Conclusions from the Sao Paulo Grand Prix

Jon Wilde
Lewis Hamilton just ahead of Max Verstappen during the Sao Paulo GP. Interlagos November 2021.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes just ahead of Max Verstappen's Red Bull during the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. Interlagos November 2021.

Lewis Hamilton ended a weekend of setbacks at Interlagos by producing one of the finest drives among his 101 Formula 1 race triumphs.

Here are our conclusions from a Sao Paulo Grand Prix in which events both on and off track delivered more than the usual share of drama.

Thank goodness for sprint weekends…

Valtteri Bottas takes the lead at the start of the sprint. Sao Paulo November 2021.
Valtteri Bottas dives past Max Verstappen at the start of sprint qualifying. Sao Paulo November 2021.

…which is a phrase we’ve never used before. But this time, the experimental format helped to set up a classic Sunday showdown.

And the seven-time World Champion will certainly not be complaining about it either.

Sprint qualifying saved Hamilton’s weekend and potentially even his title hopes. Normally, being excluded from the traditional one-hour qualifying session would mean starting the grand prix at the back of the grid, making victory a much more difficult prospect.

But instead, the sanction for the DRS flap on his Mercedes having too wide a gap was a P20 start in the sprint, enabling Hamilton to use his car’s remarkable pace this weekend to make up 15 positions in just 24 laps and start the grand prix in P10 – after his other penalty, for having a fifth internal combustion engine of the season fitted, had also been applied.

Of course, if Hamilton had started the race at the back, we would still have seen a brilliant recovery drive, although potentially not his battle with Max Verstappen. The Safety Car period would have helped, of course, but passing 10 more rivals, even considerably slower ones, may have put a different complexion on his progress.

In saying that though, Hamilton was simply so fast he may even have been able to win from the pit lane.

However, although it cost him a likely three points in the World Championship fight, the 36-year-old Briton ought to be grateful for the opportunity the sprint afforded him when it came to damage limitation, rather than heading straight into the race.

We would never call for reverse grids, but seeing Hamilton scythe through the field the way he did on Saturday gave an exciting taster of what they would produce if they are ever brought in. Hopefully that remains merely a doomsday scenario.

We do know, however, that the sprint experiment has been deemed to have worked, as we will be getting six of them next season.

Brazil should be high on the list to host one again, but we suspect the entertainment value in most of them will fall short of what we – and Hamilton – enjoyed this weekend.

Third time lucky

It must be a quirk of sprint weekends that whenever they are held, and whatever positions Hamilton and Verstappen start the grand prix in, they always find themselves on the same part of the track at the same time.

Only this time, thankfully, neither of them crashed.

There was a close shave though, on lap 48, when that old phrase “ran (fill in name) off the road” reared its head again – and this time the brackets contained the word ‘Hamilton’.

Two collisions are enough for one season and as Toto Wolff and Christian Horner have both said, nobody wants to see a title decided in a gravel trap or the stewards’ room.

Fortunately, unlike at Silverstone and Monza, this time there was a much more satisfactory end to the duel as Hamilton was clearly faster on the day and after another 11 laps he finally got past and went on to win by over 10 seconds.

“One of those”, was the way Michael Masi described the initial Turn 4 incident when Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows got on the blower pushing for a Verstappen penalty.

One of those what? Racing incidents, presumably. But in a time when, laudably, those of us watching races are provided with much more information than used to be the case, some clearer terminology from the race director would be appreciated.

Not for the first time this season, the stewards’ judgement of the incident appeared questionable to say the least.

But at least justice was served on this occasion in the form of the right race result.

Titles should be won on track

Sorry for making this all about Mercedes and Red Bull, but it was one of those weekends – and we are also at that stage of the season.

But just as we don’t want either championship resolved by a Senna and Prost style crash, or Schumacher and Hill for that matter, nor should it be done so away from the circuit either, at the FIA’s offices in Paris or in a courtroom.

That is starting to be something of a worry though, with talk of protests from Red Bull about the Mercedes rear wing and Wolff claiming his team would look at “every single bit of tape that falls off” the RB16B.

Even Verstappen got involved by fiddling with the W12’s rear wing and earning himself a 50,000 euros fine for the privilege, and the fear is that the situation could get a bit too murky and start detracting from what really matters – the racing.

Luckily, that did not happen at Interlagos where a terrific show was put on, but you have to wonder what will be in store just a few days from now in Qatar.

Best (and worst) of the rest

Carlos Sainz ahead of a Red Bull during the Sao Paulo GP. Interlagos November 2021.
Carlos Sainz's Ferrari ahead of a Red Bull during the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. Interlagos November 2021.

There was not too much else to get stuck into away from the ‘big two’ teams but another solid performance from Ferrari, with their drivers coming home almost line astern in fifth and sixth, has put them 31.5 points ahead of McLaren in the chase for Constructors’ P3.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to see McLaren fighting back now and the last thing they needed was Lando Norris clipping wheels with his former team-mate Carlos Sainz off the start line and sustaining a puncture.

Remarkably, Alpine and AlphaTauri remained level on 112 points as Pierre Gasly’s P7 cancelled out what Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso contributed for P8 and P9 respectively.

Unfortunately, after praising Gasly’s team-mate Yuki Tsunoda a couple of races ago, we appear to have jinxed him – a clumsy move on Lance Stroll wrecked both his own race and that of the Aston Martin driver.

It seems to be two steps forward and one – at least – back for Yuki. But he started the season strongly in Bahrain and perhaps a return to the Middle East might just galvanise him.


Hamilton narrows Verstappen's lead after epic Brazil battle

Lewis Hamilton has narrowed Max Verstappen's Championship lead to 14 points.