappen was able to catch the Ferrari on lap 50 when Vettel decided to give up on the one-stop strategy, pitting for new soft tires while trying to make up ground for at least a podium.
The race for the lead settled down after that as Hamilton was unable to track down Verstappen. Bottas stalked Leclerc for fifth for a few laps, trying a couple of semi-aggressive lunges until getting cut off by Leclerc. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful and had to hang back in sixth.
The drama began right then as smoke began to blow out of the overheating Mercedes engine, ending Bottas’ day on lap 52 and resulting in a safety car. During the safety car period, Verstappen dove onto pit road to pit for fresh soft tires and dropped to second. Hamilton did the opposite to take track position but was on the older, harder tire. Leclerc also pitted for fresh softs as he looked to pursue a podium and maybe more.
All eyes were on the battle for the lead at the restart. Verstappen had the clear tire advantage while Hamilton stated that he was a “sitting duck” despite more power in his engine.
At the green flag on lap 60, Hamilton began doing all he could to keep the charging Verstappen behind him. But it only took until the first corner for Verstappen to take the lead back, disappearing into the distance to cruise to victory. The race was still on, though as Albon made a brilliant move to get past Vettel for third place on the restart and chased down Hamilton himself as he pursued his first career podium.
Albon was under a lot of pressure from Vettel and Leclerc but the rookie was able to fend off a challenge into turn 1 on lap 63. Then, two laps later, there was tragedy for Ferrari. as Leclerc, on his newer tires, got past Vettel for fourth, but Vettel made a challenge with DRS going into turn 4. As Vettel zoomed past Leclerc with DRS, there was contact between the front tire of Leclerc and rear tire of Vettel. It punctured both tires and ended both of their races in massive dramatics on lap 65. There was so much debris on the track a safety car was needed once again.
Mercedes made a rash decision to pit Hamilton on that safety car for fresh tires, thinking there was more time to race to the end. Hamilton dropped to fourth on track behind the Red Bull exile Gasly, making all top 3 places held by a driver who drove for Red Bull this season.
The debris didn’t get picked up in a timely fashion, leaving only three laps to go once the race restarted. Hamilton quickly got past Gasly for the third position and then stalked Albon for second.
Coming to two laps remaining, Hamilton made an aggressive move for second and ran into Albon, sending the rookie spinning. Gasly then screamed past the two cars and held off Hamilton in an almost photo finish for second place. It was a wild end to the Brazilian Grand Prix where Toro Rosso notched their second podium of the season and first of Gasly’s career.
Everyone figured that Gasly would get a podium this season but no one thought that it would take until Brazil in a Toro Rosso. But he put himself in the right place at the right time, battling a six-time world champion to get an incredible second place. There was tragedy for Albon, meanwhile as he was sure to get a deserved podium before getting taken out by Hamilton. There could be a penalty handed to Hamilton for the contact; a five-second penalty, if given, would hand third place to Sainz.
The 2019 Formula One Season comes to a close in two weeks’ time as we head back to the Middle East. The Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi takes place on Sunday, Dec. 1. Coverage from the United Arab Emirates begins at 7 a.m. ET on ESPN2.