Brazil – Sprint Race: Interlagos Magic Dust

Brazil continues to surprise, Brazil continues to thrill. Friday Russell played a supporting role in Magnussen's pole position, yesterday he took his first (small) win in the Sprint Race. And all this as an appetizer before the main course that awaits us tomorrow.

When the idea of ​​short sprint races came up, the people at the helm of the series said “Le’s try it!” After many attempts, there is still no clear answer as to what role they should play in the weekend format. Today’s sprint showed that while this “toy” defends itself everywhere in terms of marketing, it requires an appropriate facility – such as Interlagos, Brazil. A short loop, short distances between drivers, the possibility of overtaking – all this creates the impression of an event packed with emotions. High tension events. This is what we want.

Brazil has historically been a place of extraordinary events, it has been the setting for the coronation of champions. This season, with the titles handed out, the racing gods once again had no qualms about magic dust. Yesterday a pinch fell on Kevin Magnussen, today a large portion fell on Mercedes cars. Haas’ beautiful dream lasted a day and ended much earlier than on the third lap. The only chance for another miracle was the weather, but the promised rain did not come. The analysis of the long runs times from the second practice showed that with a second loss to the drivers who line up behind his rear wing, there is no question of an even competition. The minimum plan according to Steiner was points and Magnussen managed to implement this plan.

Numbers never lie

The aforementioned analysis of the times also showed the extraordinary pace of the Mercedes drivers. Russell had an advantage of around 0.2 seconds over Verstappen on the soft tyre. Hamilton set ridiculously low times on the hard tyre. And all this with a tire degradation similar to that of the closest rivals. The only question left was whether the capricious nature of the Mercedes design would not manifest itself again. It didn’t. The Mercedes people point to the package implemented in Austin and today’s victory confirms that after many months of wandering in the fog, they have finally found the right path.

Russell seized his chance and took his first (small) victory. Small, but very sweet, because they were snatched from Verstappen in direct fight. The Red Bull driver didn’t hide his disappointment and more than the decision to start on the medium tyre, he wondered how quickly they wore out. This was also confirmed by Christian Horner, who admitted that the wear of the mediums was higher than that of the previously tested soft tyres.

All according to plan?

Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin, however, warns that Red Bull’s move with tires, which today seems like a mistake, could translate into a significant strategic advantage tomorrow. A new set of soft tires can make all the difference. Given today’s tyre wear, the strategy of using two sets of soft tires and a hard tire seems feasible and at the same time the fastest. That may explain Verstappen’s irritation with the heavy wear today.

Everything according to plan is a complete contradiction of what happened yesterday at Ferrari. Today it was definitely better, because both drivers made a big progress. Sainz was able to keep his distance from his rivals and when the opportunity came he had the potential in the car to take advantage of it. Grid positions of the Ferrari drivers (a penalty for Sainz) and today’s pace of long runs suggest that tomorrow a good result will require not only rivals’; problems but also good strategic decisions.

Be careful what you wish for

Certainly not the way the Alpine team expected to end the day. Alonso’s car was damaged in a fratricidal duel, the atmosphere inside the team was completely destroyed, and all this was topped with a fire in Ocon’s car in the pit lane right after the end of the race. Officially, it was the brakes, but it could just as easily have been an explosive atmosphere.

“One more race and it’s over” Alonso concluded today’s racing. I don’t know if he won’t change his mind when he sees how “respectful” Stroll was for Vettel today. The situation may be even more difficult to control, because it will not be just a matter of sympathy or nationality, as is the case in Alpine. Behind the young driver will be his dad, who will write Alonso a check at the end of the day.

Who will the magic dust of Interlagos fall on tomorrow? We’ll find out in next couple of hours. A little earlier, we should know what the starting grid will look like at the start of the race, because the judges are assessing several incidents related to the starting procedures and respecting the minimum lap times. Among those at risk are Hamilton and Gasly. For the first, a penalty could mean losing the first line, for the second a weekend on the bench. Emotions should be even higher that today.

Author: Daniel Biały