By Neil Leverett
- Round 20 of the 2019 Formula 1 season rolls into Interlagos for the Brazilian Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton looks to end sixth World Drivers’ Championship season in style, starting in Sao Paulo
- Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set for ten-place grid penalty after engine change
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – With just two races of the 2019 season remaining, will Lewis Hamilton begin his run to Abu Dhabi on a high at Interlagos?
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High spirits for Hamilton
Having rising to cloud nine last time out in Texas, Lewis Hamilton will look to refocus his attentions to the job in hand in completing a sixth World Drivers’ Championship-wining campaign, as the 2019 season makes its’ penultimate stop at Interlagos this weekend for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Sealing his sixth F1 crown to move out to second on the list of most decorated drivers in the sport’s history – behind only Michael Schumacher – before the Briton can even begin to consider next season’s potential record-equaling season, Hamilton returns to the historic Sao Paulo circuit, the scene of his very first and dramatic final lap title win in 2008.
Holding a 67-point advantage over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton could now end the season with a record-breaking points and win tally, however the Finn will be seeking to conclude his own season in style with a third win in four after wins in Japan and the US.
The Briton however, has finished on the top step of the podium at Interlagos for two of the last three years and cantered to victory 12 months ago. With his crowing in Abu Dhabi a fortnight away, the Briton then will be keen to roll into the UAE having fully underlined his season authority with a win in Brazil.
Leclerc juggles penalty
Despite the destination of the title having once more being determined before the season finale, there is still much to play for during the final two races of the campaign, not least final placings and in some cases, team bragging rights.
That is very much the case for Ferrari, who after a strong September with wins at Spa, Monza and Marina Bay, saw their late-season dominance brought to an end in Russia, as Mercedes once more regained the dominant ground over the Prancing Horse.
Fast-forwarding to November, both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are both safely housed in the top five, but with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as the filling in the Italian manufacturer sandwich sitting in fourth, all three men could still finish in third spot in two week’s time.
With just 19 points separating the trio, Leclerc this weekend alas will be forced to play catch-up with his rivals – literally – as the Monagesque is set for a ten-place grid penalty, following the installation of a replacement engine after suffering a failure in Austin last time out.
Taking Verstappen aside for one moment, Leclerc will be keen to finish with the season bragging right particularly over Vettel, as the two Ferrari men vie to take up the impetus ahead of some very interesting post-season conversations, over number one driver status in 2020.
The former however, will have to pull out all the stops – and the right ones – to hold firm his position in the standings, with double spoils on offer in fortnight and with Vettel the fastest ahead of Leclerc in second practice on Friday, that task looks to be a rather lusty one.
Albon out to impress
Away from the top five, Alex Albon will be eager to send a message to his new permanent team and indeed the rest of the paddock at Interlagos, with the London-born Thai driver having been unveiled as Red Bull’s number two to partner Verstappen next season.
Taking full advantage of his mid-season promotion from sister team Toro Rosso with Pierre Gasly, Albon has not finished outside the top six in his seven races since the swap-over, and was denied a podium place in Suzuka last month by Hamilton, finishing fourth in Japan.
Having impressed in the more powerful and reliable drive in the Red Bull, Albon will be looking to provide a flavour of what could be to come next year from the Verstappen-Albon alliance, and the latter has already done so in Brazil this weekend.
With both early practice sessions dominated by wet weather, Albon topped first practice before the Ferrari 1-2 finish later in the day. Despite having less than a year in F1, the Thai driver is very much one to watch for the remaining two races of the season.
As F1 makes its’ traditional late-season pilgrimage to South America, Interlagos once again plays host to the cream of motorsport, as the former end-of-season showdown to the season’s racing.
Having been pushed aside as the campaign finale by the bright lights of Dubai, the circuit hidden in the hills amongst the favelas of Sao Paulo is still for many the most iconic race of any season, indeed the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace has played out much drama since its’ first race in 1990.
As documented, Hamilton’s first title was dramatically won 12 years ago after the Briton overtook Timo Glock on the final bend, to deny Felipe Massa a famous win in front of his own fans, however 2007 was not the only year of fireworks.
A year earlier, Kimi Raikkonen won the title in Brazil, having arrived at Interlagos seven points behind both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, as the Finn denied the Briton the crown in his first season by a single point. The Brazilian environs were also the scene of Jenson Button‘s hugely popular 2009 win for Brawn Racing.
Even though the title has already been decided, as stated there is still much to fight for this weekend in Sao Paulo. And, if any race should throw further ammunition onto the 2019 bonfire, Interlagos is primed to do so again.
The 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix takes place at Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil this weekend, with race day on Sunday at 17:10 UK time.
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