Part Four: The Home Stretch

The Team put together a strong finish to the 2019 season.

Round 18. Mexican Grand Prix, Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Alex P5, Max P6

We went to Mexico City with high hopes of victory and came away with our worse-ever return at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Some you win, some you lose… Having won the last two grands prix at this track, Max was very keen on a hat-trick. It looked good in qualifying when he took pole position – only to receive a three-place penalty for ignoring a yellow flag on the final corner. It was particularly cruel for Max as his first lap-time in Q3 would have been good enough for pole regardless. Alex had a great start, up from P5 to P3 on the first lap. Strategy didn’t go his way, however, when running the favoured two-stopper saw him swamped by those who gambled on one. He finished P5, one place ahead of Max who had an eventful race. He banged wheels on the first lap with Lewis Hamilton and lost a handful of places, before fighting back, only to be skewered by Valtteri Bottas. Picking up a puncture on the wrong part of the circuit cost him almost a minute, and forced him into a long and often very lonely recovery drive on the hard tyre. The pace he had during his comeback hinted at what might have been.

Round 19. United States Grand Prix, Circuit of the Americas. Max P3, Alex P5

When Pirelli first returned to F1, races like the 2019 US Grand Prix were probably what they had in mind when designing their tyre compounds. We had a grand prix at COTA where different strategies collided in the final quarter of the race, with all results on the table right up to the flag. Max and Alex probably didn’t get good value for their efforts, but both had excellent races in their own way. Max started and finished third, though his tactical battle with Lewis Hamilton looked like it might result in second. In the end he crossed the line a tenth behind the Mercedes, having been denied the chance to have a go in the prime overtaking spot by a yellow flag on the final lap. Alex had the more eventful race, running an unusual three-stopper. Damage at the start left him pitting on lap one, and then fighting his way back into contention. Unfortunately, Alex has had plenty of practice when it comes to the long recovery drive, and he put in a truly memorable performance to haul himself back up to fifth. He’ll drive a lot worse than that for bigger rewards. 

Round 20. Brazilian Grand Prix, Autódromo José Carlos Pace. Max P1, Alex P14

Max took pole position and victory at Interlagos. On the face of it, not very thrilling – but Brazil provided possibly the most exciting race of the year. In the early exchanges, Max was scrapping tooth and claw with Lewis Hamilton. He came out on top of that one, and though the gap never rose above two seconds, he was cruising to victory – before two late-race safety car periods turned things upside down. Max gambled on a pit stop, sacrificed track position but made it work with a scintillating overtaking move at the first restart. Alex, meanwhile, looked like getting a first podium and giving us a one-two finish. He was desperately unlucky to be tagged and spun by Hamilton three laps from home. The crew did have the consolation of breaking the pit stop world record, with a time of 1.82 seconds.

Round 21. Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina CircuitMax P2, Alex P6

Ending the season in Abu Dhabi has been around long enough for it to feel traditional but racing in December is definitely a novelty: the World Championship hasn’t done this since 1963. The goal going to Yas Marina was to ensure Max finished third in the Drivers’ Championship, and that was duly achieved. He started and finished P2, though after dropping behind Charles Leclerc on the first lap, he had his work cut-out, making the one-stop work against Leclerc’s two. Alex meanwhile, went for the long one-stopper but couldn’t quite make it stick. We ended the year with the fastest pit stop for the fourth consecutive race – but had already picked up the pit stop award trophy, having taken an unassailable lead at the previous race. The Team ended the year with a third consecutive podium, our 12th in all, and headed into the off-season feeling highly motivated for 2020.