From Mercedes' first win of the season, a magnificent Haas pole, and some spice between the drivers, this weekend had it all. Here's part one of the debrief for this rollercoaster weekend.
The week began with Lewis Hamilton receiving honorary citizenship of Brazil in person, a title that was awarded to him earlier this year. Lando Norris was sick on Thursday with what was suspected to be food poisoning, and that did seem to affect him during the weekend. Nyck DeVries, who's already driven a Williams, an Aston Martin and a Mercedes this year, was McLaren's reserve driver for this weekend, and he took a precautionary seat fit just in case Lando wouldn't be able to drive on Friday. With this being Sebastian Vettel's penultimate F1 race weekend as things stand, the driver who won his 2012 championship on this very track had his achievements celebrated throughout the weekend!
A key FP1 for the drivers
With sprint weekends, drivers only have one session to tune their setup for the track, prepare for qualifying, and make any changes before the cars go into Parc Fermé for qualifying. Most teams worked on soft tyre runs during the cloudy afternoon at Sau Paulo, as Sergio Perez topped the charts, with Charles Leclerc only 4 thousandths off, and Max Verstappen another 4 thousandths off him! It was not a particularly eventful session, but that cannot be said for the rest of the weekend that was to come!
Ferrari announced that Carlos Sainz would take a new ICE, awarding him a 5 place grid penalty.
A damp Qualifying, and an unexpected polesitter
A qualifying session in the wet is always fun, and Brazil did not disappoint. As Q1 started on the Inters (i.e, the Intermediate tyres), drivers went early to set some representative laps in, but it was Pierre Gasly and Alpha Tauri's gamble on the soft tyres that really spiced up the session on the drying track, with drivers subsequently rushing into the pits to bolt on a set of slicks to set lap times around 4-5 seconds faster, with the last minute being extremely key, as many drivers from top teams were in the danger zone of being eliminated, with a magical lap from Lando Norris taking him to the top of the table. It was a rather disastrous delay from the Scuderia, though, as they pitted Charles to put on fresh inters, after which they decided that new softs would be a better option, but ended up giving him a set of used softs from FP1, which he duly pointed out, as chaos reigned supreme in the garage with a single mechanic then rushing in to get soft tyres one by one as Charles set out again to set a representative time as soon as he could.
As the track dried up for Q2, drivers ventured into the 1:10's, with Max leading the session. However, it was the end of the session that really set the set the strategy cogs in motion as it'd begun drizzling again, and the radar showed that Q3 could progressively get wetter and wetter.
As the drivers lined up on the pit exit for their quickest laps before the conditions worsened, Magnussen was at the front of the pack with the Haas garage's proximity to the it. In what was a rather baffling call, Charles Leclerc was the only driver on inters, with everyone else, including his teammate Carlos Sainz, on new softs, a choice that'd only really work if it began raining extremely heavily rather quickly, which was extremely unlikely.
Magnussen set a magnificent lap to take provisional pole, while Verstappen made an error and had to settle for P2. Leclerc was struggling for grip on the inters on a track where the racing line was mostly dry, and qualified P10. Sergio Perez was stuck behind Leclerc and lost 3+ seconds on his lap as well, which was only good enough for a P9.
As George Russell took a cooldown lap to attempt another run, he went off into the gravel at Turn 4 and made it to the escape road, but as he attempted to accelerate to get back to the track, his car spun and was beached in the mud, and that led to the session being red flagged, which was followed by rain, which meant that no one could realistically set a better time.
So, for the first time in Haas' history, they were on pole! With Mick Schumacher struggling with the grip in Q1, he qualified P20, which to the amusement of many, put the entire grid in a Haas sandwich. Celebrations were galore as Haas celebrated a momentous occasion, and one couldn't help but be happy for Kevin Magnussen, who had put in some amazing drives after his return from his hiatus and who wasn't even supposed to be driving the car until late February! For a team that was firmly stuck on the back of the grid for 2021, this was a huge moment.
Lando's lap to secure P4, considering he went out last and in conditions much more damp than other drivers, was a commendable show of skill and aptitude.
Kevin Magnussen's pole lap made Denmark the 24th nation to achieve pole position in F1!
An uneventful FP2
FP2 was largely uneventful as the teams couldn't change setups under Parc Fermé, and were thus limited to only data collection and longer tyre runs. The session did give us some significant data though, most importantly that the mediums had significantly less grip around this track and that tire degradation was going to be a huge issue. Logan Sargeant, who will drive the Williams next year if he can score enough points for a Super License (SL), also got another FP session, completing 28 laps, 24 of which were enough to make his session more than 100 kilometres long, giving him one more essential SL point before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in F2, where he needs to secure a good result to drive in F1 next season.
After what can only be described as a magnificent qualifying session on Friday, Kevin Magnussen's Haas lined up on pole position on a brand new set of softs. No one really expected him to hold on that position for long, with the much faster Red Bull of Max Verstappen lining up just beside him, but surprisingly on Mediums, a gamble compared to the rest of the grid on softs, with the exception of Nicholas Latifi, who started on the mediums as well.
KMag put in an astonishing start maintaining his lead for over a lap (which is Haas' first lap led in a Formula 1 race, albeit not a Grand Prix) before being overtaken by Max. It was not all easy for Max, though, as his medium tyres struggled for grip leaving him vulnerable to George Russell, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton to bring home a P4 finish. George's magnificent and clean yet aggressive drive brought him his first F1 Race Win (again, not a Grand Prix victory, yet) with Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez putting in some amazing recovery drives to move up the grid for the race on Sunday, as Magnussen dropped to 8th, and Norris to 7th, positions that were much more realistic for their respective cars' race pace in the dry..
It was not a great session for the Alpine team though, as Fernando Alonso went wide at Turn 4 and tried to rejoin, turning a bit hard into his own teammate, with Fernando being affected by wing damage which required him to pit, pushing him down the pack, and Esteban suffering from a hole in his sidepod, which possibly affected the cooling, causing him to drop down the grid as he lost pace with his car subsequently catching fire at Parc Fermé, which required his team to replace the engine.
Meanwhile, Lance Stroll was overzealous in his defense against Sebastian Vettel, swerving to the left of the track and pushing Seb off into the grass, a move he was subsequently awarded 3 penalty points for. He tried the same move against Mick Schumacher later, but Mick backed off, as a crash wouldn't have been worth it, especially with the season Mick has been having. Sebastian Vettel moved up the pack in an amazing show of pace, and so did Daniel Ricciardo, Guanyu Zhou and Valterri Bottas.
Alex Albon was caught out by the debris on track and went across the gravel at Turn 4, and that was the end of the race for him. With his P11 start, he could have been gunning for points, but his DNF put him at the back of the grid for the Grand Prix.
George Russell gave us an immense show of his skill chasing Verstappen, and from Lap 12-14, he was right on Verstappen's tail before overtaking him on lap 15! As Max's tyres struggled for grip he was overtaken by Lewis Hamilton and then by Carlos Sainz, with Max and Carlos having a slight contact that resulted in wing damage for Max, because of his misjudged turn-in, which the stewards deemed a racing incident.
Mercedes seemed to finally on the pace they desired to be on all season, as the secured 2/3 of the podium places, with their first time on the top step. But Sunday would only be a better day for them as they locked out the front row with Sainz's engine penalty.
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