From racing royalty to priorities and pushing (literally...), get the inside line on Interlagos
Honoured by Racing Royalty
The team had a special visitor at Interlagos, in the form of Juan Manuel Fangio 11, nephew of the legendary five-time World Champion, whose title tally Lewis has just equalled.
The 62-year-old was no mean driver himself. During the inaugural FIA F3000 Championship (the equivalent of modern-day F2) season in 1985, he scored a point at Spa in a series won by current RTL TV pundit Christian Danner, with last weekend's driver steward, Emanuele Pirro, placing third!
Fangio enjoyed meeting up with old faces from his European foray, having then gone on to considerable success in the USA. He won the Sebring 12 Hours twice (as did his uncle) and scored no less than 21 IMSA GTP wins en route to two Championships, driving for legendary former F1 driver and sportscar team owner Dan Gurney.
"We were given a trophy from the Fangio museum," explained Toto, "and for Lewis to hear his name mentioned in the same sentence with Juan Manuel Fangio is unbelievable. He might now be setting his sights on Michael Schumacher's seven titles but before that is a sixth, and I can assure you that will be very difficult and complicated next year!"
Knowing Your Priorities
For a team of racers, sacrificing a race win for the greater good of securing the Constructors' Championship was tough in Brazil, heightening the jubilation when a tight race victory came back to the team after the incident between Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon.
Although Lewis took pole position and led the Brazilian GP as far as his first pit stop on lap 19, the team knew that winning it would be difficult. They were down on power with an engine issue that was apparent before Lewis' first stop and were in a lower power mode after it.
It was the explanation behind Verstappen comfortably passing Lewis just after half distance. Max's softer tyres afforded him greater traction out of the Junção corner onto the uphill drag through to the main straight, by which time he was already past No.44 without really even needing DRS assistance.
"Coming back out of the pits we'd turned the engine down further and Lewis was a sitting duck," the engineers confirmed. "There was nothing we could do to stop Verstappen."
Meanwhile, sat in the garage at 'fantasy island,' Toto was assimilating information he didn't like the sound of...
"We have the engine guys in the back and also back at base and what I could hear - because I'm having about 10 channels open - on the meeting channel was 'Lewis Hamilton Power Unit failure imminent. It's going to fail within the next lap.'
"I put the volume up and said, 'Excuse me, what?!' They said yeah, we have a massive problem and the PU is going to fail on the next lap. It didn't fail next lap and I said, "When you guys have a minute, tell me what's happening."
"The exhaust was about to fail and we were overshooting all the temperature limits. They started to fix it by turning the whole thing down. The temperatures went down to below 1,000°C but that's still too high. And then we recovered another lap. That was truly horrible."
Engine exhaust valves don't like to run beyond 900°C but everything held together, leading to Toto's description of the chequered flag being the most relief he'd ever felt in the team.
"God knows how you can fix hardware that's just about to fail and make the car finish."
After a couple of glasses of champagne had done down, Toto reflected: "Equalling a Ferrari record that seemed unachievable is something so great. I can remember those Ferrari years with Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher at the helm and really looked up and admired that. Jean just called me and said, 'It's an honour to welcome you to the Five Times Club.' Which is unbelievable to even hear. I'm speechless."
Picking Your Battles
Lewis was not alone in having his race affected by some conservatism in the interests of winning the Championship.
While his engine issues ensured that Lewis did not have the pace to fight Verstappen, Valtteri was doing a valiant job of defending from Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull that, at times, was even quicker than Verstappen's, the Australian having rapidly joined the front-running scrap after a grid penalty.
Valtteri had made an early Lap 18 stop for Medium tyres, which he needed to nurse 53 laps to the end, while Ricciardo had mirrored Verstappen's long opening stint and was on the quicker Soft tyre when he caught car No.77.
Valtteri radioed in saying that he would need a stronger engine mode in order to stay ahead of the Red Bull - but it wasn't on offer. Turning the engine up risked a failure which could have had serious consequences for the Championship, especially cognisant of Lewis' issues, and the team would rather have lost a position to Ricciardo than risk it.
It was the same situation when the team called in Valtteri for a second pit stop to go onto the Soft tyre with 12 laps to go. The Finn had staunchly kept Ricciardo at bay for 10 laps without being able to turn up his engine and Vettel's Ferrari was 25 seconds behind, so on the surface it seemed a questionable call.
The strategists, though, were covering all bases. With Räikkönen's Ferrari running third and set to score strong points, especially if Lewis' problems proved terminal, the decision was to cover Vettel, who had pitted five laps earlier for SuperSofts and was now going very quickly.
While Valtteri's Mediums would have made it to the end, had there been a late race Safety Car he would have been left highly vulnerable to both Ricciardo and Vettel. Hence the sacrifice of Valtteri's fourth place to Ricciardo to make sure of beating Vettel. On the day, Ferrari was the enemy, not Red Bull.
At least some consolation for Valtteri was fastest lap of the race on his fresh tyres.
Two Sides to Every Story
The controversial clash between Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon, which put Lewis back in the lead of the Brazilian GP, is not as straightforward as it might have appeared.
Backmarkers trying to pass the race leader are not common occurrences - speed differential being the obvious reason - but it is not unknown, nor is it outlawed by the regulations. Most famously, perhaps, Eddie Irvine, on his F1 debut at Suzuka, passed Ayrton Senna, leading to a post-race punch-up!
Ironically enough, Irvine was then driving for the same team as Ocon, then known as Jordan Grand Prix. As was the case in both situations, it tends to happen when an offset in tyre performance affords the backmarker superior performance temporarily.
Ocon had started 18th after a gearbox penalty. Starting on the mid-range Soft compound tyre, he had completed a long opening stint, to lap 40, allowing him to go onto the fastest red-walled SuperSoft tyre to the end. He pitted out just behind Verstappen's leading Red Bull, which was on the harder, yellow-walled Soft compound tyre.
Key to Red Bull's formidable race pace in Brazil had been benign tyre usage that had seen Verstappen get to almost half distance on his starting set of SuperSofts - deep enough in to allow him to take the Soft for his second stint rather than the slower Medium compound that both Lewis and Valtteri were on after much earlier stops.
Verstappen had re-joined around three seconds behind Lewis and quickly passed him, running very quick consecutive laps: 1:12.678; 1:12.143; 1:12.656; 1:12.348.
But, once Verstappen was in front and had made sure Lewis was out of DRS range, he backed off to make sure he did not take too much out of his rubber. His next three laps were: 1:13.650; 1:13.340 and 1:13.116, which coincided exactly with Ocon coming out of the pits on his new SuperSofts and lapping in 1:12.876.
A driver never wants to waste what they refer to as the 'golden laps' on a new set of tyres, hence Ocon's attempt at un-lapping himself. Ocon later claimed that he would do the same again, and that he had pulled off seven overtakes at Turn 2 during the race, including one on Fernando Alonso, who had given him just enough space.
One team member said: "This happened between Valtteri (when he was with Williams) and Lewis in 2013, exactly at this track. It happens every time here (because the tyre degradation is high).
"A driver comes out of the pitlane and, trust me, I've spoken to Valtteri about it, they think, 'why is this car ahead so slow?' Because that new fresh tyre is a significant difference. They think, 'Why am I going to waste this? I'm going to get on with it.
"Lewis hit Valtteri the same way that Esteban and Max collided. I promise you, Esteban wouldn't have been thinking anything other than, 'this is far too slow, I'll get ahead and he can deal with it later. It happened to us - we made contact because you just don't expect a backmarker to be anywhere near you."
The official stewards' ruling was a 10 second stop / go penalty for Ocon and three points on his licence. They ruled that he had caused the collision because "having failed to complete the pass at Turn 1, he fought the leader for track position, causing the collision at Turn 2."
In an interesting exchange between Lewis and Verstappen in the pre-podium room, Lewis pointed out to Max that Ocon was entitled to un-lap himself and that "you had more to lose than he did."
After some chest-shoving of Ocon by Verstappen in the post-race weighing room, Max was hit with two days of community service working for the FIA, while Esteban was left to field the press.
Questioned about Ocon's immediate future, Toto said: "It's not in our hands. We pretty much have our sails set for an off-season supporting us and Force India, doing lots of simulator work, being a reserve driver for maybe us and Force India and getting ready for the year after. If, miraculously, a door opens at Williams he's going to take it but it's in the hands of Claire (Williams) and Paddy (Lowe) and not in ours."