Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2021

Hamilton’s penalty means it’s Verstappen versus Bottas at the start again

2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix pre-Sprint analysis

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[raceweekendpromotion]Max Verstappen stormed into the lead from third on the grid last weekend at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, to the dismay of pole-winner Valtteri Bottas.

Afterwards, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said Bottas could have fought Verstappen harder to stop the Red Bull driver sweeping past the two Mercedes.

He has a chance to make amends in today’s sprint qualifying race as the outcome of the stewards’ investigation into his team mate’s car has finally been announced. Having qualified on pole, Hamilton will start from the back. Verstappen therefore claims the top spot, and Bottas will join him on the front row.

It’s a short run to the first corner at Interlagos, and Bottas knows Verstappen has no need to fight him hard. The Red Bull driver’s undoubted priority is to maximise his points haul against Hamilton, who now has to climb from the back of the grid to grab the best possible starting position for tomorrow’s race. Not forgetting the smaller matter of his five-place engine change penalty, which will move him back five places further on the grid for Sunday’s grand prix.

Hamilton was fastest by a significant margin, around three and a half tenths of a second of qualifying, in each session. But it remains to be seen whether his W12 will be as quick once Mercedes have rectified the DRS problem which led to his disqualification from the results of qualifying.

As previously, drivers have a free choice of tyres for the 24-lap encounter. Temperatures at the track have risen sharply since yesterday’s qualifying session, and Fernando Alonso was the surprise name at the top of the times in final practice.

Curiously, both Alpine and McLaren opted not to use any soft tyres during the first practice hour, reserving unused sets for Saturday. Every team ran the soft rubber in the final hour, but Pirelli suspect they may prefer harder tyres for the sprint qualifying race.

“For the sprint qualifying, in my opinion, we use the medium compound,” said Pirelli’s head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola. “The soft is use-able in terms of laps wear, but probably slower over the distance of the sprint qualifying, even if they don’t start the race with a full tank because it’s a shorter race.

“We experienced a bit of abrasion in [Friday] morning, but the soft tyre honestly was working better than expected. Probably it was hampered by the poor conditions.”

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Pirelli were one of the suppliers and teams affected by delays in freight arrival from Mexico City, leaving them with less information about the track surface than usual. “Unfortunately, due to the delay of the freight we haven’t been able to measure the track roughness because our kit, our laser, was in the freight that was delayed, so we had no opportunity to measure the roughness, as we usually do on Wednesday,” explained Isola.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2021
Hamilton will start among some unfamiliar cars
“The level of grip looks like the circuit is very similar to what we had in 2019, but I don’t have a number to confirm that,” said Christian Horner, confirming what Isola had said. Despite the track being visibly dusty during first practice, teams didn’t seem to be struggling for grip in the same way that they had at last week’s Mexico City Grand Prix.

Track evolution can be quite high at Interlagos and is strongly influenced by the often extreme fluctuations in weather and temperature. First practice had a strange mix of conditions with track temperatures starting relatively high at 37C but falling to less than 25C during the course of qualifying sessions, under cloud cover. Several drivers reported drizzle during first practice, although none seemed especially affected by it as lap times continued to improve on slick tyres.

Ahead of the weekend, Mercedes’ chief trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin predicted cooler conditions would play in their favour in their fight with Red Bull. That was backed up by Mercedes’ performance (regardless of Hamilton’s dramas, Bottas having beaten Sergio Perez) and Verstappen, who said after qualifying that Sunday’s conditions were likely to tip the balance.

“It will be completely different,” Verstappen said, “it’s going to be a lot warmer, so that will change the behaviour of the car.” That points to Red Bull enjoying a more comfortable weekend than Friday indicated.

Before the news broke that Hamilton’s car had failed a technical inspection, Horner’s priority for the sprint qualifying race was for Verstappen to finish ahead of Bottas. “I think that if we don’t win the sprint race it’s not the end of the world as long as we’re second,” he said. “The most important thing is to beat Valtteri tomorrow.”

Hamilton’s disappearance from pole position changes that calculation. Beating Bottas is now a preference; banking a potentially huge points swing against Hamilton at this stage in the championship is the priority.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’08.7331’08.068 (-0.665)1’07.934 (-0.134)
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’09.3291’08.499 (-0.830)1’08.372 (-0.127)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’09.0401’08.426 (-0.614)1’08.469 (+0.043)
4Sergio PerezRed Bull1’09.1721’08.973 (-0.199)1’08.483 (-0.490)
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’09.3471’08.903 (-0.444)1’08.777 (-0.126)
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’09.0461’09.031 (-0.015)1’08.826 (-0.205)
7Charles LeclercFerrari1’09.1551’08.859 (-0.296)1’08.960 (+0.101)
8Lando NorrisMcLaren1’09.3651’09.030 (-0.335)1’08.980 (-0.050)
9Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’09.3741’09.093 (-0.281)1’09.039 (-0.054)
10Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’09.3911’09.137 (-0.254)1’09.113 (-0.024)
11Esteban OconAlpine1’09.4301’09.189 (-0.241)
12Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’09.4511’09.399 (-0.052)
13Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’09.3501’09.483 (+0.133)
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’09.5981’09.503 (-0.095)
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’09.3421’10.227 (+0.885)
16Lance StrollAston Martin1’09.663
17Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’09.897
18George RussellWilliams1’09.953
19Mick SchumacherHaas1’10.329
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’10.589

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2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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16 comments on “Hamilton’s penalty means it’s Verstappen versus Bottas at the start again”

  1. And Bottas in Hungary mode..
    Toto is happy.

    1. Oh, wait. He can not put pressure with another one year contract.
      And valteri is a decent driver.

    2. Lol. Hamilton being out of the way makes this an easier task for Bottas! 😅

  2. Valteri Rambottas :
    « Not my war, my colonel »

  3. Given his defence last race and multiple times this season the race will be over by turn3. As a fan of neither Max or Lewis I’m gutted there’s no championship fireworks this weekend. I’m still struggling to stay awake just thinking about Mexico.

    1. sadly BOT will never challenge wunderkind MAX if only to spite Toto as he is on the way out of the team so he isn’t interested in fighting for wins.

      Its a real shame that Lewis never gets a proper team mate, they are either walkovers who crumble under pressure (Heikki Kovalainen, bot) or do politicking to turn the team against him (‘rat out the team to the FIA in 2007’ alonslow, ‘whitmarsh’s best buddy’ button and ‘park the car in Monaco’ rosberg)

      I hope RUS isn’t like the previous drivers..

      1. In 2016 his teammate was not that bad :)

      2. José Lopes da Silva
        13th November 2021, 19:24

        Cab you define what is a “proper team mate”?

      3. If you have a problem with one or two of your teammates maybe they are the problem

        If you have a problem with all your teammates, most likely YOU are the problem

      4. If you have a problem with one or two of your teammates maybe they are the problem

        If you have a problem with all your teammates, most likely YOU are the problem

  4. Bring out the bowling ball

  5. José Lopes da Silva
    13th November 2021, 18:40

    Allow me to be the single voice noticing that right now no one is complainging about the disruption of the qualifying system and Saturday tradition.

  6. Max should definitely have the race number 1* next season.

  7. With Hamilton at the back there’s probably more incentive for Bottas to fight hard in this race than any other – he’s going for a win this time, for himself, with almost zero chance it could be team-ordered away from him.

    1. I may be wrong, but I don’t see Bottas as particularly aggressive behind the wheel, far from what Max as shown all year long.

  8. If Bottas can get into the lead either into T1 or T3 then he could win this, but I am not really expecting anything other than a fairly easy win for Verstappen.

    Hamilton probably around 11th. Be interesting to see if Red Bull can get a 1-2 in the sprint.

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