Two late safety cars resulted in drama at the Brazilian Grand Prix as Max Verstappen secured victory ahead of Pierre Gasly, while Lewis Hamilton completed the podium.
His Red Bull teammate Alexander Albon was denied a place on the podium due to a late incident, while the Ferraris came together while battling for fourth.
Starting from third, Hamilton was quick off the line, getting past Vettel going into the first corner, but he didn’t have enough to catch pole sitter Verstappen.
Two drivers started out of position, and both were picking up positions early on. Charles Leclerc climbed up to sixth within the opening 10 laps having been hampered by a grid penalty. Carlos Sainz was at the back due to an engine problem in qualifying, but was closing in on the points positions early on.
Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen came together while battling for position, with the Haas car spinning off the track and Ricciardo needing to come in to the pitlane for a new front wing. The Dane managed to continue without needing a pitstop, but was left well down the order. The stewards found Ricciardo to be at fault for the incident, and handed the Australian a five-second time penalty.
Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to stop, coming in one lap ahead of Verstappen. The Red Bull driver lost time as Williams stopped Robert Kubica at the same time, releasing the Pole into the path of Verstappen, allowing the recently-crowned 2019 champion to take the lead of the race. Verstappen was on a charge as soon as he came out of the pitlane though, and charged past the Mercedes to retake the net lead.
Vettel and Albon also pitted, but Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas both stayed out longer, switching onto hard tyres for a one-stop strategy. The hard tyre didn’t seem to suit the Finn though, as he came back into the pitlane for mediums just over half way through the race.
Hamilton stopped one lap after his teammate, forcing Red Bull to bring Verstappen in again a lap later. The Red Bull pit crew’s stop was quicker though, ensuring Verstappen kept hold of his lead.
Bottas’s second stop left him behind Leclerc, and on newer tyres the Mercedes soon caught the Ferrari, but Leclerc defended well to keep the Finn behind for several laps. Running in the hot air took its toll on the Mercedes power unit though, as smoke started to come out the back of Bottas’s car, forcing him to pull to the side of the track.
Bottas managed to stop near a gap, but with the forklift needed to take the stricken Mercedes away, a safety car was deployed. Hamilton was told to do the opposite to Verstappen behind the safety car, and the Dutch driver came in to the pitlane for fresh tyres, promoting Hamilton to first put leaving the Red Bull on newer rubber for the restart.
Verstappen charged past Hamilton once the safety car pulled off the track, while Albon got the jump on Vettel to move up into third. Vettel tried to fight back, but soon found himself under pressure from his teammate. Leclerc briefly got ahead of the four-time champion, but Vettel charge back ahead, banging wheels with Leclerc and taking both out of the race.
Debris from the Ferrari crash appeared to collide with Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, damaging the suspension and ending the Canadian’s race.
As the safety car came back out, Mercedes pitted Hamilton to put him on new tyres for the restart, putting Albon up to second and Pierre Gasly in third.
On the restart, Hamilton was instantly passed the Toro Rosso and alongside Albon as he tried to regain second. The Mercedes and the Thai driver came together though, leaving Albon beached on the grass and ending his hopes of a maiden podium.
Damage to Hamilton’s Mercedes allowed Gasly to jump ahead, and the Frenchman did just enough to keep the Briton behind, taking his first podium in F1, and Toro Rosso’s second of the year. The incident between Albon and Hamilton remained under investigation by the stewards as the race ended.
Nico Hulkenberg picked up a penalty for an error on the restart behind the safety car, promoting George Russell to 12th, but the Williams driver narrowly missed out on his first points of the season.
It was a strong result for Alfa Romeo, who had both cars in the top six, while Sainz finished fourth despite starting from the back of the grid.
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
4. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
6. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
9. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
10. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
11. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
12. George Russell (Williams)
13. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
14. Alexander Albon (Red Bull)
15. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
16. Robert Kubica (Williams)
Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)