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Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix: Looking to end on a high

Leclerc, Verstappen & Sebastian Vettel are all covered by 19 points with just one more round, Abu Dhabi’s season finale, to go after Sunday’s race

, ET Bureau|
Nov 16, 2019, 08.17 AM IST
Lewis Hamilton winning the title and Valtteri Bottas locking out the runner-up spot has rendered the Brazilian Grand Prix a dead rubber, but the battle behind the Mercedes team mates for the best-of-the-rest spot will continue to rage at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos track this weekend.

Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel are all covered by 19 points with just one more round, Abu Dhabi’s season finale, to go after Sunday’s race.

While finishing third in the overall standings will come as little consolation, it will at least give whichever of that trio finally clinches the spot, bragging rights as the sport’s top non-Mercedes driver for whatever that’s worth.

Mercedes have to be treated as favourites, having won 14 of this season’s 19 races so far and four of the last five Brazilian races.

Still, Red Bull’s Verstappen and Ferrari pair Vettel and Leclerc can’t be ruled out either, even if the latter’s chances have suffered a setback thanks to a 10-place engine-related grid penalty.

Verstappen has finished in the points in each of his four Brazilian outings so far.

The Dutchman was on course for victory last year until a collision with Esteban Ocon’s Force India, who he was lapping, dropped him behind Hamilton to second.

Fuming, he got into a physical altercation with Ocon after the race, and will this year head to Brazil fired up to seal the win that got away.

“Interlagos is a short track but it’s good and a lot of fun to drive,” said the 22-year-old.

“It has a good combination of corners and it’s also anti-clockwise so it’s a bit heavier on the neck.

“Qualifying is pretty important there as overtaking is not so easy.

“The track is also quite hard on tyres so you need to look after them throughout the race.”

On paper, though, the 4.3-kilometer long Interlagos track should play more to Ferrari’s strengths with two long flat-out blasts that are a key part of the lap.

But even the Maranello-based team’s form, resurgent since Formula One’s summer break, cannot be taken for granted.

Formula One’s governing International Automobile Federation has issued a series of technical directives restricting how teams can run their engines. Ferrari, who have enjoyed a power advantage over their rivals, appeared to lose pace after the first of those directives were issued in the build up to the United States Grand Prix.

The Italian team, who have started six of the seven races since the summer break on pole, said the directive had nothing to do with their lack of speed in the Austin race and all eyes will be on whether they can bounce back in Brazil.

“This is another track that has suited us well in the past and treated us well over the last couple of years,” said Vettel who has won three times in Brazil including for Ferrari in 2017. “I think overall it’s been a good hunting ground for us and hopefully it will be like that again this weekend.”

Both Red Bull and Ferrari will still have to contend with Mercedes, however. The German squad may have completed an unprecedented sixth successive title double with Hamilton clinching his sixth championship crown in Austin.

But they are not ready to take their foot off the gas just yet.

“Despite this record-breaking achievement, I still feel a lot of hunger and desire for more achievements,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who is skipping the Brazilian race. “We have two races to go in the 2019 season and we want to end this season on a high.”
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