One of the most dramatic grands prix you could wish to see, a redemptive surprise in Macau, team orders shenanigans in tin-tops and extreme speed in a straight line in an African desert – motor sport in 2019 just keeps on giving, as this weekend showed in the best possible way.
Four talking points from Brazil, Macau – and the Kalahari
Brazilian GP delivers a day to remember
Who needs a tense world title battle? The big prize might be done and dusted in Formula 1, but that just seemed to let the whole grid off the leash at Interlagos, as the Brazilian Grand Prix turned into a platinum-edged race for the ages.
Max Verstappen passing six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton not once but twice for his eighth career win… Feisty Alex Albon sticking one on Sebastian Vettel… The Ferraris colliding in a flash of red mist… Hamilton misjudging a move on poor Albon… Pierre Gasly using Honda power to valiantly win a drag race to the line against a Mercedes… The Frenchman’s release of sheer joy as it sunk in he’d just finished second in a Toro Rosso… And then Hamilton’s penalty that handed Carlos Sainz and McLaren a heroic podium having started at the back of the grid.
Phew! Some like to beat F1 with the boring stick in this modern age, but surely not on Sunday.
Hamilton was magnanimous in defeat to Verstappen and openly apologetic to Albon, but he can afford to be in the immediate aftermath of his latest title glory. It might be a different story if a similar narrative plays out at the start of next season.
As for Ferrari, the brewing headache of Charles Leclerc’s convincing challenge to Vettel as the team’s number one has become a full-blown migraine after their collision on the approach to Turn 4. What a test for Mattia Binotto’s leadership – and what next for Vettel? His nightmare of a season has hit new lows after a clash that wasn’t entirely his fault, but was surely one he could have avoided.
There’s still Abu Dhabi to come, then the winter break. Just as it’s starting to get good. The 2020 season can’t come soon enough.
For sure Verschoor surprises at Macau
Red Bull redemption for Pierre Gasly in Brazil, and also in parallel for a lesser-known young racer in the Far East.
The Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix, the most prestigious junior single-seater race in the world, threw up a surprise winner on Sunday as 18-year-old Dutchman Richard Verschoor delivered the best performance of his short life. And just to make it sweeter, the Red Bull junior reject passed and defeated one of the energy drink’s current aces, with an assertive move under heavy braking into the famous Lisboa corner.
Verschoor was only 13th in the FIA European F3 Championship this season, but came alive on the 3.8-mile Guia street circuit when it counted most. Following a strong performance in the qualifying race, Verschoor started the Grand Prix fourth on the grid and following a great start found himself in a duel with current Red Bull junior Juri Vips. He chased down Vips before pulling off a late-braking move on the outside into Lisboa, then fended off his rival all the way to the chequered flag.
Gasly would have understood how that must have felt.
Formula 2 racer Callum Ilot was the top Brit as he stepped back for his first race weekend in the new-for-2019 FIA F3 car, finishing sixth. Meanwhile Dan Ticktum, another to be brutally sacked from the Red Bull programme, lost his chance to go for a Macau hat-trick of victories in a qualification race pile-up that also cost fellow Brit and hot pre-race tip Jake Hughes. In the Grand Prix itself, Ticktum put in a valiant comeback drive from the back to finish 13th. Hughes was 17th.
Muller on another tin-top charge
Yvan Muller was supposed to be well into his retirement by now. The former British Touring Car Champion and four-time World Touring Car Champion quit racing way back in 2016, only to have a change of heart and return in 2018 for the start of the new World Touring Car Cup. Now at the age of 50, he’s charging hard for a fifth tin-top world title.
The Frenchman took a brace of wins at the penultimate round at Macau in his Swedish-run Lynk & Co. The new Chinese brand’s perfect weekend was completed when three-time WTCC champion Andy Priaulx took his first win in the series in the third and final race of the weekend.
Muller’s points haul has lifted him right into the thick of the title action, just 11 points behind Hungarian Norbert Michelisz, who jumped back to the head of the standings at the expense of Esteban Guerrieri. The Argentine had a torrid Macau weekend in his Honda, but still lies second in the points, nine down on Michelisz and two ahead of Muller. The Malayasian season finale at Sepang in mid-December should not be missed.
Those who remember Muller from the BTCC might not be surprised to learn age has not mellowed his fierce competitive instinct. Intra-team tensions between the veteran and Thed Björk, who is fourth in the points, have been brewing for a while – but in Macau the team showed the Swede where true power lies. Twice in Macau Björk was ordered to sacrifice places to aid Muller’s title quest, despite being far from out of the running himself. That must have stung.
Like so many great racing drivers, Muller will do whatever it takes to win – even if it means reverting to politics to get what he wants.
Bloodhound hits 628mph in South Africa
Finally, an achievement that perhaps tops everything played out on South Africa’s desolate Hakskeenpan in the Kalahari desert on Saturday, when Andy Green and the Bloodhound land speed record contender hit 628mph on its latest run. And the jet-powered car hasn’t even deployed its rocket yet…
Green and his previous record car, Thrust SSC, broke the sound barrier to set a new LSR 22 years ago in the Black Rock desert. Now that mark of 763mph is surely within reach for the 57-year-old RAF pilot – and who knows: perhaps even the almost unimaginable overall target of 1,000mph.
Bloodhound, which is among only eight record cars in history to have topped 600mph, will now return to England before embarking on what is hoped to be a successful bid for the record at Hakskeenpan during next year.
Roll on 2020. Please. As quickly as possible.
Main image courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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