Max Verstappen told media he didn’t have a winning car just moments before the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix. For most of the race, it looked as though that wasn’t the case as the Red Bull took a commanding lead on lap 39. But five laps later, it all fell apart with one controversial collision.
Red Bull looked on-track for an undisputed and unlikely victory: enter Esteban Ocon. The Force India driver, outside the top ten at the time, attempted to become the most hated man in the Netherlands by colliding with Verstappen as the latter was trying to squeeze through. Ocon, was a lap down.
Ocon’s front-left collided with Verstappen’s rear-right, putting both drivers into a spin and costing the Red Bull driver his lead. “What a f**king idiot,” Verstappen proclaimed. He was left 5 seconds behind race leader Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen tried to mount a late-race attack and regain his well-deserved lead, but floor damage affected his pace; it was no longer a breezy drive around the outside of the
Hamilton defended superbly in the closing laps and took home the victory, “I don’t know what to say”, commented Red Bull engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. Verstappen hismelf said he had no words and described Ocon as an “idiot”. The French driver received a ten-second stop/go penalty for the incident, the harshest possible penalty.
At the time of the collision, Verstappen was leading the race in what had been a sensational drive so far.
After starting from fifth, the Red Bull made a surprisingly quick advance on the pair of Ferraris and Mercedes ahead of him. By lap 4, both of the red cars were behind him, by lap 10, he had his eyes on a weary five-time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton.
Sunday’s Grand Prix played out like the newest show on Netflix; it was an emotionally driven story playing out through agitated team radio messages and mysterious strategies. It also had the completely unexpected twist that sucker-punched the audience and derailed Red Bull’s dream.
Verstappen’s dominance and ‘almost-victory’ was unexpected. Despite strong pace on Friday, where Verstappen topped FP1 and finished within half-a-second of the lead in FP2, Red Bull was not treated as an actual competitor after taking their usual third row in Saturday’s qualifying.
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Verstappen was interviewed just before the start by Sky Sports F1’s Rachel Brookes. She asked if he had a winning car, to which he replied, “not to win.” He explained that he was hoping for a podium, but simply felt undercutting the four cars ahead was not possible. But, just over an hour later, Brazil looked certain to be his.
Verstappen passed all four cars in his path with expertly calculated on-track overtakes. Inside and out, it didn’t matter, he passed them on-track and took full honours for it.
After an uneventful start, where he tussled with Kimi Raikkonen, Verstappen tucked in behind the Finn and held down P5. By the end of lap 2, he wasn’t contempt, and moved to the inside down the main straight, executing the first of many passes at Turn 1. Lap 4 and Lap 10 witnessed carbon-copies of the textbook move, as Verstappen passed Vettel and Bottas, respectively.
Despite all of this, Verstappen kept his tyres together, giving him a huge advantage over the race leader, Lewis Hamilton, who had dashed into the lead after starting from pole. The Red Bull was hunting him down and by lap 19, the Mercedes had clear blisters on its front-left and right-rear tyres as it tried to keep a sizable gap.
Strategy played a big role in the race. Hamilton, after starting on SuperSofts, changed to the Mediums on lap 19. Instead of responding immediately, Verstappen was told to use ‘Mode 7’ – historically Red Bull’s power boost – and didn’t pit until 36, changing to the quicker Soft tyres.
There were major questions over which compound would be better. Hamilton, on lap 30, told his engineers that the tyres weren’t working well, “Max is killing these tyres”, he said as he remained twenty-seconds behind, just within the pit window, estimated to be 21 seconds by F1.com.
Verstappen, in rather hilarious style, reported “the tyres are getting better” on lap 31, as his SuperSoft tyres continued to produce optimal lap times to crush Hamilton’s advantage. They were almost half-a-minute apart, but still fighting each other on track.
But, after Verstappen made his lap 36 pitstop, it all changed. Three laps later, Verstappen breezed up to the back of Lewis Hamilton. The pace difference was huge; Verstappen didn’t even need the inside line into Turn 1 to make the successful move for the race lead.
For the next five laps, it all looked set to be back-to-back wins for the Dutch driver. But, it wasn’t meant to be, as the incident dropped him back into second. That’s where he stayed, and that’s where he finished.
“We should’ve won today,” he said post-race.
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