So, what’s next after you screw up? Apart from selecting neutral and going through the necessary shutdown procedure, an absence of movement in the cockpit is the outward sign of Lewis Hamilton’s brain struggling to compute what has just happened at the start of qualifying.
A mistake! Not a new experience for Hamilton, but a rare one in 2017 and, most certainly, a schoolboy error on an out lap. It’s not as if he was preparing for a final run in Q3. It was probably the fact that this was the very first lap of Q1 – a formality for the man who has won pole 72 times – that he has been caught out by cool track temperatures.
A sudden silence and the removal of dust and debris from the cockpit triggers embarrassment that quickly becomes annoyance - and then frustration - when Valtteri Bottas puts the sister car on pole. It doesn’t take a genius to read Lewis’s mind as he congratulates a happy Valtteri in parc fermé. By rights – even allowing for Sebastian Vettel’s hundredths of a second loss going into Turn 1 – this should have been pole number 73. But Hamilton got it wrong. Now what?
Make it work for you. Replace every bit of the power unit with fresh components; a huge bonus at this point in the season when the crippling limit on engine parts otherwise means nursing tired machinery from now until the chequered flag at Abu Dhabi. Even better, give the latest iteration of the Mercedes MO8 EQ Power+ full beans for 71 laps. And as another bonus, fit the harder Pirelli to optimise a fast strategy in the final stage.
But there’s one problem. The pit lane exit at Interlagos resembles an auto test slalom rather than a balls-out blast onto the track. Hamilton will lose about five seconds there as he joins in. What he needs is an early safety car.
Thank you Kevin, Stoffel and Daniel! A multiple collision on the other side of the barrier not only brings the required official intervention to bunch the field, it also shows the good fortune of starting from the pit lane and avoiding the chance of contact had Hamilton been snared in the back of the pack.
Damage limitation now takes on a more positive meaning as the field is released after five laps and Hamilton is picking off the backmarkers.
The rest of the story you know as he climbed to fourth, setting what would have been an outstanding lap had Max Verstappen not been brought in for ‘nothing to lose’ fresh tyres and earn his fastest lap bonus (part of his Red Bull deal) seven laps from the end.
Vettel did a very impressive job, winning the race with a strong move at the first corner, looking after his tyres, making no mistakes in sector 2 and keeping Bottas in check in sector 3 for the next hour and a half.
It was a sign of what Ferrari and Vettel could – should - have done in the second half of a season that, technically, has been as close as we witnessed at Interlagos on Sunday. It underlined that Ferrari has had a truly competitive car from Day 1 in 2017.
Even allowing for the toys suddenly at his disposal for this race, you can also ponder what Hamilton might have done on Sunday had he not screwed up 24 hours before. Win number 63? Maybe not this time.