Hamilton’s crash and minibus robbery dampen Mercedes mood at F1 Brazil GP
Lewis Hamilton’s first competitive outing since winning the world championship lasted less than two minutes when he crashed out of qualifying for Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, but he was perhaps more troubled by an incident in which members of his Mercedes team were robbed at gunpoint as they left Interlagos on Friday, with the Englishman calling on the sport’s leaders to improve security.
On Saturday, Hamilton, who took his fourth title in Mexico a fortnight ago, made an uncharacteristic error when he lost control of his Mercedes at 160mph before thudding into the tyre barrier. The 32-year-old remained in his cockpit for some moments before informing his team he was not injured.
“It happened really quickly,” he said. “There’s not much to say. It is what it is. It is unfortunate. Challenges are what make life interesting so overcoming them makes life meaningful.”
Hamilton was on his first quick lap in Q1 but did not have enough rear grip midway through turn six, lost the back end and slid off the track into the barriers. He remains optimistic about the race, having come back from 17th on the grid to third at Interlagos in 2009. “It was very unusual of me, just shows we are all human,” he said. “I will try to have as much fun as possible in the race. Years ago I came from quite far behind and had a great race.”
Hamilton had been quickest in the first two practice sessions but appeared to have taken too much speed into the corner. It is the first time he has failed to progress from Q1 – the opening phase of qualifying – since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, a run of 27 races. As it is, his team will have some major rebuilding to be done before the race, where he will start from the pit lane after a decision to use his position at the back of the grid to fit a new power unit. Some at Mercedes, though, were dealing with the aftermath of an armed robbery on a minibus taking them to their hotel on Friday night.
The team said that valuables were stolen but no one was injured and Hamilton tweeted yesterday morning: “Some of my team were held up at gunpoint last night leaving the circuit here in Brazil. Gun shots fired, gun held at ones head. This is so upsetting to hear. Please say a prayer for my guys who are here as professionals today even if shaken.”
He returned to the theme after qualifying, saying: “The frustrating thing is I have been in F1 for 10 years and every year that has happened to someone in the paddock. Things should be in place to keep everyone safe. And it’s for the people at the top to take action to keep everyone safe.
“It’s no good just the bosses or myself having security, everyone else needs to be looked after.”
Bottas makes most of Hamilton absence to claim pole
Valtteri Bottas, looking to close an indifferent second half of the Formula One season strongly, did so in the best possible way by securing pole for the Brazilian Grand Prix, after had crashed out on only his second lap and will start from the back of the grid. Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari was second with his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in third.
“I feel good, a nice lap, it was so close with Sebastian,” Bottas said. “I got a good lap in the end and it was a shame Lewis was out in the beginning.”
Interlagos requires a careful setup – with downforce needed in the tricky infield section but low drag and speed for the long runs between turns three and four and from turn 12 to the end of the lap. Bottas, who was second quickest to Hamilton in the first two practice sessions and topped the time sheets on Saturday morning, had clearly found his groove early in the weekend and exploited it during qualifying. His final run in Q3 pushed the car to the limit and in doing so put in a lap that matched some of his best this year. His time of 1min 8.322sec was three-hundredths ahead of Vettel.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were in fourth and fifth but the Australian will take a 10-place grid penalty for changing engine components. Force India’s Sergio Pérez was in sixth in front of the McLaren of Fernando Alonso in an impressive seventh. The two Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr were in eighth and ninth. Felipe Massa, at his final home race after he announced he was to retire at the end of this season, was in 10th.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon was in 11th, in front of the Haas of Romain Grosjean, his team-mate Kevin Magnussen was in 14th. McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne was in 13th and Brendon Hartley in the Toro Rosso in 15th.
Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson Pascal Wehrlein was in 16th, with his team-mate in 19th. Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso finished in 17th with the Williams of Lance Stroll in 18th.
With Formula One’s proposed new engine regulations for 2021 creating considerable debate going into the weekend, on Saturday morning the current power units had caused a war of words to break out between engine manufacturer Renault and Toro Rosso. The latter has suffered a series of failures recently and both their drivers, Gasly and Hartley, are taking grid penalties for new engine components this weekend.
The Renault managing director, Cyril Abiteboul, had suggested on Friday that the fault lay with the way Toro Rosso was operating the engine. However on Saturday morning Toro Rosso issued a strongly worded statement denying that was the case, subsequently publicly reinforced by the team principal, Franz Tost.
The statement claimed that the team was suffering with a lack of replacement power unit parts. They are currently five points ahead of Renault in a tightly fought competition for sixth place and very pointedly noted that this was the case: “We mustn’t forget that they are fighting with Toro Rosso for a better position in the constructors’ championship.”