The championship may be long gone but there may yet be some solace in the dying embers of the Formula One season for Mercedes at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Dare they dream after a season that has been a waking nightmare? With George Russell and Lewis Hamilton locking out the front row of the grid at Interlagos, this surely is their best and probably last chance to secure a win this season.
After a sprint race – the 24-lap dash that decides the GP grid – that bucked the trend for the short-format to be a tiresome, processional affair, Russell’s win, his first in F1 albeit not in a grand prix, and Hamilton’s charge from eighth to third suggest they have a car that might end the drought.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took second, but with a five-place grid penalty, so Hamilton was promoted to the front row from third, the first time Mercedes have locked it out this season. With Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finishing fourth and starting on Sunday in third, Mercedes have the chance to lead from the front and dictate strategy over their rival.
“This is an amazing result for us,” Hamilton acknowledged. “To be on the front row is incredible. Hopefully we can work as a team and keep those guys behind. We will have a good fight on our hands tomorrow; a win here would be incredible.”
A mighty tussle lies in wait not least because Verstappen’s pace was deceptively poor. He was one of only two drivers to take to the track on the slower medium tyres and paid the price for saving a set of the soft rubber for Sunday’s race. Having passed Kevin Magnussen for the lead he was left struggling as Russell overtook him, as did Sainz and then Hamilton.
Yet it was not simply a matter of the rubber. The Mercedes looked as competitive as it has at any point this season, the mercurial car showing pace on the swooping challenge of Interlagos. Russell and Hamilton displayed confidence in the handling and speed that have been so elusive and both drivers expect to try to exploit their front-row places over Verstappen, who will expect to be much quicker on Sunday.
“Between the two of us we will definitely be strategic to try and get that win for the team,” said Russell. “I think we will be splitting the strategy to cover all options.”
A victory would be huge for Mercedes. The team want to have something to show from a year during which they have toiled relentlessly to drag their recalcitrant car up to speed. They have not won since the Saudi Arabian GP last year, a run of 21 races, and to secure at least one victory this season would be an enormous morale boost for the team who have not gone an entire season without one since 2011.
Hamilton showed his usual skill in coming through the field with decisive assurance just as he had here last year but Russell demonstrated a deft, assertive touch that was eye-catching. He vied with Verstappen for three laps for the lead. The Dutchman was defiant and unwilling to cede easily until the 24-year-old from King’s Lynn made it stick to take his first chequered flag in F1. He wants the one that counts on Sunday, however, and both drivers will go into the race with no little hope for their chances of finally putting the silver arrows back on the top step.
There was no fairytale finish for Haas’s Kevin Magnussen. Having taken his first pole position on Friday in qualifying, he was powerless against the quicker cars around him and finished in eighth place.
Sergio Pérez was fifth for Red Bull, Charles Leclerc sixth for Ferrari and Lando Norris seventh for McLaren. Sebastian Vettel was ninth for Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly tenth for AlphaTauri.