With the drivers’ title sealed, Formula One touched down in Sao Paulo as attention turned to the constructors’ championship at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix.
This weekend certainly proved interesting as one team produced cracking race pace, a new constructor battle emerged for the final race and we are now closer to knowing who will finish third in the drivers’ championship.
So just what did we learn from Brazil?
Mercedes’ Hi Five
Mercedes arrived at Interlagos safely in knowledge that the pressure was on Ferrari, who needed to outscore them by 13 points to take the constructor battle to Abu Dhabi, otherwise its hi five time at Brackley.
After a tough weekend of free practice in which Max Verstappen and Ferrari were at similar level, the Silver Arrows eventually took a huge step to victory after Lewis Hamilton snatched a dramatic pole from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Raceday however was quite challenging because both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled with the supersofts, yet Hamilton benefitted from Mercedes protégé, Esteban Ocon colliding with Max Verstappen at the Senna S to win the race.
What ultimately won Mercedes their fifth team title was Ferrari’s poor race performance as both drivers struggled against Bottas up till he pitted, then again once they had made their stops before Kimi eventually found a way past at Senna S on lap 44 en route to an eventual third placed finish.
Vettel meanwhile fell away with sensor trouble to end the Prancing Horse’s title hopes for this season.
Next year will now be a significant season as the Silver Arrows aim to become only the second constructor to win six consecutive constructor crowns since 2004 when Ferrari themselves managed to set the current record.
Red Bull Masterclass
The biggest story of the race has to be Red Bull because they were in scintillating form from lights out, despite Daniel Ricciardo starting 11th following a five place penalty for a turbo change.
Whilst Ricciardo spent the opening laps carving his way through the field, Max Verstappen was in mood for another victory as he breezed past both Ferraris and Bottas with such ease.
Once sat second, the Dutchman actually played a solid waiting game till Hamilton made his stop before unleashing the car’s full pace and at one point, could of taken a free stop as was close to getting out of the 21 second pit window. Eventually it wasn’t to be but once on softs, he was able to continue his pace as he snatched lead back from Hamilton on lap 40.
Unfortunately that lead wasn’t to last thanks to Ocon’s optimistic attempt to unlap himself, only managing to clip Verstappen and send both spinning off at Turn Two, thus allowing Hamilton to reclaim lead and march onto victory as Verstappen’s rage boiled.
During post race checks, Verstappen was caught on camera shoving Ocon which therefore highlights control of emotions as an area which he still needs to work on and speaking post race, he said; “At the end of the day I am a passionate sportsman that wants to win…”
Now, that is a honest driver in admitting how much wins mean to him but if want to be a World Champion, he needs to learn to keep emotions in check when things don’t go his way otherwise his talent will be somewhat wasted if doesn’t get at least one title.
Ultimately though, the most impressive thing about Verstappen was his pace even after the Ocon incident tore off a fair chunk of his floor, as he was able to reel Hamilton in before backmarkers put pay to any chance of reclaiming what would of been a certain win.
Ricciardo meanwhile was unlucky to not make podium after spending too long stuck behind the stern defence of Bottas, which saw him run out of time to catch and pass Raikkonen for third.
Either way, this was a Red Bull masterclass against two superior teams if only marred by Verstappen’s lost win. Team Principal, Christian Horner however found a positive in their “outright pace” which they need to show in Abu Dhabi if are to end 2018 on a high.
Battle of Finnish Stars
This race was particularly defining in the race for third as Finland’s Bottas and Raikkonen fight for the third placed championship trophy.
It was the Ferrari driver who entered this weekend ahead by nine points and with only Abu Dhabi left in a fortnight time, this was going to be a pivotal weekend in deciding who avoids a trip to the FIA prize giving Gala next month.
Raikkonen had spent the weekend playing second fiddle to Vettel whilst Bottas showed some pace to top FP2 but come race day, tyre management proved key as Bottas struggled with overheating then blistering despite producing a grand defence against Raikkonen for much of race.
Eventually the 2007 champion found his way through on lap 44 before clining on to third at end from Ricciardo, leaving him 14 points clear from Bottas and set for his first trip in six years to the FIA Gala if can avoid blowing that gap in Abu Dhabi.
Leclerc on FireEmbed from Getty Images
Down at bottom, Charles Leclerc has been the form man with 14 points from last six races and was yet again on fire this weekend.
Right from the get go, this circuit seemed to suit the Monegasque star as he spent the entire weekend firmly inside the top ten, despite a brief scare when he looked set to miss out on Q3 before producing a last gasp lap to sneak into the top ten and make it a rare Sauber double in Q3.
Raceday meanwhile saw another class drive to finish best of the rest in seventh, whilst briefly testing himself against Vettel for a whole lap before allowing his future teammate past.
That seventh placed finish now leaves Leclerc with 20 points from last six races, double what those below him in championship have managed between them over same period.
It also sees him move above fellow 2019 graduate, Pierre Gasly and he now has a chance to snatch 13th from Gasly’s compatriot – Romain Grosjean in Abu Dhabi.
As for Sauber, they could yet overhaul Force India for seventh in the constructors’ standings if can deliver a strong final race whilst the Pink Panthers struggle as six points currently separate them.
Haas Hits Back
After a difficult couple of rounds, Haas’ bid for fourth in Constructor Championship seemed dead in water, until they hit back in style this weekend.
With podiums here and Abu Dhabi looking incredibly unlikely marring any freak results, Haas needed a nice clean weekend with as many points as possible to give them a faint glimmer of hope in beating Renault.
A clean weekend was definitely what they got with a strong competitive car and Grosjean comfortably in top ten throughout, whilst Magnussen was just unlucky to miss out on Q3.
Given how unpredictable the weather proved to be, Magnussen was correct in saying post-race; “You do your best to try and go on track at the right time, but when it’s going like that, you never know when it’s going to start raining. It’s hard to know when is the best time to gout out. Clearly, we didn’t get it right.”
In the end, the Dane recovered to ninth, just behind Grosjean as Haas took six points to leave them 24 points behind Renault with one round left, after the Enstone based team failed to collect any points.
All Haas now need is a freak Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which they get a win or both on podium, whilst Renault don’t score two points or more for them to clinch fourth.
Stranger things have happened.
Missed any of the first ten race weekends and want to get up to date? Click on any of the hyperlinks below to go and check out my round up of the weekend/s.