10 things we learned from 2021's Brazilian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton produced a memorable comeback victory in Formula 1's Brazilian Grand Prix after his exclusion from qualifying in Interlagos, denting the momentum of championship leader Max Verstappen. Autosport picks out the key talking points from a weekend in which a team boss's future was the subject of discussion while one drivers' heroics again kept his squad in the hunt for a top-five constructors' championship finish

10 things we learned from 2021's Brazilian Grand Prix

Interlagos has hosted its fair share of Formula 1 classics through the years, but Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix was one that will live long in the memory.

It proved to be a dramatic weekend both on and off the track, but it was Lewis Hamilton who took victory to cut Max Verstappen’s lead at top of the drivers’ championship down to 14 points.

Hamilton did it the hard way, recovering from a qualifying exclusion on Friday that left him last on the grid for the sprint race before fighting his way up the order, capping off his recovery with another spirited wheel-to-wheel battle against Verstappen.

It stoked the fire not only between the two world championship rivals, but also between their respective Mercedes and Red Bull squads as F1’s top teams renewed their political rivalry.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, celebrates on the podium with his trophy

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, celebrates on the podium with his trophy

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

1. Interlagos was one of Hamilton’s greatest F1 victories (Luke Smith)

Hamilton has always thrived in the face of adversity, but the fashion in which he fought back in Brazil last weekend surely makes this one of his greatest F1 victories.

The pace of his Mercedes was undeniably a cut above that of Verstappen’s Red Bull. But to have passed every single car in the field - and some of them twice, thanks to the five-place grid penalty applied for the grand prix for taking a fresh engine - in the space of two days is an astonishing achievement, no matter what way you look at it.

Hamilton planned his moves wisely, meaning he avoided getting caught up in any incidents or drama that may have unfolded. He was particularly sensible when passing the two Red Bulls, backing out of a possible move around the outside of Verstappen at Turn 4 before completing the overtake one lap later, having learned a lesson from being forced off-track earlier (which we will get to later).

PLUS: How a Mercedes "Achilles' heel" cost Verstappen in Hamilton's Interlagos masterclass 

Hamilton could have easily let the setbacks throughout the weekend weigh heavy on his shoulders. Instead, as he has such a tendency to do, he channelled it into giving himself more to fight for, making it one of the best of his 101 grand prix wins.

Hamilton breezed through the pack from last on the sprint race grid to finish fifth

Hamilton breezed through the pack from last on the sprint race grid to finish fifth

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

2. Mercedes’ straightline pace advantage has piqued Red Bull’s interest (LS)

The key swing between Red Bull and Mercedes at Interlagos was the straightline speed advantage that Hamilton - armed with his new engine - enjoyed.

It made Turn 1 an easy spot for Hamilton to get his overtakes done, with the additional help of DRS allowing him to enjoy a speed advantage of over 25km/h against other cars before hitting the brakes.

All weekend long, though, Red Bull had been expressing intrigue in how Mercedes was achieving such a huge top speed. Technical chief Adrian Newey met with the FIA to discuss the Mercedes rear wing earlier in the weekend, while Verstappen’s fine-inducing touches on Hamilton’s rear wing in parc ferme was motivated by a desire to see “how much the rear wing was flexing at that point”.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner said the pace difference was something for Red Bull to try and understand, but that the team would “keep an eye” on Mercedes’ rear wing amid its “mind-boggling” speed.

Should Hamilton and Mercedes be able to carry the pace over to the final three races, it could be a decisive swing in the title race if Red Bull cannot respond.

Wolff was outspoken in his criticism of decisions that went against his team in Brazil

Wolff was outspoken in his criticism of decisions that went against his team in Brazil

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

3. The political drama is far from over in F1 this year (LS)

Toto Wolff said after Sunday’s race in Brazil that “diplomacy has ended” following a fraught weekend that saw Mercedes spend as much time in the stewards’ room as it did with cars on-track.

Mercedes called the decision to exclude Hamilton from qualifying “harsh”, noting how damaged parts can typically be fixed under parc ferme conditions - something Red Bull has done with its rear wing at the last three races - and that it didn’t have the chance to analyse the damage because the part was impounded.

Red Bull, predictably, saw it differently, saying that it was a black-and-white binary case of a part either complying with the technical checks or not.

Wolff made clear that Mercedes would now be keeping an even more eagle eye on its rivals in the event of any breaches.

“If the modus operandi is different now, you maybe need to look at others also with a more strict eye and severe eye,” he said on Saturday before making reference to Red Bull’s recent parc ferme wing changes on Sunday.

After all of the back-and-forth between Mercedes and Red Bull earlier this year over flexi-wings and the Hamilton/Verstappen clashes, this looks set to be the final round of fireworks to close out the season.

Verstappen's forceful defence against Hamilton at Turn 4 wasn't investigated

Verstappen's forceful defence against Hamilton at Turn 4 wasn't investigated

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

4. Verstappen pushed the limit - and crossed a line - in his Turn 4 defence (Tom Howard)

In a weekend not short of flash points, the biggest of Sunday’s race centred around Verstappen’s robust defence while battling Hamilton at Turn 4.

In the eyes of television commentators, Mercedes and a swathe of fans, Verstappen had crossed the line and was lucky to avoid a penalty for running himself and Hamilton wide onto the run off at Turn 4 while defending Hamilton’s attempted pass around the outside.

Curiously, it didn’t warrant an investigation by the stewards as race director Michael Masi took a “let them race” approach - despite admitting after the race that the incident almost warranted a black and white flag, which seems somewhat of a contradiction.

The decision not to award a penalty, described as “laughable” by Mercedes boss Wolff, was taken without race control seeing onboard vision which could determine if Verstappen had attempted to make the corner. Verstappen blamed his Turn 4 wash out on worn tyres.

A warning was issued to Verstappen for weaving in his defence on the straight towards Turn 4, outlining the robust nature of his defensive driving, but the call was again baffling when no investigation was called for the earlier near miss.

Perez wasn't willing to try a risky pass on Sainz in the sprint and potentially lose valuable track position for the Grand Prix from contact

Perez wasn't willing to try a risky pass on Sainz in the sprint and potentially lose valuable track position for the Grand Prix from contact

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

5. Questions still remain despite F1's best sprint yet (LS)

The third and final sprint race of the 2021 season offered far more action than either Silverstone or Monza - but much of that was because of Hamilton’s charge, not the format itself.

The fact this was a sprint weekend certainly helped Hamilton’s recovery (even if critics could argue it also denied the full fightback coming in the race), and he proved that it is possible to have the kind of flat-out overtake-fest that F1 so dearly want the sprints to be.

But that all depends on cars being out of position. Sergio Perez spent most of the sprint race lurking just behind Carlos Sainz Jr, but admitted afterwards he did not feel he could take a risk to make a pass as he would in the race because there is too much to lose.

F1 certainly has tweaks to make to the format as it looks to expand it to more races next year, but the ‘success’ of Saturday shouldn’t be taken as an overwhelming win for the format as a whole. If anything, Hamilton’s fight through the field lends greater strength to the argument that - whisper it - reverse grids would provide the kind of Saturday excitement desired, albeit artificially.

Following the stewards' ruling against Verstappen, Vettel would be advised not to continue inspecting rivals' machines in parc ferme

Following the stewards' ruling against Verstappen, Vettel would be advised not to continue inspecting rivals' machines in parc ferme

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

6. ‘Inspector Seb’ is now sadly a thing of the past (Megan White)

His antics in parc ferme have an entire Subreddit dedicated to them, but Inspector Seb - Sebastian Vettel’s post-session, car-snooping alter-ego - may be no more after this weekend’s controversy.

Whether it’s checking out Hamilton and Perez’s cars after qualifying in Monaco this year, or peering under the Mercedes’ front wing at the Russian GP in 2019, Vettel has long been famed for investigating other cars.

But Verstappen’s €50,000 fine for touching Hamilton’s wing prompted the FIA to say it would be strictly policing such moves in future, spelling the end for everyone’s favourite meme.

Vettel himself even joked about it over his radio, telling his Aston Martin engineers that he was “going to touch Hamilton's rear wing” after the sprint race, to which they responded: “Don't you dare! Very expensive”.

Ever the joker, the four-time world champion replied: “I'm joking! I'll try the front wing, maybe it's €25,000…”

Gasly kept the Alpines at bay to keep AlphaTauri in the hunt

Gasly kept the Alpines at bay to keep AlphaTauri in the hunt

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

7. Gasly is keeping AlphaTauri’s P5 hopes alive single-handed (Haydn Cobb)

With Yuki Tsunoda enduring a tough learning curve in his rookie F1 campaign, it has been left to Pierre Gasly to lead the AlphaTauri charge against Alpine for fifth place in the constructors’ standings.

For the second race in a row, both teams leave the circuit on equal points - Alpine ahead on countback thanks to Esteban Ocon’s Hungarian GP win - but in truth it is Gasly’s one-man siege which has the upper hand with three races to go.

The AlphaTauri package has been able to challenge even the likes of Ferrari and McLaren in recent races, Gasly once again proving that fact by qualifying as ‘best of the rest’ behind the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers at Interlagos.

PLUS: Brazilian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 

While the sprint didn’t quite follow suit, with Gasly dropping to eighth on the road which became seventh on the grid for the grand prix following Hamilton’s grid penalty, the Frenchman held his own by finishing seventh to match the points haul of the two Alpines.

Gasly was particularly impressive fighting tag-team duo Fernando Alonso and Ocon, with both Alpines opting for an aggressive one-stop strategy to gain track position on the AlphaTauri driver, before slipstreaming each other with DRS in an attempt to keep Gasly at bay.

But the 2020 Italian GP winner assessed the situation, adjusted his attacking lines and made light work of passing both Alpines on consecutive laps.

As Yuki Tsunoda continues to trip over himself or his rivals, his latest faux pas coming in contacting Lance Stroll, AlphaTauri will be desperate for Gasly to maintain his current form over the final three races to finish off a stunning one-versus-two win.

Mazepin gave emotional interview after another Q1 elimination

Mazepin gave emotional interview after another Q1 elimination

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

8. Mazepin’s emotion highlighted his rookie challenge (HC)

It’s often hard to feel sympathetic to Nikita Mazepin. The son of a Russian billionaire, he's a Formula 1 driver with an indifferent record on the track and an even worse reputation away from it.

Plenty of regret and repentance came from Mazepin amid the fallout from a video, posted to his own social media account, of him grabbing a friends' breast. It made him F1’s new villain before even making his race debut, and crashing at the third corner of his Bahrain bow hardly helped matters.

Since then the 22-year-old has made progress, albeit in a woefully underdeveloped and hard to handle Haas VF-21, but has continually been at war with team-mate Mick Schumacher while also becoming a nuisance by simply getting in the way of his rivals.

The pressures of his rookie year in the F1 spotlight, exacerbated by a recent Mexican nightclub incident, finally told at the Brazilian GP as his usually steely outward appearance cracked. Mazepin was visibly emotional in front of the media after another tough qualifying in last place, the revealing moment showing him first and foremost as a human being.

It is true that Mazepin has been given a much harsher treatment by fans and onlookers compared to his fellow rookies Schumacher and Tsunoda, who have also made their fair share of mistakes this season. But, while most of it is justified, it doesn’t detract from the fact Mazepin is still trying his best and finding his way in the brutal life of an F1 driver. He isn’t the first nor will he be the last to experience it, but it might act as a turning point for him.

Delays in freight arriving at the circuit from Mexico meant a long night to be ready for action on Friday

Delays in freight arriving at the circuit from Mexico meant a long night to be ready for action on Friday

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

9. This triple-header has been F1’s toughest to date (MW)

It’s been a long few weeks in F1. Beginning in Mexico, before travelling to Brazil and heading onto Qatar, teams will have covered over 12,000 miles by the end of next weekend's inaugural race in the Gulf state neighbouring Bahrain.

Drivers themselves have criticised the gruelling schedule, with Gasly describing it as “brutal,” while Alonso said it was “on the limit” for teams. They of course will have kind flights in first class and the best hotels possible, a luxury not afforded to many of their colleagues who burn the midnight oil to get the team from race to race.

Freight delays ahead of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix didn’t help matters, with the late arrival of cars forcing teams to work into the night to ensure they were prepared in time for Friday's FP1 session. And it doesn’t look set to get any easier next year, with a record 23-race calendar planned.

Szafnauer faced questions over a move to Alpine

Szafnauer faced questions over a move to Alpine

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

10. Intrigue remains over Szafnauer’s Aston Martin future (TH)

The future of Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer remains a hot topic as news of shock switch to Alpine broke over the weekend.

Szafnauer attempted to brush off the story first on social media before then facing a barrage of questions from the media, but he came across like an awkward politician not willing to directly answer a question.

While he tried to deflect questions, his strongest reply was "I've been at the team for 12 years, I have no intention of leaving.”

When directly asked to rule out a move to Alpine in the future, his reply was telling: "I learned a long, long time ago that predicting the future is an impossibility. And if I could do that, I would be in Vegas now."

The old saying ‘there is no smoke without fire’ appears to apply here. Time will tell if he indeed makes the switch from green to blue, as Alpine looks to restructure for 2022.

Szafnauer maintained that he was staying at Aston, but his answers weren't convincing

Szafnauer maintained that he was staying at Aston, but his answers weren't convincing

Photo by: FIA Pool

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