The Mercedes driver had more than enough pace to win the race, and on 364 out of 365 days a year he normally would do, but the recently-crowned world champion missed out on a podium finish at Interlagos on Sunday after a crash in Saturday qualifying forced him to start from the pit lane. What followed was a brilliant through-the-field drive, initially aided by a first-lap safety car, and after just 21 laps he found himself on the tail of the top four.
The four-time world champion was delighted with his day’s work, with his happiness on a par to that of the race winner Sebastian Vettel even though he missed out on the podium. He was not the only driver in such a mood, either, as Felipe Massa bowed out of his final Brazilian Grand Prix by claiming seventh in front of his home fans, while a race-long duel with Fernando Alonso warmed the Spaniard even if he was left ruing the Honda power unit that his team will soon discard for good.
The Grand Prix proved that the key to exciting races is not always due to aerodynamics, tyre size, budget caps and all the other confusing factors that go into Formula 1, but simply a good race track.
Interlagos has proven its worth as a circuit built for excitement, no matter what the weather, as the long run from the final corner to the Senna Esses and the ensuing run to Turn Four provide ample overtaking territory, while the in-field section has all the tests needed to keep drivers on their toes for 71 gruelling laps.
It may not have the speed of Monza, or the dangers of Spa-Francorchamps, but Interlagos holds a precious place in motorsport history.
The problem is that it may now be history where it belongs.
Over the course of the weekend, both Mercedes and Sauber team vehicles that were carrying staff away from the circuit were targeted by gunmen in attempted robberies. In the case of Hamilton’s Mercedes team, one member had a gun pressed to his head, and the occupants of the car having their personal belongings and passports stolen. Once the team had flown new documents out the Brazil, those team members left a day earlier than scheduled after Sunday’s Grand Prix.
As well as the two teams, both the FIA and tyre suppliers Pirelli were targeted. If the governing body were not aware of the dangers that lie outside of the circuit walls before, having a gun tapped on their mini-van’s window should do the trick.
Pirelli have now cancelled this week’s testing with McLaren due to safety fears, preventing rising British talent Lando Norris of a second run-out behind the wheel of the MCL32 this year.
“Following a robbery attempt, neutralised by Pirelli security, on a Pirelli van at the Interlagos circuit last Sunday – after a weekend where similar episodes occurred with other teams –it has been decided to cancel the tyre test planned on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 on the Brazilian circuit with McLaren,” a Pirelli statement read.
“The decision, shared with McLaren, FIA and Formula 1, was made in the interest of the safety of the personnel, both McLaren’s and our own, who would have participated in the test.”
Pirelli and McLaren scrapped a planned tyre test in Brazil this week (Getty)
There have been plenty of dangerous incidents in Sao Paulo in the past when F1 rolls into town, the most memorable of which coming in 2010 when Jenson Button and his late father, John, were approached by three men with machine guns in an attempted robbery. In fact, Hamilton claimed this weekend that there has been an example such as this in every one of his 11 visits to Sao Paulo since he first travelled there in 2007.
“The most frustrating thing is I’ve been in Formula 1 for 10 years and every single year that has happened to somebody in the paddock, and it continues to happen,” Hamilton said.
Sao Paulo has its own problems without F1. The United States Department of State has registered the city a “critical-threat location” with annual number of rape cases, cargo thefts and robberies all rising over the last three years. Earlier this year, Brazilian authorities confirmed that homicide rates increased in the first three months of 2017 due to clashes between rival gangs, with 250 murders registered with the Public State Ministry, a 31.5 per cent increase year-on-year.
This paints a very bad images for F1, a sport doing its best to make itself as attractive as possible under new owners Liberty Media. If nothing is done about it, the result will be a driver or team strike, which will be nothing short of disastrous for Liberty and potentially antagonise the situation in Sao Paulo even more. Clearly, F1 needs to step in and do something about the issue, and if that is to drop Brazil from the calendar until adequate security can be delivered – even if it is an extreme measure – then so be it.