Our regular F1 correspondent outlines the humdinger Sao Paulo Formula One Grand Prix in his race report F1 Review Brazil 2021.

The F1 circus made a welcome return to Brazilian shores, the first time since 2019. The circuit is situated not far from the country’s financial hub, Sao Paulo. According to Rubens Barrichello, the run-off area at Turn 1, previously populated by houses, was where he grew up. 

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Brazil is particularly passionate about motorsport and the country boasts no fewer than eight F1 world championships: Emerson Fittipaldi twice, Nelson Piquet three times and Ayrton Senna three times. The circuit at Interlagos was granted the third and final Sprint Race for 2021 as part of the race weekend.

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Unusual underdogs

Mercedes entered the weekend at Sao Paulo at a psychological disadvantage. After being trounced in Mexico, it was expected that Red Bull would give the German marque another hiding in South America. Reigning world champion, Lewis Hamilton, took another fresh Mercedes engine (ICE) and had to take a five grid-slot penalty on race day. When qualifying for the Sprint Race, however, he still blasted his way into pole position ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.

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Strange happenings took place afterwards, though. The stewards found something wrong with Hamilton’s DRS system, where it failed by 0,2 mm, according to Mercedes team manager, Toto Wolff. He alluded that the team were unfairly penalised, particularly as archrivals Red Bull-Honda were given opportunities (three of them) to repair rear wing damage at races this season. Hamilton, however, was disqualified from qualifying and was forced to start the Sprint Race from the back of the grid.

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Sprint master

Bottas stepped up to the plate in the Sprint Race, blasting into the lead and controlling the race from the front, keeping Max Verstappen (Red Bull-Honda) at bay to take the chequered flag first. Verstappen still managed to increase his world championship lead over Hamilton to 21 points, as Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) took the final point on offer with a fine third place on soft rubber. Hamilton did some good damage control to carve his way into fifth position at the chequered flag, such that he would start the main race from tenth position, after his engine penalty.

On a charge

Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez got the drop on Bottas at the start of the race on Sunday and steadily pulled out an advantage over the rest of the field. Hamilton, along with Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin-Mercedes) made good progress at the start, gaining three positions on Lap 1.

The Englishman continued to carve his way through the field and benefitted from Bottas playing the team game and making way for his teammate, before a safety car was brought out to clear debris following a clash between Lance Stroll (Aston Martin-Mercedes) and Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri-Honda).

This gave Hamilton the break he needed and, although he required a few laps to negotiate his way past Perez, he did so and chased after his Dutch championship rival. The seven-time world champion made one attempt to go around the outside of his young rival at T4. Verstappen was not giving up the corner easily and ran both cars off the track in defense – incredibly escaping any form of penalty for his actions.

Hamilton continued to stalk Verstappen until he finally made the decisive move with 17 laps to go, charging into the lead and scampering to the chequered flag. Bottas eventually got the better of Perez to claim the final step on the podium. Red Bull was touted as having the advantage going into the race, but Mercedes (and Hamilton) struck a chink in the Red Bull armour with a strong psychological victory.

Also rans

As in Mexico, Ferrari had another strong weekend in Brazil, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz both scoring well, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. They claimed another sizeable advantage over McLaren-Mercedes towards their mission to claim third position in the F1 Constructors’ championship, while Lando Norris could only claim a single point for McLaren after a strong recovery drive following a clash with Sainz on the opening lap. Daniel Ricciardo was running in the points before a technical failure sidelined the Australian.

Alpha Tauri and Alpine began the Brazilian GP weekend tied on points. Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) finished a steady seventh after a brilliant fourth place in the Sprint Race but, while the Sprint Race result impressed many, it did not provide the Frenchman with any points. Alpine scored well on race day, with drivers Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finishing eighth and ninth, respectively. As a result, the teams remained tied on points in the struggle for fifth position…

New challenge

With three rounds remaining in the 2021 season, Max Verstappen holds a 14-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. The next round is to be held at Losail, Qatar, on 19 to 21 November. This is the very first time F1 will visit this circuit. Losail fills the slot that was left by the Australian GP’s cancellation. This is the final race of a triple header after Mexico and Brazil. It is also the first of three races in the Middle East to finish the season.