Updated: Feb 28
WOW, WHAT A RACE! Despite enduring 25 places worth of penalties over the course of the weekend, Lewis Hamilton drove sensationally to snatch yet another victory in this intense 2021 season. Max Verstappen came close to denying Lewis victory but was forced to settle for second with Valtteri Bottas behind.
Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Esmée Koppius
With Hamilton starting in P10 following an engine penalty, the battle for the lead was between Bottas and Verstappen as the lights went out. Both drivers got away well with Max just edging ahead into turn one before commandingly taking the lead from his Finnish rival on the corner exit. As Bottas squirrelled through turns two and three, Sergio Perez was able to get the run on him down the back straight and into the harsh turn four breaking zone. For now, at least, it looked as though everything that could have gone right for Red Bull had gone right as the pair led 1-2. Hamilton behind made short work of those around him and was P7 by the end of the first lap.
Over the next few laps, Hamilton sliced his way through the field making sure to lose as little time as possible, passing the likes of Pierre Gasly and the two Ferrari’s of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. Speaking of which, Carlos Sainz had been involved in a turn one collision with Lando Norris, giving the McLaren a puncture and sending him to the back of the pack. Before long, Lewis was on the gearbox of his teammate who diligently pulled to the side out of the Brit’s way promoting him up to third.
Further behind, an impressive mid-field scrap was cut short as Yuki Tsunoda ploughed into the side of Lance Stroll – sending shards of Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri across the Senna Esses. This debris called out the safety car and briefly neutralised the race. Whilst the two Williams drivers peeled into the pits for a free stop, Lando Norris was awarded the opportunity to catch back up to the field – maybe points were still possible? What the safety car also allowed was for Hamilton to close the gap to the RedBull pair who worked well to keep heat in their tyres. As the safety car pulled into the pits, Verstappen and Perez got away well, utilising their warmer tyres whilst Lewis slotted in behind and Valtteri was forced to defend from the two Ferraris!
At this point, the Haas pair were running 14th and 15th as they had picked themselves through the early carnage and were looking good to finish well until Mick Schumacher had an unfortunate coming together with Kimi Raikkonen which left yet more debris on the track. This time only a virtual safety car was called and the racing quickly resumed, however, Mick was relegated to the back of the pack.
Back at the front, Hamilton made a bold move on Perez into turn 1, yet the Mexican was able to slot back into the DRS and immediately re-overtake along the back straight fighting well against the faster Mercedes. By the next lap, however, Lewis was able to clear Sergio by enough of a gap on the main straight that he couldn’t fight back on the back straight. For a short while, things at the front looked to settle down. Behind there were some great battles however as Pierre Gasly, who had triggered a series of undercuts, fought his way past Daniel Ricciardo just as Lando Norris was doing behind in trying to salvage his race. With the two Ferrari’s cementing themselves as best if the rest, McLaren were set to salvage as much as they could to help their cause in the battle for third in the constructors – though they now had the Alpha Tauri of Gasly ahead.
Meanwhile, Mercedes pulled the gun early in undercutting Verstappen with Hamilton in a bid to close the gap. The stop went well but it wasn’t enough to catch the Dutchman who remained comfortably ahead after his stop one lap later. Sergio followed his teammate into the pit but before Bottas could come in, yet another VSC was deployed as yet more debris flew away from Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin. This awarded the Finn a cheap stop and he was able to jump the Red Bull of Perez to secure third as the VSC ended. The middle stint was relatively calm at the front as Max and Lewis began to pull away in typical fashion. Throughout the midfield though, the battles were as intense as ever with the likes of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Yuki Tsunoda going three-wide along up the hill of the main straight – delighting the Brazilian crowd!
Rather suddenly, Red Bull pulled Verstappen into the pits to avoid being undercut once again with Perez following him in one lap later along with Bottas. Mercedes however opted to keep Hamilton out for three more laps – a move that proved crucial. Once Hamilton emerged from the pits, he had a 2.6-second gap to the Red Bull ahead as the race entered its closing stages. Both on hard tyres, the battle was truly on. Hamilton could get close through the last and first sector but would lose all the time he had gained through the twisty middle sector stuck in Verstappen’s dirty air. That was until lap 48 when Hamilton got an incredible run out of the Senna Esses and managed to pull alongside going into turn 4. The pair came narrowly close to banging wheels as Max Verstappen ran wide in an attempt to keep the Mercedes behind him sending both cars onto the dusty runoff. Verstappen was able to pull out an almost two-second gap as the incident was put in front of the Stewards – though it was decided no investigation was necessary.
For the next few laps, Hamilton worked to slowly close the gap back up and recharge his battery for one last push at Verstappen. Finally, the moment came as Lewis forced max into defending turn 1. This cost him on the exit of turn 3 and Lewis was able to pull up alongside much earlier than before. He was finally ahead and to cement it, he cut across max just before the braking zone to ensure there was no way back past. Max’s tyres were completely cooked at this point as he had pit earlier than Lewis onto their final hard set and so he quickly fell behind as Lewis pulled a comfortable gap on his way to win the Sao Paulo Grand Prix!
Sergio Perez would take the fastest lap as he came home fourth behind Verstappen and Bottas in second and third. Charles Leclerc would lead his teammate Carlos Sainz home in fifth and sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly who once again impressed to finish seventh. Throughout the last stint, Gasly battled intensely with Esteban Ocon as the two French drivers narrowly avoided each other to pick up those crucial points. The Alpine driver would finish 8th just ahead of his teammate Fernando Alonso. Lando Norris drove outstandingly to come away with a point following his first lap puncture as he rounds out the top 10!
Sebastian Vettel would be the sole Aston Martin finisher in P11 as Lance Stroll was forced to retire following the damage sustained to his car. Kimi Räikkönen would lead George Russell and teammate Antonio Giovinazzi home in 12th,13th and 14th as the damaged Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda limped across the line in 15th! Nicholas Latifi was unable to continue his weekend streak of finishing sessions ahead of Russell as he came home in 16tth with only the two Haas cars finishing behind, Mick Schumacher ahead of Nikita Mazepin. Daniel Ricciardo joined Lance Stroll in retiring following an engine issue.
With that, the Sao Paulo Grand Prix had come to a close! Alpha Tauri has now overtaken Alpine in the constructor’s standings whilst Ferrari furthers their lead over McLaren in third! At the front, Lewis Hamilton closes down the gap to Max Verstappen as the championship is still very much alive! Be sure not to miss the Qatar Grand Prix next weekend!