If any team can claim to have a rollercoaster race weekend, it would have to be Mercedes GP, as their Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend was anything but straightforward. Despite Lewis Hamilton showing the world why he is one of the all-time great Formula 1 drivers, the qualifying session, sprint race, and main race did not go the way Mercedes felt it should.
The Brackley, England-based team faced stiff scrutiny over the weekend, with team principal Toto Wolff and many fans feeling the decisions made by the FIA to be unfair and targeted at Hamilton and Mercedes.
Wolff says that he has always been diplomatic in discussing Mercedes GP and how he sees the sport, but after the race in Brazil, he now needs to step up and defend his team and drivers more fiercely.
The blows kept coming against Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton with the team facing an uphill battle all weekend
Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton started the Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend on the backfoot after they announced an engine change was necessary before the race. According to the rules, Hamilton would have to take a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s Grand Prix, as the teams are only allowed three engine changes in a season, and Hamilton had already met that quota.
The engine swap seemed to have been the right call as the new power unit rocketed Hamilton to pole position during Friday’s qualifying session. But, the Mercedes would receive a disqualification from the results after the rear wing failed the regulation checks.
This is where the fight between Wolff and the FIA started to heat up. The rear wing contains the Drag Reduction System (DRS) flap that opens at specific points around the race track to reduce drag, increase top speed and open up more chances for passing on the circuit. When open, the maximum allowable gap is 85 millimeters. The FIA declared that the flap on Hamilton’s car exceeded the largest permitted opening by just 0.2 mm.
The FIA declared that it was confident that Mercedes had not attempted to cheat, but rather something had gone wrong causing the wing to fail the test. A confused Wolff questioned why Mercedes were not allowed to fix the problem, and grew increasingly angry when Red Bull made changes to the rear wing on Max Verstappen’s car in parc ferme.
Lewis Hamilton started last in Saturday’s sprint race with a five-place grid penalty still to be applied for Sunday’s race
Starting in last position for the final sprint race of the season, Hamilton worked his way through the field to claim fifth when the checkered flag flew. Add on the five-place grid penalty for the engine change, and this meant that the Mercedes man would have to start Sunday’s Grand Prix from 10th on the grid.
In a season where the title fight has been ultra-close, and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen has looked to be the faster car, Hamilton’s task to keep his championship hopes alive seemed next to impossible.
An inspired drive, one of the best in Hamilton’s career, and saw the Briton win, closing the gap to 14 points in the championship with Verstappen. The race was not without incident as a lap 48 duel could see future consequences for Max Verstappen. Hamilton did not escape Brazil unscathed and incurred a 5,000 Euro fine, with a further 20,000 Euro fine suspended through 2022 for loosening his safety belts on the cooldown lap.
Toto Wolff expresses his passion for the sport and his frustrations with the FIA
If one quote could summarize the Sao Paulo weekend for Wolff and Mercedes GP, it might be his “F*** them all” message to Hamilton over the team radio.
After the weekend Wolff spoke with reporters about the penalty and if he felt that Mercedes was being treated differently than other teams. As quoted by Motorsport.com, Wolff said, “I don’t want to moan here, because that is not how I see the sport. I think we’ve just had many, many punches in the face this weekend with decisions that could have swung either side, against us or for us. When the decisions always swing against you, it’s just something that I’m just angry about, and I will defend my team, my drivers to what comes.
“I’ve always been very diplomatic in how I discuss things. But diplomacy has ended today.”
Hamilton’s spectacular victory in Sao Paulo closes the points gap to title rival Max Verstappen. There are now only 14 points separating the two drivers going into the season’s final three races. With Valtteri Bottas finishing third, Mercedes GP managed to add points in the constructor standings, increasing their lead over Red Bull Racing to 11 points.
A defiant and fired-up Mercedes GP team will be cause for concern at Red Bull Racing. Their bid to beat Mercedes to the championship will be made much more difficult if Hamilton and his team continue to find success with the odds seemingly stacked against them. The fight to the title in the final three races is shaping up to be one for the ages.