Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
With the predicted rain having gone on holiday, the viciously high track temperature and generally brutal sun were surely increasing Pirelli’s pucker factor as the race start loomed. Mercedes management, too, no doubt were suffering an odd moment of fear or two as visions of the start at Melbourne no doubt danced through their heads. But it was not to be as at the start the sadly diminished grid rolled off without incident.
Clever observers will have noted that the key to Rosberg’s dominance of the weekend was his mastery of Sector 2, and that would continue to play a dominant role as the race unfolded. But it was Interlagos’ benign habit of messing with WDC leaders that reared it’s head and delivered an urgency and tension to the contest that looked to have gone missing once the wet was off the table. It was to be Rosberg’s day, however, as the GerMonegasque drove without incident to claim P1, even under heavy pressure from Hamilton who had his own adventures in the middle of the race.
The other star of the show was to be Massa, who drove a clean race (outside his pit lane speeding penalty) coming home an undisturbed P3 to the ringing cheers of his family and the Brazilian fans. In a topsy-turvy podium ceremony the casual viewer might have been forgiven for drawing the conclusion that Massa had won, Rosberg had wandered up by accident and Piquet had consumed a few too many caipirinhas prior to the ceremony. Though it did lend a uniquely festive air to the proceedings.
Vettel and Button both had exceptional races and if McLaren had convinced all the circuits to resurface this season they might have been in with a chance at Williams in the WCC. The flip side was agonies and misery for Ricciardo and Grosjean, both stricken from the race with mechanical incidents, and Sutil, starting from the pits and having replaced large chunks of his engine post Quali.
The last big story line to emerge was Kimi’s spirited defense of P6 against Alonso, which, more than any official announcement, demonstrated the way the wind was blowing in Ferrari land and was impossible to ignore.
As the lights went out, it was Rosberg with the brilliant start, Hamilton slotting in behind. Further back, Button managed a good off and had caught up to the Williams into the first turn with Magnussen trailing behind. K-Mag’s look to the outside allowed Alonso past as they entered the Senna S. On exit it was Vettel getting wide and letting both Alonso and Magnussen through before settling his car back down.
They snaked rapidly back up the hill and as the field came through for the second time, Grosjean took Perez into Turn 1, which would prove to be the prime spot for overtakes and the key to Rosberg’s defense of P1. Massa was warned of on track oil in Turn 2 as the early battle looked to be P7-9. By lap 3 those positions were occupied by Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo all within a second. Bottas reported graining as it was to be early stops for the whole field given the high track temperature and high degradation on the Pirellis. Ricciardo gave us a glimpse of an unusually twitchy rear, trying to stay with his soon to be departed teammate as Gutierrez managed to hang on to his P10.
Having dropped back a little on the start, Lewis began his campaign to take the fight to Nico, eking out tenths until he hovered right around the DRS mark on lap 5. This began the inexorable process of dropping Massa back as he had been keeping up with Hamilton rather neatly. There was also a 4 car train forming behind Alonso as he was beginning to slow down not just Vettel and Ricciardo, but also Gutierrez and Raikkonen, all circling within 2 seconds of one another. Rosberg was asked to turn his brake bias forwards as his rears were already starting to overheat and Maldonado became the first to venture into the pits, emerging P18 and just in front of Rosberg, who munched him up like a fine barbacao and went on his merry way.
Sensing an opportunity, Williams brought Massa in the next lap, to undercut the Mercedes who seemed bent on a longer stint. Behind Rosberg and Hamilton, Bottas, Button and Magnussen continued status quo with everyone driving on ice as their tyres shredded under the harsh thermal loads.
Bottas, Button and Vettel all came in next lap to cover each other off as lap times continued to creep up at the sharp end. Bottas barely eked out Vettel as Red Bull pulled off one of their patented pit stops to put the Williams in peril and the 2 continued nose to tail to the pit exit, where the anemic Renault was unable to keep up with the Teutonic might of the Mercedes engine.
Rosberg was in the next wave, leading the way into the pits on lap 8 as Hamilton made his extra circuit, shedding tenths along the way, trailed by Gutierrez who may have put the Sauber to its high water mark during his first stint by advancing to a very temporary P2. Massa continued to carve chunks out of Hamilton as did Rosberg, with the pit exit achingly far away for Lewis.
AS he entered the pits word came that Massa would be dinged for a speeding penalty in the pitlane, a 5 second stop and go on the next stop. Fortunately for Hamilton, Rosberg encountered the long suffering RoGro who slowed him considerably, allowing the Briton to reattach himself to Nico’s gearbox. Forced to tail the Lotus throughout the remainder of the lap both he and his teammate left Grosjean behind through Turn 1 of the following lap as Vergne dodged into the pits.
The Mercedes duo continued their chase of the long runners, with Kvyat being next in their sights. Again it was to be Turn 1, but but not till the start of lap 12, where Hamilton got stuck behind Kvyat, being unable to replicate the double pass of Grosjean. Behind them, Bottas had caught and passed Sutil to continue storming the front of the field with Vettel still in pursuit.
The action was taken over by the midfield where Button had caught up and passed Sutil and Massa had gotten by Grosjean as Hamilton waited his turn. Which was, as previously mentioned Turn 1 where he came storming past Kvyat to try and chase down his teammate who had advanced to take on Hulkenberg, never an easy pass, riskier now that his right front tyre was blistering. Vettel was taking the fight to Alonso further back and the Ferrari, though deftly handled, appeared to be no match for the suddenly reinvigorated Seb.
Rosberg shoved Hulkenberg out of the lead going into lap 14, as Bottas had finally caught up with Grosjean who had dropped inexorably to P6 as those on newer tyres came through. Bottas again used the front straight to brutalize the Frenchman, thundering past and dismissively claiming the apex of Turn 1 before entering the Senna S and disappearing rapidly up the road. But far from offering relief to Romain, the door was now open for Button, who was towed into DRS range by Bottas mighty pass. Hamilton now stalked Hulkenberg as he did Kvyat, with his teammate on the wrong side of the Force India and taking time out of him.
It was the start of lap 16 that saw Hamilton get by the obstinate German, in, you guessed it, Turn 1 as the call over the radio told the story early on: Rears tyres down to zero after first stint. AS Lewis again began to gain on his teammate, more drama as his right front tyre was visibly blistered. Rather than slowing him, however, apparently the lost weight increased his speed as he drew closer and closer to Rosberg, who was losing his 2 second gap in the war of the tenths being fought at the front.
The Williams of Massa was beginning to slip away, now starting to lose serious time to the Mercs and their best shot having been taken. Behind Felipe, Button, Grosjean, Magnussen and Alonso made up the rest of the sharp end, with Grosjean having yet to stop.
Sutil finally came in lap 20, and suffered an extra long stop as his right rear wheel jammed and all were looking 3 stoppish given the temperature. The Alonso, Vettel, Ricciardo and Raikkonen group promised to be fun but for the moment an eerie calm settled over the crowd as the hard grind of won and lost tenths and hundredths occupied everyone’s attention.
With the cloud cover coming in, track temperatures were dropping, down to 53° C, and fuel load burning was burning off which was good news for the drivers as the tyres were beginning to resemble warm cheese on the slow motion close ups favored by the director of the World Feed.
By lap 22 Hamilton was back inside 2 seconds as Massa was headed the opposite direction, more than 8 seconds adrift of Rosberg. The following lap saw Magnussen by Grosjean in a nifty bit of driving as Romain continued to stay out. Alonso was next in a rare Turn 4 pass as Grosjean continued to slither around the track and both Vettel and Ricciardo were waiting in the wings for their turn.
Hamilton continued to grind, to within a second of Rosberg as Vettel dove into the pits and Massa was called in for the second time on lap 25. Button got the dreaded overheating call as Vettel exited the pits and just as Lewis lingered in the DRS zone, Nico was called in. Whilst Nico sat in the pits, Lewis put the hammer down, setting the track purple on his completely shredded tyres. As Rosberg exited and Hamilton approached the pit entry, it looked for all the world as if he had managed to grasp victory with his staggeringly fast in lap. But he sailed past, in pursuit of more time and at the behest of the team, who no doubt saw no reason to slow him down whilst he was in that kind of a groove.
They would see it soon enough however as coming into the end of the back straight Lewis would lock the rears and lose the car entirely, his rear tyres having decided enough was enough. Tyres screaming in full opposite lock, he drifted sideways through the run off area, perilously close to the barrier. Fans of gravel would have seen him climbing out of his car at that point, but the newfangled tarmac run off area would see him continue, chagrined and with a 7 second loss directly to his pits. Meanwhile, Bottas’ second stop had also turned into an epic disaster as a problem with his belt had added and extra 12-15 seconds to his time, which he would never fully recover.
With Hamilton leaving the pits word of yet another speeding penalty filtered through the airwaves, this time the less than popular Perez was the guilty party. The second round of stops continued to echo through the field as Button got to grips with Kvyat and Vettel got to grips with Button, a struggle that would continue at a slow burn the rest of the race.
2 laps in and already Hamilton had taken more of a second back out of Rosberg, looking to get back into the window before the last round of pit stops. Again the rest of the race settled into a rhythm as the ebb and flow of the drivers at the front was hypnotic.
Lap 34 saw Hamilton chewing tenths out of Rosberg and Ricciardo came into DRS on Alonso, trying to salvage something from his less than memorable effort thus far.
3 laps later, Lewis had the gap down to 5.2 seconds, and Rosberg tersely requested to not hear the gap, thank you very much. Meanwhile, Ferrari continued to terrify the field with its incompetence, this time a front jack fail disrupting Kimi’s pit stop and crushing the Finn’s excellent drive. Not the first time for this problem to occur this season according to the pundits, so look for some quiet words in back corridors come Monday in Maranello. Vettel got on with the program, continuing to chase Button and in the process demonstrating a skill for which he is not well known, epic overtaking, squeaking past his replacement, Kvyat, against the pit wall and claiming the inside of Turn 1 rather majestically.
The Mercs were still at it hammer and tongs, now more than 20 seconds up the road on lap 39 with Lewis having closed the gap down to 4 seconds with the next round of pit stops just appearing on the horizon. Things turned worse for Red Bull as the mostly invisible Ricciardo reported a brake issue that actually turned out to be a suspension failure, leading to his early retirement from the race.
On and on the grim chase at the front went as Hulkenberg got by Bottas for P8, taking the Finn wide and leaving him helpless headed into the Senna S under pressure from his countryman, Raikkonen.
Lap 44 saw the gap between Rosberg and Hamilton now whittled down to 3 seconds, as Lewis continued his masterclass of driving and Rosberg conserved, waiting to unleash his resources until absolutely necessary.
Three more laps drifted by and the gap was now 2 seconds, where it would teeter up through lap 50 as the stint began to take it’s toll on Hamilton’s tyres and Rosberg began to apply some pressure back.
The last wave of stops began around lap 45 with Bottas disaster and as his mechanics helplessly attempted to sort his belt, Alonso took out after the ever cannier K-Mag chasing him through Turn 1, past the S and finally into P6 past the great Dane as he drifted onto the dirty side of the track and the patient Alonso finally seized his chance whilst Magnussen lost time under braking with less grip than expected.
Massa and Button ran undisturbed in little bubbles of time, lost in their peculiar world of concentration as Lewis’ previous request to have only one hot lap on shot tyres was echoing through the commentariat. Reported during the race as the responsibility of the team, though blame was initially and squarely laid at the feet of the driver. Hamilton focused on clawing back time to limit the damage to Rosberg, regardless of the hot air bouncing through the ether, and as Nico came in for his final stop lap 51, the damage was down to 2 seconds.
Once again told to push, the team wisely brought him in the following lap this time. Button, who was told slightly too late to make the pits the same lap as Rosberg, rolled in the same lap as his former teammate did. Hamilton again had done a stellar job with his in lap and his pit crew, perhaps smelling the championship, bested their previous time with Nico shaving nearly 0.2 seconds off, giving Lewis the decisive advantage in the battle of the pit stops in Brazil.
With Lewis rolling out of the pits and onto Rosberg’s engine cover, Massa, previously distinguished for giving us “Grandma” style driving, perhaps also gave us the excuse for “Grandma” pit signage, as he inadvertently stopped by the McLaren pits on his way to his own box. Though perhaps it was also in homage to his former antagonist, who famously stopped by his former team’s pits during his first year with the Mercedes AMG. Having never driven for McLaren, though it did make less sense and Massa himself was laughing about it prior to the podium ceremony.
Through lap 55 the chase continued with both Mercs into the low 14’s and little doubt left in anyone’s mind that this was a scripted outcome. Into traffic they went, but Hamilton continued to be unable to really bring the fight to Rosberg. Nico’s utter dominance of Sector 2 continually left Hamilton unable to bridge the gap through their nearly identical Sector 3, leaving him to just close within 0.5 just as they would reach Turn 4 and head back toward Sector 2 again where Nico would again eke the gap back out, leaving Lewis tantalizingly out of reach through Turn 1, his only realistic chance to overtake.
Behind them, the rest of the field began to get themselves sorted as the denouement approached. Lap 60 came and went with Mercedes looking like they might yet lap the entire rest of the field so fierce was their battle. Raikkonen, Button and Vettel all were in with a chance for P4 with Raikkonen holding the high ground for the moment.
A very short moment as it transpired with Button getting by and as the Finn looked to recover, Vettel pressed home the advantage and suddenly Kimi found himself on the wrong end of the battle and receding rapidly in the mirrors of his competitors. It was game on for Button and Vettel however and as Sebastian hunted Jenson, Hamilton began to see the inevitable outcome shape itself as he began to drift farther back of Rosberg though still within DRS range.
Alonso meanwhile had come upon Kimi, and the next several laps saw Raikkonen refusing to yield to Alonso, despite the fact that Alonso yet again had a shot at his favorite spot, P5. The fearsome Finn defended vigorously lap after lap as it became ever more apparent that despite Ferrari’s lack of an announcement, the savage Spaniard was on his way out of the Ferrari fold with not a whisper on the radio for Kimi to yield to his colleague. This drama was interrupted only by the untimely retirement of Grosjean, on lap 66 with engine and brakes smoking by the side of the circuit.
IT took Fernando to lap 68 before he could clear his teammate, but by then the whispers had begun and nothing he would say post race could possibly put them back in the bottle. As the last laps rolled by with no real change in the order it was Rosberg, Hamilton, Massa, Button and Vettel claiming the top 5, followed by the Ferrari duo, with Fernando now occupying P6 instead of his customary P5.
But the race wasn’t over yet as the F1 media went on to give a showcase in how to make the world go round. With Mercedes having ostensibly taken the blame, during the race, for the call to leave Lewis out, Hamilton returned the favor by admitting his mistake in perhaps pushing too hard on the worn tyres during the entertainingly shambolic podium interview with Piquet Sr., who completely lost the plot.
Nevertheless, during post race interviews, both Lauda and Wolff confidently announced that the blame was entirely on Hamilton, with little pushback whilst on NBC, Hamilton was duly informed that the team accepted full responsibility for the call and he replied coolly it was something they would have a chat about, without fully taking the bait.
Satisfied they would be able to gin enough out of this to call it a controversy and continue selling papers, they returned to their favored activity of currying favor with bigwigs and cadging drinks and free meals from hospitality.
The race in Abu Double approaches with Hamilton being the odds on favorite, given his need to only finish second and the ridiculous superiority that the Merc has over any erstwhile challenger. Still, strange things have happened this season and even stranger ones throughout the course of F1, meaning that the race in the desert will be well worth the watch.
|5||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:15.100||51.2||3|
|8||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:14.058||63.6||3|
|10||Valtteri Bottas||Williams||1:15.453||1 lap||3|
|11||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:15.149||1 lap||3|
|12||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus||1:16.285||1 lap||3|
|13||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:15.919||1 lap||3|
|14||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||1:15.570||1 lap||2|
|15||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:14.550||1 lap||3|
|16||Adrian Sutil||Sauber||1:15.092||1 lap||2|
|R||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||RETIRED||3|
World Drivers Championship:
World Constructors Championship: