There was nothing Max Verstappen could do.
What a sensational weekend for F1 fans. We got to view politics, drama, personal clashes, snarky remarks, and inappropriate touching. Oh, and eventually, some racing happened as well.
First, let's look at the current driver's and constructor's standings following the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. Max Verstappen remains in the lead, having had a more consistent year so far. He's currently standing on 332.5 points, a mere 14 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The battle for third place is still up for grabs with Valtteri Bottas on 203 points and Sergio Peres 25 points behind him.
Mercedes managed to open the gap in the constructor's championship. Before the weekend, a mere point separated the two top teams. Following a flawless performance from Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas, that gap has increased to 11 points. In short, it's also still up for grabs. Third place in the constructor's championship seems to be wrapped up, however. McLaren had some good times this season, but Scuderia Ferrari's recent engine upgrades have put the famous red team in a good position.
So what happened in Sao Paulo?
Love him or hate him, nobody can deny that Sir Lewis Hamilton was the star of the weekend. We were not expecting him to get close to Verstappen following a grid penalty for taking on new engine parts, but there you go. Another reason why Hamilton might be F1's greatest of all time. One day, when he looks back at his career in racing, he can rightfully point to the 2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix and say that he kicked Dutch ass.
As a recap, let's look at the odds stacked against Hamilton. He had the grid penalty going into the Grand Prix for engine changes and was disqualified from the sprint result following a rear wing incident. Don't worry; we'll get into that later.
Hamilton started the short format sprint race stone dead last and drove to fifth in a 24-lap race. Along with his grid penalty, he started the full-on Sunday Grand Prix in tenth place.
He battled his way through the field, eventually meeting up with Verstappen on Lap 47. Verstappen did all he could, perhaps even pulling some dodgy moves on Lap 48, but alas.
The Hamilton/Mercedes combination was too good to beat, and Verstappen finished the race 10.496 seconds behind Hamilton. Like we said last week, when Verstappen finished 17 seconds ahead of Hamilton, that's a proper spanking.
We're thrilled to see both racers on top form going into the final rounds. It doesn't matter what side you prefer. We all get to see good racing due to this grand battle for F1's ultimate prize.
For this win, we hope Hamilton gets rewarded with a personalized GOAT number plate for his Mercedes-AMG One.
We don't know what Mercedes did to its cars, but it worked. The straight-line speed is monstrous and around 12.5 mph faster at the top end than anything else. Even on a short track like Interlagos, you can see the difference between the Mercs and the Red Bulls.
After overtaking Verstappen, Hamilton kept on flying and widening the gap. Bottas, who was in third place, started catching up to Verstappen. If the lap count were 75 to 80 laps, it likely would have been a Mercedes one-two.
Red Bull faces an uphill battle as we advance. The three remaining tracks over are all modern, fast tracks located at sea level, where the Mercedes engines perform at their absolute best.
What will Red Bull do to keep Mercedes off its tail? We saw Max Verstappen defend his spot during the final laps of the USA Grand Prix, but it's not possible to do that for an entire race. That's if Verstappen even manages to qualify in first.
Red Bull has less than five days to find a solution to this problem. Otherwise, these final three rounds are going to be a slaughter.
We can't be the only people in the world who think this weekend's whole wing saga was a little like a poorly executed detective procedural.
To recap, the Mercs were insanely fast, and following the qualifying, Verstappen walked over to look at Hamilton's rear wing. Then to the horror of absolutely no one apart from the FIA, he touched it.
Let's clear this mess up and some of the conspiracy theories out there. Mercedes wasn't cheating. Hamilton's rear wing passed the test on one side, in the middle, but not on the other side. It was damaged, as there is no upside to having the DRS system open wider on one side only.
Verstappen should not have touched the rear wing, as it clearly states in the rulebooks. It is, however, one of those rules that are hardly ever enforced. Sebastian Vettel is famous for inspecting competitor cars, even going as far as pushing them. He even made light of the situation, telling his team he would touch Hamilton's car following Verstappen's 50,000 Euro ($57,000) fine. He added that he might touch the front spoiler, as the fine is likely cheaper.
Now, we know there are a lot of Hamilton fans out there who thought Verstappen intended to damage Hamilton's rear wing. It's physically impossible, however. There's just no way a little dutchman can inflict any significant damage with his finger. He could take a sledgehammer to that rear wing, and it would do absolutely nothing.
We think the only reason Verstappen was fined is that this championship is getting nasty. A spectator filmed the footage, and suddenly it was a massive conspiracy theory. The FIA couldn't do nothing, so it dished out a fine. And let's be honest, Verstappen likely spends more per week wining and dining with his supermodel girlfriend.
Was Hamilton's penalty for the rear wing fair? No, we don't think so. Considering it was damaged and not an intentional cheating mechanism, the punishment didn't fit the crime.
Petty punishment was another central theme in the Brazilian Grand Prix. The stewards later fined Hamilton for undoing his seatbelt too early. This happens regularly. F1 drivers get emotional and want to celebrate their victory lap. For that, he had to pay a 5,000-Euro fine ($5,700) and a further 20,000-Euro sanction ($22,900) suspended until the end of next year. We bet it costs more to charge that silly electric scooter Hamilton loves using to get up and down the pitlane.
Whether you love or hate him, Max Verstappen pulled two dodgy maneuvers during the Brazilian Grand Prix.
On lap 48, Hamilton was primed for an overtake, but Max Verstappen refused to give him the space, even though he had the advantage. Both cars ended up going off the track, thankfully missing another incident like the one at Monza. Later on, Max Verstappen weaved on the straight, also not letting Hamilton pass. He received some stern words but no penalty.
Toto Wolff called the decision not to penalize Verstappen "laughable." Hamilton was more professional in the post-race interview and would not get dragged into a debate. He simply stated that he got the desired result he wanted.
We understand Wolff's frustration with the stewards. A penalty for Verstappen would have likely placed Bottas in second, giving Mercedes a coveted one-two. On the flip side, and speaking as fans of the sport, we're so tired of racers getting fined for supposed "dangerous" driving.
As Senna famously said, "if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver."
The FIA has already confirmed that the number of sprint races for the 2022 season will be increased to six.
We know the teams don't necessarily like the format. Standard qualifying poses almost zero risk to a driver and his car, but a sprint race puts them wheel-to-wheel for 30 minutes to get a position on the grid.
As spectators, we love the sprint race. It's like a delicious portion of starter nachos before a whole ribeye on a Sunday.
To minimize the risk, we'd keep the sprint races for the modern, more forgiving tracks and the old qualifying format for the traditional races.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (winner of the sprint) proved how entertaining the sprint format could be this weekend, and we want more of that. F1 is a spectator sport, after all.