Updated: Feb 8
Ahh, Interlagos. You never let us down. We’d be amiss not to include this year’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix on our list of our favourite races from the 2021 season! The entire weekend seemed as though it could just have easily been a screenwrite for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster! It had everything an F1 fan could want! Championship drama, controversy, epic battles, redemption and a result almost no one can be mad at!
Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Bruna Brito
Playing host to the third and final Sprint weekend of the season, traditional qualifying took place on Friday evening and was headlined by an impressive, and much needed, pole from Lewis Hamilton. The Brit had fallen behind rival Max Verstappen in the championship following a run of disappointing races and desperately needed to turn his fortunes around – especially now that he had to carry the added pain of an engine penalty for Sunday’s race. All was looking good following a dominant pole lap… until the FIA’s scrutineering team turned their attention to car 44. They found the DRS slot gap on the Mercedes rear wing opened too much as it failed the test by a measly 0.2 mm. Despite the narrowness of the failure, rules were rules and the wing was deemed illegal leading to the disqualification of Hamilton and the relegation to the back of the grid for Saturday’s 100km sprint race. There was no way Lewis could still win the race from 20th place… right?
Well, Lewis Hamilton now had 24 laps to un-do as much of the damage as possible to have any chance of winning Sunday’s race. What fans witnessed next was some of the greatest driving in modern F1 as he fought back to 5th place overtaking 15 cars! Some notable moves included a daring lunge on Lando Norris as well as impressive moves on Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso! Whilst at the front Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen scrapped for pole for Sunday with the Finn coming out on top. So Lewis will start 5th for the race… well not quite. Remember that engine penalty I mentioned earlier? Hamilton will be forced to drop a further 5 places on the grid, relegating him back to 10th and adding yet ANOTHER twist for him to overcome!
Come race day and it’s a perfect start for RedBull as both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez jumped Bottas to lead 1-2. Behind them, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris come together, giving the McLaren driver an unfortunate puncture and relegating him to the back of the field! Meanwhile, Hamilton made light work of those around him as he climbed to p7 by the end of the first lap. Within a few laps, Lewis passed the two Ferraris and Pierre Gasly and, having been let through by teammate Bottas, was already up to third. Suddenly, an epic midfield scrap was cut short as Yuki Tsunoda ploughed into the side of Lance Stroll, showering the track with shards of Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri which inevitably bought out the Safety Car. With this, Hamilton was in the perfect position to attack the RedBulls ahead and make a true bid for the win.
Following the Safety Car restart, the two RedBulls were put under relentless pressure from the Brit as he hounded to get past. Eventually, Lewis made a breathtaking lunge on Sergio Perez into turn 1before the Mexican re-overtook with the aid of DRS into turn 4. By the next lap, however, the clearly faster Mercedes had once again overtaken Checo for second position as Lewis Hamilton set his sights on Max Verstappen ahead.
Following a failed undercut and a relatively calm middle stint, however, Hamilton still remained behind his Dutch championship rival – albeit the gap was falling. Throughout the mid-field, there was plenty of close wheel to wheel action, including impressive three-wide action from Tsunoda (still recovering from his early incident with Stroll) Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel as they battered along the main straight – delighting the Brazilian crowd! The McLaren’s also put on a great show as Norris attempted to salvage his race whilst Daniel Ricciardo attempted to pass Pierre Gasly following their rounds of pit stops as the race never truly had a chance to calm down.
Back at the front, following the second round of stops, Hamilton was within touching distance of the RedBull Honda ahead – constantly closing the gap through the fast first and third sectors before losing time in Verstappen’s dirty air as they navigated the twisty middle sector. Finally, on lap 48, Hamilton managed to get an amazing drive out of the Senna Esses to pull alongside Max into turn 4. The pair narrowly avoided each other as Verstappen ran wide in an attempt to keep the Merc behind, forcing both cars onto the dusty runoff. With this, Max Verstappen was able to pull a two-second gap as the incident was placed in front of the stewards – though it was controversially decided no investigation necessary as the vital front-facing camera angle on Verstappen’s car was unavailable.
As the race entered its dying stages, Hamilton worked to slowly close the gap back to Verstappen ahead before finally forcing the Dutchman into a mistake into turn 1 as he moved to defend. This allowed Hamilton to get a much better run out of turn 3 and pass Verstappen with dominance before the braking zone of turn 4. With that, the RedBull’s tyres were cooked and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to win the Sao Paulo Grand Prix! Despite a 25 place penalty over the course of the weekend, Sir Lewis Hamilton had driven a drive worthy of legend to clinch victory in a way no one could criticise. That then is why the Sao Paulo Grand Prix is my pick for the best race of 2021 – it had action throughout the grid, championship controversy, impressive battles in the midfield and one of if not the greatest comeback drives in Formula One history!
Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 3 of our look back at the 2021 season!