Despite the title belonging to Lewis Hamilton, the 2019 Formula One season clearly had no intention of going quietly into the night at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
What might have been a sedate win for Max Verstappen and Red Bull was a hard fought, brilliantly executed victory, while around him high drama played out at Interlagos, not least as Ferrari imploded very publicly once more.
Celebrations accompanied Verstappen’s victory but they were almost as nothing to the explosion of ecstasy for Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly on his first podium.
The Frenchman, dropped by Red Bull to their sister squad Toro Rosso earlier this season, took a remarkable second, holding off Hamilton in a nail-biting finish to do so.
Yet almost inevitably amid this jubilation Ferrari were once again centre stage in a tragi-comedy that will have raised the pressure between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, who took one another out.
For Verstappen, with a Red Bull that was performing very strongly in Brazil, this was the performance he is always capable of delivering and as his team principal, Christian Horner, noted, a redemptive victory, after last year’s race where he lost out on a win after tangling with Esteban Ocon.
On Sunday Verstappen showed no flaws in his judgment, or any weakness in his racecraft, with a superlative drive.
In doing so he had to pass Hamilton twice on the track, while his team called his strategy to perfection and executed it perfectly, including two sub-two second pit stops.
After both stops he emerged behind Hamilton and the two vied with one another but Verstappen had the edge “A lot of fun out there and great to win the race,” he said.
“As a team we did a really good job with the pit-stop strategy. It was incredible to come out on top here.”
The contrast with Ferrari could not be more noticeable as the team once again licked their wounds.
They had not threatened Red Bull but were looking solid for points in a season where they have repeatedly not delivered.
Their drivers have been found wanting, as has their car and on occasion their execution.
At Interlagos the debrief is likely to be very painful for the men behind the wheel.
Leclerc had started in 14th but driven strongly and on lap 66 passed Vettel for fourth. Vettel came back at him and drifted to his left.
They had the briefest of touches but Vettel took a puncture and Leclerc lost his suspension. Both were furious, neither believed they were at fault.
“Seb went round the outside but I left the space and then he squeezed me to the inside,” said Leclerc. Vettel countered: “I didn’t have space on the right and I tried to pass.”
The final call will be made by the team principal, Mattia Binotto, who was much more polite in public than he will be in private.
“I am disappointed, I feel sorry for the team,” he said.
“The drivers need to feel sorry for the team, they were free to fight, they were battling for their position in the drivers’ championship but they know silly mistakes are something we should avoid.”
Hamilton knew Mercedes could not quite match the Red Bull pace but he threw his all into the race.
With Red Bull going aggressive after a late safety car and pitting Verstappen, he could not resist the Dutchman’s pace.
A final late stop for new rubber dropped Hamilton to third and, as if the meeting had not already thrown up enough spectacle, he clipped Alexander Albon while trying to take second.
The incident was investigated by the stewards and he was given a five-second penalty dropping Hamilton to seventh and promoting McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to his first podium in third.
Hamilton admitted it had been his fault and it allowed Gasly through. He chased the Frenchman, side by side inches apart to the flag, as dramatic a finish as has been seen all season.
“I massively apologise to Albon, the gap was there but it closed pretty quickly. Completely my fault,” Hamilton said.
“I gave everything and more today. I pushed so hard. We didn’t have a lot of pace today and the Red Bulls deserved their win.”
For the 23-year-old Gasly, knowing how close he was to making a point of his own, ceding the place to Hamilton would have been unthinkable.
He held his nerve through the sweep of the final corner up the hill, where his Honda engine proved every bit a match for the Mercedes and finished with his nose in front.
His dismissal from Red Bull mid-season season after a disappointing opening to his first year with the team was a brutal blow, from which he has shown great mental strength to come back.
The podium was a deserved reward at a race that gad run the full gamut of emotions.
“It is the best day of my life right now,” he said. “So many emotions, I am thinking of all the people who helped me to F1.
“I didn’t imagine it would happen with Toro Rosso but I kept working and today is fantastic.”
Source: Jive naija