With the Sao Paulo Grand Prix set to end a three-race stint for Formula 1 in the Americas, many pundits have been predicting that this race could lead to another incident between championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. The two have already come together notably at Silverstone and Monza but they doing their best to play nice.
Because the next chapter in the best title fight in the last decade might not lead to an explosive collision in Brazil, there is reason to focus on what may transpire elsewhere on the grid. So, for a moment, imagine that there are teams outside of Red Bull and Mercedes and that there is a chance that maybe, just maybe one of them could play spoiler at the Autodromo Carlos Pace. Here’s who the likely contenders are to play such a role:
It’s clearly evident that McLaren can win a race, a feat they accomplished at Monza this season. The driver dressed in papaya who could most play spoiler would be Lando Norris, a role he tried to pull off when the series visited Sochi, Russia. The young Brit watched the promise of winning his first GP wash away with the rain that fell on the final laps in Russia. Ever since, he has been hungry for a chance at redemption. While his results since Russia may not be stellar, Norris has had a decent streak with three points finishes at Turkey, USA, and Mexico City. With four podiums and a best finish of second, Norris clearly is a driver that positioned toward stealing his first win.
Norris has raced one previous time in Brazil when he finished eighth. However, McLaren’s updates and the speed of the Mercedes power unit have given him a much better chance to contest for wins. Norris has shown he is able to go wheel to wheel with the best and he has every reason to be pushing hard to cap off a decent season. The track in Brazil is one known for wet weather, something that can be an equalizer and make up for a car not in top form. With such a prospect, look for Norris to give qualifying all he’s got and contest for a win.
Either Carlos Sainz or Charles Leclerc could play spoiler in a Ferrari car that is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the upper midfield runners. The Ferraris have come close this season already with missed opportunities to win at both Britain and Monaco. The disappointment is compounded by the fact that fans of the Prancing Horse have been desperate for a win since 2019 and Brazil could be a perfect place.
Sainz has the most experience at Brazil and has accumulated some great results, notably when he scored his first F1 podium back in 2019. Since joining Ferrari this year Sainz has proven more than capable and has gained momentum as the season has progressed. With three podiums this season, Brazil could prove a breakout for the Spaniard.
Charles Leclerc has two F1 victories, with both coming in 2019. While the young Monegasque had victory snatched away from him at Britain this season, Leclerc has begun looking posed to finally get back on the top step of the podium. His 2021 season has been comprised so far with one podium and a staggering six fourth-place finishes. Should the two front runners suffer issues and offer a chance for someone to sneak by, Leclerc has shown he can beat both Perez and Bottas on any given Sunday.
The last driver that could upend the predicted finishing order is the man who came in second to Verstappen in Brazil in 2019, Pierre Gasly. Gasly has been a wheelman this season, scoring a podium at Baku and two fourth-place finishes. Gasly has put together an extremely solid season in a car that should not be anywhere close to the pace of the Ferraris and McLarens. With his success at the track in 2019 he could make for another interesting Cinderella story.
One of the reasons to believe in Gasly is because he showed tremendous pace at both Turkey and USA, tracks that suggest his Alpha Tauri will do well in Brazil. Gasly is eager to earn his spot back in the Red Bull senior team or to perhaps land with another top team on the grid. Another win would surely put some egg on Helmut Marko’s face and make people question what Red Bull is doing with the talented Frenchman.
While anyone can win, it is nice to be a little realistic. I don’t expect the Alpine and Aston Martin teams to be competitive unless some real carnage breaks out like it did in Budapest. However, it would be nice to see Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso back on the top step of the podium once again.
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