Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2021

Will Hamilton continue sprint qualifying charge to Brazilian Grand Prix victory?

2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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[raceweekendpromotion]Despite being disqualified from the results of qualifying and copping a five-place grid penalty for exceeding his allocation of power unit parts, Lewis Hamilton will line up 10th on the grid for the Brazilian Grand Prix.

As Formula 1 motorsport director Ross Brawn observed, the sprint qualifying format has boosted Hamilton’s chances this weekend. Had his rear wing failed the same test in qualifying at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez last week, he would have started that race last.

Instead Hamilton was able to put his overtaking skills – not to mention that new Mercedes motor – to superb use as he hauled his way past 15 cars in Saturday’s sprint qualifying race. Vitally, for his chances of making it further in today’s grand prix, as well as making light work of the bottom half of the midfield, Hamilton got stuck into those ahead of him with little difficulty. He was barely fazed by the straight-line speed of the McLarens, something that hasn’t always been the case when he or Valtteri Bottas has been relegated down the grid. One major difference between Hamilton and several of his on-track rivals was at the crucial Juncao corner which sets up DRS-assisted overtakes into turn one.

Hamilton himself hadn’t anticipated how successful his recovery drive would be having stressed the difficulties of passing at Interlagos before the weekend began. But given the pace he showed it seems clear that, starting 10 places higher for a race almost three times as long as sprint qualifying, Hamilton can’t be discounted from taking a podium finish or even victory today.

Soft tyres helped Bottas take the lead – and victory…
Several factors played a role with Hamilton’s rise up the order, not least of which was the gamble of some drivers to use soft tyres, in order to have a starting advantage. Although that proved the correct tyre choice for many – not least Hamilton’s victorious team mate – it meant he was able to take advantage of some drivers whose soft rubber began to fade towards the end.

Moreover, as the race wore on and Hamilton moved further into the top 10, drivers that might have otherwise had a reason to defend harder against him were incentivised to let him through relatively easily in order to save their own tyres to the end, knowing that they would likely regain the place on Sunday’s grid due to Hamilton’s five-place penalty. That won’t apply in the race, so Hamilton can expect a harder fight. Norris admitted he put up little resistance when Hamilton threw his car down the inside at turn one on the final lap.

Another factor which could work against Hamilton is rising temperatures at Interlagos. The grand prix is forecast to be considerably hotter than sprint qualifying, with track temperatures of up to 53C predicted. That will make for some of the hottest conditions all weekend: final practice reached 57C track temperature while on Friday qualifying it fell to 24C at times. The soft tyres may not be quite as quick or last as long today.

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As yesterday, drivers have a free choice of starting tyre. Bottas used his soft tyre advantage to take the lead off pole-winner Max Verstappen at the start. That leaves Verstappen starting this afternoon’s race off-line, as does his team mate. For both the temptation to start on softs and win the race to turn one will be strong, if they believe the rubber will last long enough to make a one-stop strategy viable. But Verstappen will surely keep his eye on the big picture, which is staying in front of Hamilton, and do whatever the team decide best meets that objective.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2021
Out-scoring Hamilton is Verstappen’s number one priority
How quickly the front-runners pull away will be crucial to Hamilton’s chances today. Both Red Bull drivers had to fight Ferraris to regain places yesterday. Verstappen was able to pass Sainz relatively early on and manage to stay with Bottas at the front of the race. But within 24 laps Perez was 19 seconds back from Bottas and Verstappen, stuck behind Sainz.

A key factor which could prevent Hamilton troubling leaders is if they are able to pull far enough ahead to make a pit stop and come out ahead of him. This has parallels to the Turkish Grand Prix, where Hamilton took his previous engine change penalty: The instant Verstappen had the necessary gap over Hamilton, Red Bull brought him in.

The final obstacle to victory Hamilton could face is likely to be the easiest of all. If Bottas keeps his lead, and is still there as his team mate moves into second place, a call from his team to move aside is inevitable.

If sprint qualifying does nothing more than extend a grand prix distance by a third, then Hamilton has used that extra running well, moving halfway the grid. But Verstappen retains the upper hand in the championship situation.

As things stand, Verstappen will leave Brazil with the championship destiny in his control, able to take the title even if Hamilton sweeps the remaining races. Whether that will still be the case by this evening rests partly on whether Hamilton can conjure up more of the magic we saw on Saturday.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Over to you

Does Hamilton have a realistic chance of winning this race? Will anyone gamble on using soft tyres for the start?

Share your views on the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in the comments.

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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39 comments on “Will Hamilton continue sprint qualifying charge to Brazilian Grand Prix victory?”

  1. Shades of Schumacher 2006. It’ll go pear shaped at some point today.

    1. @peartree
      Same story, maybe but not the same circumstances. Schumacher didn’t have DRS and even with the fastest car overtaking was very difficult and risky too.

  2. Would be nice to see Hamilton beating Verstappen to have the championship still in contention before the last three races.
    But starting in tenth does open some room for chaos at the start…

    1. Would be nice, but I dont see him catching Verstappen considering disadvantaged position.

      1. If theres a headwind again on the main straight Hamilton will be into 3rd by lap 20, Bottas will back Verstappen up in S2 and Hamilton at some point will be on Verstappen by lap 35 or 40. I expect Hamilton to at least finish 3rd. I think 3rd is par for the course today, anything more is a bonus.

      2. This didnt age well 👍

  3. RandomMallard (@)
    14th November 2021, 13:37

    I don’t think Hamilton has a particularly high chance of winning. Yes he was rapid yesterday, but Bottas and Verstappen were 20 seconds down the road, and no matter how hard you push, 20 seconds is an enormous gap to close up. And as the article explains, Hamilton may find it a bit harder to overtake other cars today.

    1. RandomMallard (@)
      14th November 2021, 13:39

      I mean I can’t count him out cometely because only a fool rules out Lewis Hamilton, but its definitely an uphill battle

    2. True but 20 seconds can be easily caught up if Bottas puts the brakes on uses his straight line pace to keep Max behind. I think it’ll be a fascinating strategic battle today (as long as Max doesn’t pass Bottas at the start).

      1. petebaldwin yes that’s right, Lewis was 5th less than 20 seconds behind MAX after starting LAST in the sprint race so BOT leading the race and keeping MAX in his dirty air is massive!

        BOT doesn’t even need to back up max because he naturally isn’t fast enough to pull away from MAX who as superior clean air pace (and would drive away into the sunset like in Mexico) but the mercs super strong PU deployment strategy on the start finish straight will fight off MAXs drs and keep both of them in touch with the pack.

        TL;DR
        BOT MUST at all cost lead the race if Lewis has any hopes of catching Max, if not: game over

    3. Just one incident requiring the safety car…

  4. Even if passing does prove as straightforward as it did yesterday, I think he can get third or fourth at best, assuming no unusual circumstances. Depends on Perez… if he gets past Sainz at the start or finds his overtaking shoes he’ll most likely be up the road (not as far up the road as Bottas and Verstappen, but far enough) by the time Hamilton gets through the rest.

  5. Jonathan Parkin
    14th November 2021, 13:58

    He’s in the race so he has a chance

  6. 4th I reckon, Red Bulls will be hard to pass. Bottas will likely be ahead of one of the Red Bulls, so they can’t order him to let Hamilton by even if is inclined to listen!

  7. I wasn’t impressed by Red Bulls pace yesterday. Higher temperatures might help them, but still expect Hamiton to win today. His pace is that strong. Apart from him doing a great job, I think that engine is turned up to near-breaking point. Such is the importance of not only Lewis winning, but also Max not winning. If Lewis wins today, Mercedes surely can turn the engine down to a safer level again for the following races where Mercedes should naturally be stronger. But if he loses this one it’s out of his hands..

  8. Starting in the mid-field has to be more of a lottery. It’s conceivable he could even lose a place or two at the start if there’s bunching or someone make a mistake. I think he’ll go well but I cannot really see him finishing higher than 4th or 5th. The Ferrari’s are not going to be easy to pass or Norris, unless Lewis gets some kind of lightning start.

    I think Lewis would be very pleased with finishing in the top 4 given the weekend he’s had. However, I would not completely rule him out being on the final tier of the podium.

    1. we can’t really be sure of Verstappen’s pace today (he was in Bottas’ dirty air), and the same can be said of Perez, but I have no doubt the can definitely take P3. why not? who is going to stop him?

      1. I think Red Bull can keep up with Bottas (with Max driving anyway) but can’t really hope to make a pass due to the top speed difference.

        I expect Max to get into the lead at the pit-stops if he can’t do it at the start, you’d assume Mercedes will be aware of that.

        Could be a good race, could be a bore fest but I suppose that goes for every race!

    2. Norris has made it clear he will not defend against Lewis. He wants good tyres to get past the Ferraris.

    1. Oops 🤣👍

  9. As much as I’d like this championship to have a few more twists, I’d say it’s far more likely that Verstappen is going to be ahead of Bottas on the first lap and go on to win.

    Since Friday Red Bull have been talking up their pace in hotter conditions so I’d be very surprised if Verstappen heads away from this weekend with less than a 30 point lead.

  10. No, unless for more unusual circumstances, & I reckon no one will start on the soft.

  11. At first sight HAM overtaking 15 cars was impressive. However:

    – he had a brand new engine in one of the fastest cars on what turned out to be the right tyre choice
    – the first 5 or so should have been pretty easy in any event
    – any drivers overtaken in the last few laps would get their places back. Eg NOR knew when HAM overtook him, he would get the position back for the race, due to the 5 place penalty.

    1. Absolutely…

      I mean just 15 cars in 24 laps? That’s not even a car a lap and as we know this F1 stuff, they overtake all the time. It’s never ending the overtakes we see. I mean Max out there needs to start at the back just to find someone to get past.

      That’s why they have changed the regulations for next year after three years of study. It’s clearly just so easy. Even armchair warriors can do it.

      There is just so much overtaking we need to stop it somehow.

      For goodness sake can you not just give a little credit where it’s due?

  12. Hamilton will easily finish 1st or 2nd, certainly if a safety car brings the pack close.

    Only if Max gets ahead of Bottas in first fee laps does he have a fighting chance against a much faster Mercedes with also a fresh engine.

    Mercedes cleverly figured out that a new PU for just 5 place grid penalty is a very cheap advantage. Also Bottas has many PU so Mercedes is running those engine above normal levels.

    1. Seriously?

      A 5-10 grid penalty for a busted engine is suddenly a real advantage and how on earth can constantly putting you back of 5he grid despite getting pole, be an issue?

      It’s just an obvious plot against RB – all these ten place penalties…

      Ffs has the forum become a 20 year old MV sulk fest because the goat got from the back of the grid (not somewhere Max knows anything about) and comes fifth…

  13. I think it all depends if Verstappen passes Bottas at the start or not.

    My prediction is that if Verstappen is behind Bottas after 3 laps, Hamilton wins the race. If Max is leading after 3 laps, he’ll control the race and Hamilton will finish 2nd.

    1. yes, no doubt that RB will learn from yesterdays erroneous start (MAX on radio complaining about synchromesh problems off the line), my guess is that he cooked his gearbox waiting on the grid too long.

      If MAX gets ahead of BOT its race over, if Bot Keeps him behind there will be a high chance Lewis could challenge for the win. BOT keeping in front of MAX will decide this race for Lewis as RB are struggling on this track following in dirty air and battery deployment unlike the mercs

  14. This article is seriously underestimating Red Bull, specially Verstappen. Incredible how media falls for the temptation of a sensationalist headline whenever it’s convenient.

    1. @rodewulf this comment aged like a fine wine.

      1. @losd

        this comment aged like a fine wine.

        Think again, Max resisted until nearly the final stages of the race. He still did better than Lewis last weekend in Mexico.
        And hindsight is always easier, isn’t it, “smart” one?

        1. @rodewulf The headline asked IF Hamilton could continue his charge and win. You went into overdrive of the mere suggestion that it would be possible.

    2. In Mexico last weekend the potential for victory was always referred to Red Bull. This weekend in Brazil it’s referred to Hamilton. Just look the bias here.

  15. I hope Wolff doesn’t appear again saying “If Verstappen crashes **cough Bottas execute order 33** Hamilton can win. I really hope Mercedes doesn’t get involved in another illegal situation in the same weekend.

  16. I think race will be decided by two factors
    1ST> If Verstappen can get past Bottas then Verstappen will win, but if he cant than Hamilton will win and Verstappen will finish 3rd.
    2ND Safety car. Hamilton can get past any car with straight line speed advantage.

  17. Lewis can win this if he takes his sprint quali ‘nothing to lose’ attitude into today’s race, he does need some teamwork from BOT who needs to repeat the sprint performance and stay in front of MAX and BOT pace will prevent the top runners from leaving the pack that Lewis will be in.

    BOT does not need to ‘back up’ MAX because the dirty air plus Honda pu disadvantage makes it hard and too risky for max to overtake by default(remember hulkenbergs botched overtake on Lewis in 2012?).

  18. If they run the engine in almost-but-not-quite-Party-Mode,-honest like they did yesterday there’s a good chance it will grenade in the heat today.

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