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Stat Wrap: Brazil GP

Virtual Statman makes sense of a brilliant Brazilian GP

As is often the case, the Brazilian Grand Prix gave pause for reflection – and celebration – on the achievements of Ayrton Senna, arguably Sao Paulo’s most famous son.

One of the weekend’s highlights came when his nephew Bruno Senna demonstrated his Ayrton’s 1988 McLaren MP4/4 in which he captured the first of three world titles, the last of which was claimed at the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix, a race in which Honda engines finished 1-2 a mere ten weeks after the passing of company founder Soichiro Honda.

Rather unexpectedly, this story arc came into play during the race itself on Sunday afternoon.  Max Verstappen claiming his first career victory when starting from pole position was not an altogether surprising result, but when he was followed home by the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, it clinched the first Honda-powered 1-2 since that day at Suzuka back in ’91 – and on the anniversary of the birth of Mr Honda himself.

Apparently this was the weekend for birthday commemorations.  Verstappen claimed pole on Saturday on his team principal Christian Horner’s 46th birthday.  It was only the second time qualifying for a Grand Prix had ever taken place on this date, following on from Austin 2013…. a race at which Horner’s lead driver was ALSO on pole (Sebastian Vettel)!

Gasly, lest we forget, is a former wheelman for Horner, having endured a shocker of a half-season with Red Bull in the first 12 races of 2019.  Yet the Frenchman has sparkled since being demoted back to Toro Rosso, looking much more like the driver that won the GP2 title back in 2016.

Second place represents the first podium finish for a French-born driver since Jean Alesi was third at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix (Romain Grosjean, a 10-time podium finish in his own right, was born in Switzerland).  It is also Toro Rosso’s best finish since Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, and it is the first time this team under any team has taken multiple podium finishes in one year, following on from Daniil Kvyat’s podium at Hockenheim.

As a footnote to Honda’s big weekend, this was also the first time they have finished 1-2 in a race with two different teams since the 1987 Italian Grand Prix, when Nelson Piquet’s Williams led home Ayrton Senna’s Lotus, amidst the pomp of Honda’s dominance in the first turbo era.

For a while it looked as though it could have been even better.  With only three laps remaining the leading car of Verstappen and the chasing car of Gasly were separated by the other Red Bull of Alex Albon, as the Thai driver appeared set for a first podium of his own – and possibly to seal a first Red Bull 1-2 since Malaysia 2016.

Unfortunately, Albon was to experience bitter disappointment when he was hit by Lewis Hamilton at the Bico do Pato with barely a lap remaining, the subsequent spin dropping him to 14th place.

Hamilton was undeterred by the collision and set after passing Gasly for second, something he failed to do by only 0.062s, as he and Gasly had a literal drag race to the finish line that enthralled TV viewers watching through the lens of Hamilton’s onboard camera.

Having possibly lost a shot a victory when he punted Albon, and then lost the race for second to Gasly, Hamilton was then demoted off the podium completely by a 5-second penalty for the collision.  This penalty didn’t just change Hamilton’s post-race demeanour, for it also changed the Formula 1 history books.

The beneficiary of Hamilton’s sanction was McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who despite starting from last on the grid finally reached the podium after 101 Grand Prix starts…. or at least, he reached the top three.  The Hamilton penalty only arrived after the podium ceremony was complete, meaning both team and driver lost out on a more public celebration of a result a long time in the making.

For McLaren, it ended a 2,072-day wait for top three result, after Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button finished 2-3 at the 2014 Australian GP (coincidentally, another race in which the third-placed McLaren was elevated to the podium by a post-race penalty).  They have now clinched fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, their best finish since 2012.

Sainz claimed the 100th podium finish for a Spanish driver, split unevenly between Sainz, Pedro De La Rosa (1), Alfonso de Portago (1) and Fernando Alonso (97).

However, the biggest record went largely unreported.  With an average age of 23 years 134 days, the podium of Verstappen, Gasly and Sainz is the youngest in world championship history, eclipsing the Vettel / Kovalainen / Kubica podium from the 2008 Italian GP.  Given the Senna references throughout the weekend, it’s worth noting that this was the first Grand Prix in which none of the podium finishers were alive to see Senna race.

Incidentally, with a podium consisting of two Hondas and a McLaren, it is also fair to say that the very public divorce between the two powerhouses in 2017 has worked out well for both parties….

Kimi Raikkonen came into the weekend on the back of the longest scoreless streak of his career, a seven-race run that has lasted since the summer break.  He ended that run emphatically on Sunday by finishing fourth, only one place lower than he managed with Ferrari in each of the last two Brazilian GPs.

The enigmatic Finn was followed home by teammate Antonio Giovinazzi in fifth, a career-best result and the best by an Italian driver in over ten years.  Not since Jarno Trulli finished second in the 2009 Japanese GP has the nation enjoyed such a successful day in F1.

It was also the best day in a decade for Sauber, who operate the Alfa Romeo entry.  They had not got both cars home in the top five of a Grand Prix since Spa 2009, when Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were fourth and fifth for what was then called BMW Sauber.

Daniel Ricciardo was sixth after surviving a collision with Kevin Magnussen (for which he was assessed a five-second penalty).  On Saturday had become the first teammate to ever outqualify Nico Hulkenberg at Interlagos, as the German’s F1 career seems to be fizzling out.

Lewis Hamilton was a penalized seventh, with the five seconds added to his race time meaning that he officially beat Lando Norris by just 0.065s.  Although the size of the penalty was rather academic in this race – both he and Mercedes are already champions – it again has implications for the record books.

Had Hamilton been assessed any of the larger penalties available to the FIA then he would not have been classified in the points.  As he did so, this extended his current points streak to 32 in a row, and he can now equal his own mark of 33 at the final race in Abu Dhabi.

Hamilton has not failed to score since both Mercedes drivers retired from the 2018 Austrian GP.  The team had not suffered another mechanical retirement since then, but that run ended on Sunday when Valtteri Bottas parked up with terminal smoke coming from the rear of his W10.

This triggered a Safety Car that led to the highly-unexpected finishing order, and augmented when the two Ferrari drivers saw fit to run into each other with six laps remaining.  Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel’s coming together made this the first Ferrari no-score since Singapore 2017, a race in which the two Ferraris collided at the very start.

Who said there was nothing to play for in these remaining races!