By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
Despite being a five-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton went into the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix having never taken a pole or a win in the remaining races AFTER clinching a title in any season of his career.
He expunged both these distinctions from the record books at Interlagos, in a cracker of a race that had seemed set to go the way of Max Verstappen until the Dutchman tripped over the lapped Esteban Ocon in an incident that dominated the post-race headlines.
On Saturday Hamilton had claimed the 100th pole position in Mercedes’ F1 history, becoming the fifth constructor to reach a century, behind the timeless names of Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Lotus. Early in the race he led Mercedes’ 5,000th lap in F1, joining those same four names in an illustrious club.
The stage appeared set for Hamilton to cruise on unimpeded toward victory, until yet another fighting drive from Verstappen threw it all into doubt. Red Bull’s aggressive approach in the first stint of the race left him out in the lead for 16 laps after Hamilton’s pit stop, and he retook P1 only four laps after his own stop.
As the momentum swung the 21-year-old’s way, it seemed he would win back-to-back races for the first time in his career – at an Interlagos circuit on which Red Bull had not even led a single lap in the turbo hybrid era before Sunday. And then, along came Ocon…
Of course there are two sides to every story, and Ocon, far from being a slow-moving backmarker, was actually attempting to unlap himself on fresh tyres. Whatever your opinion of their collision, Verstappen’s 2.7-second lead over Hamilton became a 5.7-second deficit, and while it set up a thrilling conclusion, the damage (both physical and on the stopwatch) was done.
"Everyone who goes home at Christmas having won a world title will know that they're legends." @LewisHamilton paid tribute to the unsung heroes of his Mercedes team after "such a tough race" ⬇️#C4F1 #BrazilGPhttps://t.co/t4haogQXmO— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2018
Hamilton claimed an astonishing 50th victory in the 99th race of the turbo hybrid era – a better-than 50% win rate since it began in 2014! It also gave Mercedes their fifth consecutive constructors’ championship, a run only surpassed once in F1 history – by Ferrari’s six in a row from 1999-2004.
A seething Verstappen had to be content with second, which under normal circumstances would have been cause for celebration. Not only was it his best result in Brazil but it was also his fourth consecutive podium finish, the best run of his career.
The minutiae appeared to be somewhat lost on Verstappen when he encountered Ocon for the second time at the post-race weighbridge. It evoked memories of his father Jos Verstappen’s infamous tangle with leader Juan-Pablo Montoya in the 2001 Brazilian GP, which put both drivers out of the race.
Max Verstappen was livid with Esteban Ocon after the race in Sao Paulo, so much so that he gave him a shove or two in parc ferme— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2018
The Dutchman's outburst cost him two days community service from the stewards ⚖️#C4F1 #BrazilGP https://t.co/a4JWUnFEm1
Kimi Raikkonen kept a watching brief for much of the closing stages, as once again he proved to be the faster of the Ferraris in race trim.
In his 150th start for Ferrari, Raikkonen continued the Indian summer toward the end of his F1 career by claiming his 12th podium this season, matching career-best totals from the halcyon days of 2005 and 2007.
He held off a spirited challenge from Daniel Ricciardo, who rebounded from yet another grid penalty due to unreliability (specifically, a turbo that needed to be replaced after a marshal squirted extinguisher into it when he retired in Mexico!)
The Australian has had more retirements this season (eight) than Hamilton has suffered in the entire turbo hybrid era (seven), and while he is still yet to finish on the podium in Brazil, fourth was Ricciardo’s best result in eight starts at Interlagos.
Controversy— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2018
Altercations on and off the track
It can only be an afternoon at Interlagos
Relive all the action in 539 seconds with our race rewind https://t.co/YPMfX90Qb3
As has become a worrying habit lately, Valtteri Bottas faded from contention on race day, ending in fifth place for the third consecutive grand prix, having started from P3. Nobody who has led Q2 has gone on to take pole position at the last 10 races, and it was the Finn who extended that run this weekend.
He is one race away of being the first winless Mercedes driver in a full season since Michael Schumacher in 2012, but he is far from the first man to be in such a situation even when team-mate to a title-winner.
In this century alone, Michael Schumacher won the 2001 title while Rubens Barrichello failed to win, while as recently as 2013 Sebastian Vettel claimed the title while Mark Webber endured a winless swansong year.
Sebastian Vettel was on the naughty step again in qualifying, as the Ferrari racer "destroyed" the weighbridge scales in Q2— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 11, 2018
That led to a €25,000 fine and a reprimand from the unimpressed stewards #C4F1 #BrazilGPhttps://t.co/nsYm502Cji
If Bottas was having an off-day, the same could be said for Sebastian Vettel, who had previously won the Brazilian GP twice from second on the grid, but this time could do no better than sixth place.
The last time he finished that low at Interlagos was back in 2012, but on that day it was good enough to clinch his third world title.
Vettel had to pass next year's Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc on lap 58, and the Monegasque rookie starred yet again on Sunday, finishing as 'best of the rest' for the second time in the last five races, pushing Sauber to within six points of seventh-placed Force India in the constructors’ championship.
Even with that result, it was still a slightly disappointing day for the Hinwil squad, as Leclerc had started behind team-mate Marcus Ericsson, who qualified sixth after Ricciardo's penalty – the highest start for a Sauber in the turbo-hybrid era, and the best for any Swedish driver since Stefan Johansson lined up fifth for Ferrari in Detroit back in 1986!
Special mention to @SauberF1Team as @Ericsson_Marcus gets a career-best 7th on the grid, and both cars are in the top ten on the grid in the #BrazilGP for the first time since 2004. Felipe Massa ended up leading that race for the team, his first-ever laps led in F1.— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) November 10, 2018
Ericsson’s joy would be short-lived, as early damage made him the first retirement. Abu Dhabi – scheduled to be his 96th grand prix start – will likely represent his last chance of a top-seven finish before moving to IndyCar in 2019.
Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both equalled their best Brazilian Grand Prix results on Sunday, with the French driver eighth and the Dane ninth, on a circuit where the Haas team had never previously scored a point.
It was the first time both cars had finished in the top 10 since Belgium at the end of August, a timely birthday present for team founder Gene Haas, who turned 66 on Monday.
Otmar questioned Max's racing intelligence - while Christian insisted Esteban should never have been told he could unlap himself!— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2018
Who was right? Hear what the bosses had to say and see if you agree with @therealdcf1's verdict ⬇️#C4F1 #BrazilGP https://t.co/f7SaTQl9UD
Sergio Perez was the last of the point-scorers, although his day was considerably more low-profile than team-mate Ocon.
Perez lost an opportunity to close significant ground on Nico Hulkenberg in the drivers' standings, as the German lost his 100% finishing record at Interlagos – he had scored points in all previous seven starts there, having notably won pole in 2010.
Hulkenberg has an 11-point advantage in the 'best of the rest' championship as the final round looms, and seventh would be his career-best finish – taking the position held by Perez the past two seasons.
Such matters were overshadowed at Force India by the Ocon/Verstappen collision and the subsequent shoving match that took place in parc ferme, but it is important to remember that it was just a race, and not a war.
This was the first grand prix to be held on November 11, and it fell on the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War 1.
Given those circumstances, it was fitting that a British driver won the race to clinch a championship for a German manufacturer.
That concludes our highlights show of a very entertaining race in Brazil!— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2018
Join us in two weeks for LIVE coverage of the final chapter of the 2018 season, with every session on @Channel4
Now off to bed! Sweet dreams #C4F1 #BrazilGP pic.twitter.com/x4zRUmQM6j