The 2018 season has produced some incredible moments of drama but few could surpass the explosive incident on lap 43 of the Brazilian Grand Prix when Max Verstappen, striding towards a dominant win, was bounced out of the lead in a moment of madness from Esteban Ocon.
The result handed Lewis Hamilton a somewhat fortunate win and Mercedes their fifth consecutive title. But as Formula 1’s Managing Director, Motorsport, Ross Brawn, explains it revealed much about Max still developing maturity and about Mercedes and Hamilton’s indomitable will to win…
“Over the past 10 years, no one has won the Brazilian Grand Prix from further back than the second row, but Max Verstappen came very close on Sunday. He started fifth and passed all four drivers who had started ahead of him, but it wasn’t enough to give him the win.
“The collision with Esteban Ocon came when the Frenchman was trying to unlap himself immediately after his pit stop and it cost Max dearly, sending him into a spin and leaving the door open for Hamilton. The Dutchman’s push in the closing stages was not enough to retake the lead and after that, Max vented his anger in parc ferme, making physical contact with Ocon. It was not an edifying sight and though understandable it was of course not justifiable.
Brawn: The incident with Ocon was a cruel moment
“The incident with Ocon was a cruel moment, but in the aftermath Max showed he has made enormous progress in his career is still not able to manage his emotions in these situations, an essential next step. Having said that, one mustn’t forget he is still very young and while his conduct wasn’t justifiable we can all understand the frustration he felt after the incident and again at the end of the race, the outcome of which should not cancel out what was an amazing performance from the Dutchman. After all, it’s not every day you drive past two Ferraris and two Mercedes.
“I’m sure Max will learn from what happened and that everything that happened, including the penalty he was given, will contribute to his development as a driver and mainly as a man.
“And so we come to the other main protagonist of the key moment of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Esteban Ocon.
“While the Frenchman was entirely justified in wanting to unlap himself, given that he was clearly quicker at that moment, it has to be said there was no reason for him to take on Verstappen as though he was fighting for his first win in Formula 1. He deserved the 10-second stop and go penalty he was given in the race. Drivers must not forget they are role models for the fans and for youngsters who want to follow in their footsteps.
“I don’t think that Ocon, when he attacked Max during the race, was simply thinking of trying to get in the points. I believe it was more the case that he was caught up in the moment and didn’t think it through, maybe fighting to the death with the race leader might not have been the best plan, even when that driver is one with whom you had some spirited fights in the lower formulae. Overall, Sunday was a lesson for both Verstappen and Ocon, one they won’t forget in a hurry. It’s just another part of their learning curve.
Brawn: It’s that approach that has seen Mercedes stay at the top over this five-year period
“Mercedes has made a clean sweep of all the World Championship titles, Drivers’ and Constructors,’ over the five years that the hybrid-power Formula 1 format has been in existence.
“One can only have words of praise for what this team has achieved in that time. That goes especially for this year when the team run by Toto Wolff won, while finally facing a rival that was its equal and maybe even its better at the majority of races. It’s therefore an amazing achievement for the men and women of the Silver Arrows to have won both titles this year.
“Firstly, they knew not to rest on their laurels: I am well how aware how easy it is to believe that because you’ve won for so many years in a row, you can continue winning without much effort. But that’s not how it works: to a certain extent, every year you have to start all over again, clear in the knowledge that your opposition will have stepped up its game. It’s that approach that has seen Mercedes stay at the top over this five-year period.
“I know a lot of the people in the team as they were with me in the amazing times of Brawn GP in 2009 and then during the first four seasons as the official Mercedes team. I am particularly pleased for them, as they have always been so passionate about Formula 1 and even when they faced some complicated situations, they never gave up – and that has delivered this amazing run of wins.
“I also want to congratulate the two drivers: in Lewis’ case I did so at the Mexican Grand Prix, but again in Brazil he showed that he still has a strong will to win. As for Valtteri Bottas, he was a perfect team player and his loyalty deserves to be rewarded: that wasn’t possible in Brazil, but I’m sure he will try again in Abu Dhabi.
Brawn: This weekend, the Mercedes was not quickest in qualifying
“For the first time, Lewis Hamilton has won a Grand Prix after taking the title. The race at Interlagos showed that Lewis can win even when his car is not the best of the field.
“This weekend, the Mercedes was not quickest in qualifying – Vettel could have been on pole but for mistakes on both his Q3 runs – nor in the race, when the Red Bulls definitely had a better turn of speed. And yet, Lewis managed to win, mainly because once again he did the best possible job of managing the car, with help from the pit wall.
“It looked a little tight in terms of the reliability of the power unit and tyre management during both stints, but Hamilton knew when to push, putting in quick laps, or even just quick sectors, and he knew when to manage the situation, adapting his pace to those of his rivals. That’s one of the skills that make Lewis such an incredible driver and he demonstrated that on so many occasions this year.
“It’s easy to say he won because Verstappen spun: but he was there, less than three seconds behind, poised to make the most of any opportunity that presented itself and in the end, when he did get his chance, he gave it his all to keep the Dutchman in his wake. There’s the incredible statistic that in this hybrid Formula 1 era, he has won 50 times from 99 starts, which means he has made an indelible mark on the sport.
Brawn: During 2018, we have made significant progress in defining next year’s technical regulations
“Once again we saw in Brazil that when the performance level of two cars are more or less the same, then overtaking is almost impossible. That raises the question as to how to make it easier to make a move on the car in front.
“During 2018, we have made significant progress in defining next year’s technical regulations, especially regarding they key area that is the front wing and in the last few weeks, we have worked out the fine details.
“Our simulation work and from what the teams with which we have worked closely on this tell us, the effects are tangible, even though we are well aware that the real proof will only come next March in the Australian Grand Prix. The changes introduced are a first important step, but not necessarily an exhaustive one, towards defining the new technical and sporting regulations that will shape the long-term future of Formula 1.
“It’s a foretaste of what we are defining for 2021 and we are pleased with what we have already achieved for 2019, but clearly we have high hopes, even in the short term. This year, Formula 1 produced some really exciting racing, I’m thinking immediately of Baku, Shanghai, Silverstone and Mexico City and there is every sign that there will be more of the same next year.”