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Breezing through Brazil
Saturday 23 November 2019, 02:00PM
  The 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix was Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen’s most complete weekend of the season, but their exploits were overshadowed by the drama that engulfed the field behind him. While Verstappen spent most of the race serenely leading the pack, the configuration of the podium changed five times in the last 20 laps and even once more after the chequered flag. There was carnage aplenty for podium hopefuls. Valtteri Bottas’ engine went up in smoke on lap 52. The Ferrari drivers crashed into other on lap 65 and retired. And Lewis Hamilton punted Alex Albon off the road on the penultimate lap, sending the Thai tumbling to 14th and himself to seventh with a penalty. But through the debris rocketed Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to complete an unlikely podium finish. Gasly’s performance was every bit as assured as Verstappen’s. Fastest of the midfielders in qualifying, he comfortably held the best-of-the-rest position throughout the race, ensuring he could capitalise on the chaos that unfolded ahead of him. His best-ever result culminated in a side-by-side final-lap drag with Hamilton to the chequered flag to beat the world champion by just 0.062 seconds before the Briton’s post-race penalty. It was an emphatic demonstration of the Frenchman’s talent after his star fizzled during 12 lacklustre races with Red Bull Racing. He was demoted to Toro Rosso in August for his struggles, where this week it was confirmed he’ll remain for 2020, but with his Sao Paulo performance he dared the sport to remember his name. “It’s just the best day of my life,” an overjoyed Gasly said. “I didn’t think this would happen, coming back with Toro Rosso during the second part of the season. I just kept working on myself, tried to push the team as much as I could, telling them we need to make the best out of all the opportunities… and today it just came to us.” Whereas Gasly’s race was controlled, Sainz’s was a spectacle, recovering 17 places to the podium. The Spaniard was forced to start from 20th place after engine problems in qualifying, but the McLaren driver picked up seven places in eight laps with some gutsy, no-holds-barred overtaking, and at the first pit stop window he was ninth. But whereas his rivals subsequently made second stops for new rubber, Sainz expertly managed his ageing medium tyres for an unmatched 42 laps. He rose to eighth at the first safety car, and fourth place came to him as the frontrunners tripped over themselves, with Hamilton’s penalty promoting him to third. It’s poignant to consider both Sainz and race-winner Verstappen were Toro Rosso rookies in 2015. While the Spaniard perhaps lacked the ultimate speed of the Dutchman, he was in other respects his equal – but a paucity of opportunity in the Red Bull programme sent him packing first to Renault and then McLaren. At Woking he’s made himself a popular fixture as the famous English team rebuilds from its unsuccessful Honda years, and claiming the team’s first podium since 2014 ensures him a legacy in that project. “To get it coming from last is very, very special,” Sainz told Sky Sports. “I cannot thank enough the team and everyone involved in this because so far this year has been a dream come true and last but not least we got the podium.” It was a fitting way for Formula One to open its two season-ending championship dead rubbers and a timely reminder that even in times of domination the sport boasts talent to turn any race into a nailbiting thriller.