The penultimate race of the Formula 1 racing 2019 brought out the best and the worst of the drivers. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen pulled off a terrific run to the top spot while Mercedes’ Hamilton was drawn into a rare moment of desperation. For the Ferraris, it was a familiar case of unwanted fireworks.

Max Verstappen overcame an unintended hold up by Robert Kubica in the pit lane and pulled off strategic pit stops to change tyres from soft to medium to soft again to push past the recently crowned world champion in a terrific race to the finish from pole position – his third win in 2019 and eighth overall.

In a rare instance where the Mercedes had a tough time, a tetchy Hamilton was heard on the radio complaining and ranting, frustrated at the state of events on the racing line and in the pit garage. While Hamilton eventually lost third position to the collision he admitted to being a part of to take out Alex Albon, another rookie driver took demotion in his stride to complete his first race.

The race belonged as much to Pierre Gasly as it did to Verstappen, for running a tight race for Toro Rosso and also, holding off Hamilton in a drag race to the chequered flag to hold onto second place.

Prior to the Interlagos race, Verstappen was not appreciative of Hamilton’s unkind words about maintaining distance while racing close to him. However, even as Hamilton enjoyed a brief spell when a dramatic pit stop put him in the lead, even Hamilton knew that with the Dutchman’s smart pit strategy, in his own words, he was “a sitting duck” by lap 60.

For Pierre Gasly, outclassed by his team mate at Red Bull all season, it was a case of “public scrutiny” as the team principal, Christian Horner, put it that saw the young French driver demoted from Red Bull (Verstappen) to Toro Rosso prior to the Belgian Grand Prix. He was replaced by Thailand’s Alex Albon whom Gasly ironically overtook for the second place. Albon, on form to take a podium finish himself became the victim of Hamilton’s hasty and somewhat desperate move on the second last lap of the race.

Post race, although Hamilton celebrated the third place win on the podium, he admitted he was to blame for denying Albon his first podium finish. For Gasly, it was a comeuppance moment in the game. Pitted against Verstappen, Gasly never really stood a chance and it seemed unfair for him to be demoted mid-season. But not only did he give Toro Rosso a win but also, pulled off his first win, his ecstatic screams over the pit radio after defying Hamilton’s frantic chase to the finish line saying it all.

A proud Horner spoke about Gasly’s resurgence despite the demotion, “Since that switch (from Red Bull to Toro Rosso), I think he (Gasly) has driven again exceptionally well. You can see his confidence is growing. He’s driven some very strong races and his pace is getting better and better. He looks happier in that environment, which is good to see.”

For the Ferraris, it was a case of the familiar as it has been all season.

Sebastian Vettel was better placed than Charles LeClerc who began fourteenth on the grid. Yet LeClerc climbed quickly to finished himself in sixth place by lap 10.

The race opened up in the final stages of the Brazilian Grand Prix as the two Ferrari drivers once again had an opportunity to run into each other and true to form and the utter exasperation of team principal, Mattia Binotto, both cars made contact, suffered punctures tires and were rendered out of the race.

That collision on lap 68 of the 71 lap race meant the necessity of having a safety car with debris having already presumably taken out Lance Stroll. The anticipation only built up as once the safety car was pulled away back into the garage at the near end of the race, the frenzy for places seeing Hamilton take out Albon, Gasly benefitting and moving into second place as a result. Hamilton had to settle for the third spot, albeit briefly before Carlos Sainz was rewarded for keeping up the pace to finish in fourth place after starting at the back of the grid at 20.

After the race, following investigation, the race stewards released a statement announcing Hamilton’s five second penalty, “Care 23 Albon was on his normal race line. Car 44 Hamilton attempted to pass on the inside, but was unable to get far enough inside to accomplish the overtake and by the time he realized there would not be sufficient room, he was unable to back out of the situation and the collision followed. The stewards determined that Car 44 predominantly at fault for the collusion with Car 23 at Turn 10 and therefore, ordered a five-second penalty.”

Hamilton admitted that with the drivers’ championship already sealed, he was allowed a few mistakes. He was honest enough to admit that had it been for championship points, he would not have dared to have made the moves he did in the final laps and instead would have settled for a safe second spot.

With his team, Valtierri Bottas, forced to retire from the race with engine trouble, Hamilton had problems of his own with his pit crew over the issue of putting him on soft tyres as well as questions over possible similar engine troubles. At one point, Hamilton’s exasperation was evident as he yelled into the radio, his words directed at the race engineer, Pete Bonnington, “Give me information when my **** battery is dead.”

Verstappen was thrilled at the end of the race for the outcome after outplaying Hamilton on the grid, and during the race with pace as well as strategy. Having missed out narrowly on success at Interlagos last year, the result was a definite improvement for Verstappen and Red Bull.

“Lewis was very quick so I had to keep pushing all the time with the strategy. He kept pitting earlier so we had to be really on top of our pit stops. Two times we had a good move with him and that, all the time, brought us into first and from then, I could control the race with the tyres I had. Unbelievable. It was a lot of fun and of course a great race,” Verstappen stated afterwards.

With one race remaining now in Abu Dhabi for the first weekend of December, while Ferrari continued to dangerously flirt with their petulant drivers and Hamilton ran into rough weather, Verstappen established he was ready to make some big moves. But the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos was, also, the story of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon and the ups and downs of drivers’ fortunes.