Just when you thought Red Bull had broken their Interlagos turbo-hybrid winless streak, up stepped Esteban Ocon to infuriate Max Verstappen and his team in the most bizarre fashion.
Ocon, cited as the unfairly treated driver within the F1 transfer market, was the pantomime villain on lap 44 as he made an attempt to unlap himself through the Senna S’s, but ultimately found himself plowing into the side of Verstappen’s Red Bull.
The aftermath saw both drivers spin, and with it sent Lewis Hamilton onto race victory and ensure Mercedes claimed the Constructor’s World Championship for the fifth successive season.
How the race unfolded
It proved to be a dream start for the Mercedes team as Hamilton eased into the distance, whilst Valtteri Bottas made his move on Sebastian Vettel down into the Subida Do Logo to cap off a sluggish start from both Ferrari’s.
Marcus Ericsson’s emphatic qualifying result was quickly forgotten about as the pack squabbled through the Senna S’s, with the Swede dropping down to 10th. To add insult to injury, Ericsson lost large proportions of his front wing in the process.
After dismissing their qualifying session yesterday, Verstappen maxed out his RB14’s true potential in the opening few laps, easing past Kimi Raikkonen on lap two before making an audacious yet sublime move on Vettel just a lap later, leaving no margin for error.
Verstappen’s Red Bull counterpart Daniel Ricciardo was making similar tracks as he clambered his way through the field, setting purple sectors and passing cars with ease to keep within touching distance of the leading pack.
After their slow start, the Ferrari pair began to discover a steady pace ten laps in on the soft compound tyres. At the same time Verstappen, who had been sniffing around the vulnerable rear of Bottas for a number of laps, made his move on the Mercedes driver to commence his chase on race leader Hamilton.
The Mercedes of Bottas then found itself being lulled in towards the prancing horse of Raikkonen, however, Bottas defended valiantly to deny his compatriot from passing.
Then Mercedes’ tactics came into focus. Hamilton came in, fitting a set of medium compound tyres. With the presence of Charles Leclerc ahead and grey clouds looming over the city of Sao Paulo, Hamilton was left to question if his team had deployed the right strategy.
Verstappen pitted 16 laps later with Red Bull opting for the soft tyre. The result - a very quick Dutchman. Ricciardo was now leading the race, setting up both Hamilton and Verstappen to begin to eat away at the Aussie’s lead before he pitted on lap 39.
With Hamilton marginally ahead of Verstappen, the Dutchman’s pace proved to be all too much for the World Champion, and the Red Bull virtually pushed the Mercedes up the hill on lap 40 before slotting down the inside at T1. The race move made. Verstappen looked to be coasting to victory. But then the unthinkable happened...
Ocon was running 14th, but had impressive pace thanks to fresher tyres and saw an opportunity to get back on the lead lap of the race at the opening section of the lap.
The Force India moved to the outside of the Red Bull at turn one and got alongside Verstappen as they went through the corner. But turn two comes in quick succession at Interlagos and as Verstappen moved to claim the apex of the second corner the two collided, sending them spinning to either side of the track.
Hamilton eased his way through the scene of the accident to regain the lead, and despite Verstappen rediscovering his earlier pace, it proved to be a gap too far to close and was forced to settle for a gut-wrenching second.
Mercedes’ five-star dominance
They might not have been the fastest car on the circuit today, but Mercedes’ appetite for success shone through as they unsurprisingly ground out the result required to claim yet another world title.
Hamilton’s victory and Bottas’ fifth place were enough to bring out the champagne glasses in the Silver Arrows garage, and remind everyone as to why they are the pioneering force in Formula One.
After making a superb start, Bottas struggled to find any real pace to pull away from the chasing pack. Although he has not hit the heights of his team-mate, Bottas proved once again to be a valuable asset for Mercedes by showcasing his defensive tenacity.
Congratulations go to Mercedes in a season which has been their biggest challenge, but they have come out on top yet again.
Best of the rest...
Leclerc topped off a delightful afternoon for Sauber by finishing 7th, despite seeing his team-mate Ericsson endure a torrid race that ultimately seen the Swede retire.
Haas made significant ground in the hunt for P4 in the Constructor’s Championship, with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen claiming eighth and ninth.
The result reduces the gap to Renault to 24 points, as Carlos Sainz finished 12th whilst Nico Hulkenberg suffered a DNF.
Sergio Perez rounded up the top ten with a vital point for Force India, however, his efforts are unfortunately overshadowed for the team following Ocon’s race drama.
Red Bull boss Helmut Marko blasted Ocon and his ties with Mercedes, claiming he deliberately crashed into Verstappen to ensure he is still in contention for a 2020 seat at the Silver Arrows.
Force India Chief Executive Otmar Szafnauer was quick to ridicule the claims, stating it was simply a racing error from his driver.
Conspiracy or not, a furious Verstappen went to confront Ocon in the weighing room. The Frenchman was lucky to just receive a push from the Red Bull driver, who had to be held back in an attempt to diffuse the situation.