Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 19° Track 45° Humidity 47% Wind 1.8 m/s
For a brief moment it looked like rain might be possible, but sadly such a thing was not on the docket for today’s race. Instead, it was all down to the tyre choices made in Q2 yesterday, with Red Bull going Super Soft, vs Soft for the Mercedes. That means that Red Bull will be looking to undercut Mercedes and ideally get ahead of one or both cars on the lengthy drag to T1. Equally important will be the Red Bull’s ability to get the midfield clear of their pit window before they run out of tyres. With a pit delta around 25 seconds quite a task awaits both the Red Bull drivers. Contra, Mercedes have the opposite task in that they will need to stay in front and control the pace, forcing Red Bull to burn their tyres up trying to pass in order to make their more aggressive tyre strategy work. 1 stop versus 2 likely but between the altitude and track temperatures not everything is known about how these tyres will behave under race conditions which will also be spicing up the show a bit.
A VSC will also see everyone’s plans tossed in the air as the time savings by pitting have been shown time and again to be worth it. Grosjean starts from the pits with work taking place late on his car. Magnussen now rumoured to Haas, though it may also be a ploy to extract even more money from Gutierrez and his sponsors.
With Rosberg struggling for pace and Lewis needing to win, the run to the first corner will certainly be fraught, to put it lightly. To those considering Nico’s start last week, I would suggest rather than inadvertently leaving the door open for Ricciardo, he properly chose the “I don’t wish to be hit” line through T1 counting on getting past during the race, which was made easier by the VSC. Given Haas brake problems, a not insignificant chance the VSC will appear.
Ferrari’s also have a strong start and if Vettel can avoid his unfortunate adventures of late he and Raikkonen could be players again, though their strategy miscues of course loom large over any serious challenge. P11 and down on Softs save one set of Mediums and one set of Supers run by Nasr and Palmer respectively.
Lights out and it was a bit slow start by Hamilton but Rosberg is all over him and Hamilton goes straight after a lock up but manages to hang on to P1 coming into S2 it was Hamilton still with lead which he extended by going straight. Massive contact with Wehrlein and Ericcson ended Wehrlein’s race. Safety car out and Ricciardo in for Mediums but Verstappen stays out. Vettel also in with a puncture which did not help his race at all.
With the luxury of review the first lap shenanigans were apparently not only the province of Hamilton, but also Rosberg who appeared to gain a place by cutting the corner. Hamilton complained of vibration due to flat spot whilst it was ascertained that Gutierrez actually kicked off the fun at the back between Wehrlein and Ericsson, kicking Pascal into the spin that tagged Ericsson.
On the restart it was status quo at the front and heartbreaking was the call from Carlos Sainz that he was suffering with his gearbox.
Lap 5 saw a nice dice between Button and Magnussen as the Renault held up the McLaren. The Haas of Gutierrez caught up for a moment but he lost position with a moment of mad oversteer.
At the sharp end it was Verstappen all over Rosberg, hovering a half second off the gearbox of the Mercedes man as it was announced the Rosberg chicane cut was being investigated. Lap 7 was DRS enabled time, and on his first go he was just a bit too far behind to be able to make a move.
Lap 8 saw no further action from the stewards but plenty on the track as both Ricciardo and Vettel attempted to rescue their races and Verstappen was on full attack trying desperately to get in front of Rosberg and pull off Plan A for Red Bull.
Lap 9 and Max’s pit window extended to P16, the early safety car having done him no favours in that regard.
The following lap saw Ricciardo into P12 and well inside Verstappen’s pit window, key to his recovery. Alonso was just into DRS of Sainz but could not quite get it done down to T1 as the race ticked over to the 11th lap.
Sainz too was announced as under investigation lap 12 for a T3 incident with Alonso which was not televised and at the front, Lewis was running laps roughly 0.5s faster than his teammate who had eked out a 3s lead on Verstappen.
Lap 13 and Verstappen was in, which put him out behind Ricciardo on a set of the Medium tyres and in fact it was P11 behind Alonso once that played out, meaning Red Bull effectively lost that toss of the tyre dice.
Slightly further up, Massa was putting up a rather stiff defense for P5, which was not only ruining Vettel’s race as he claimed to be quicker but also Massa’s himself according to the not entirely unbiased Ferrari driver.
Lap 15 Hulk and Massa both in, removing the thorn from Vettel’s paw. Opening lap soft shoe with Gutierrez, Wehrlein and Ericsson was not punished but Sainz got rocked with a 5s penalty for his duet with Alonso.
Medium tyre clearly the tyre of choice as all those who pitted had chosen it. Hulkenberg back into P10 and Massa P13 as Perez had rather a fierce multi-lap go at Bottas for P5.
Lap 18 in and out for Hamilton who had been running a tenth faster than the Ferrari’s behind and half a second faster than his teammate. As he emerged P4 Rosberg picked up his pace and ran a 1:23.344 much closer to Lewis’ pace at the front as he attempted to get Red Bull out of his pit window, circling roughly 22s back. As he continued to push on old tyres the Red Bulls did their best to keep up, but already traffic was playing it’s role, costing Ricciardo nearly a second held up behind Perez.
Lap 21 and Hamilton was onto fast lap and into the 22’s with Rosberg in, along with Raikkonen. Bang and Nico was out just 3s in front of Ricciardo, with the Force India having proved lethal to the attempts of Ricciardo to make good on the strategy. To make matters worse for the Red Bull pit wall, Verstappen on much younger tyres was also seeing his race evaporate behind Ricciardo on much older tyres.
Decision made, lap 22 and the call was made, Verstappen sailing past with no fight as Rosberg was informed the proper flap adjustment was not made at his pit stop, meaning the balance of his car would not be optimal for the rest of the race.
Surprising no one, Bottas ditched Massa as Valterri WAS quicker than Felipe and just in time as the charging Perez was suddenly all over the gearbox of Massa. At the front, Vettel on the Soft tyre was just staying ahead of Hamilton, running a tenth or two faster on Soft tyres that were 28 laps old. Bottas got the happy news he might still be on plan A as Perez was well into DRS. Down the straight and ahead of Massa, Sergio locked it up into T1 and went straight, handing it back to Massa and making himself do the work all over again. Rosberg was informed Verstappen was giving it a push over the radio and the times bore him out as Max was running a tenth or more faster.
Lap 27 saw the end of Vettel’s overcut as his times dropped below that of Lewis and with Sebastian’s pit window extending back to Hulkenberg P7 it was looking game over for Ferrari getting him ahead of Raikkonen, or even into the podium battle.
Lewis was not enjoying his stint on the Mediums and lap 29 saw his times returning to earth as he was now running the same times as Vettel leaving Verstappen the fastest car on track.
Lap 30 and Ferrari brought Vettel in for his Mediums and perhaps not time to count him out, especially if Mercedes were forced into a 2nd stop. Red Bull continued to run 0.2 seconds faster and it might be worth remembering that this week it was Rosberg doing the work on the Mediums during Friday’s practice.
But no, Sebastian waved it off and continued on, a trend which continued for the following 2 laps before he finally gave a listen and brought it in lap 32, leaving Hamilton P1 and the rather unanswered question as to whether either of the Mercedes could get to the end of the race.
Vettel out P6 which was good for him as he was ahead of Hulkenberg, and Kimi added his voice to those hating on the Medium tyres. A balky Manor driven by Ocon held Rosberg up at a rather unfortunate point in the track and despite clearing him relatively quickly, Verstappen took advantage of the following DRS as he cleared the traffic and found himself barely a second adrift of Rosberg as the entered lap 34 and the race careened toward the halfway point.
The rapid approach of Verstappen inspired Rosberg to start setting some personal bests just as Hamilton found himself rocked up behind Gutierrez and a whole passel of midfield traffic. Red Bull counseled patience as the long running battle between Massa and Perez continued as Sergio had another go down the straight on lap 37.
Finally Lewis got himself clear of Gutierrez between T10 and T11, by running a 23.1 and with a bit of clean air he was off to set a few fast laps while he had some clean air. Still not as fast as Vettel who was rocketing around about a tenth faster than anyone. While the long game was being played, clouds were gradually rolling in overhead, which was changing calculations for several teams as the track temps began dropping, down to 46°.
Lap 40 and it was Lewis back to traffic, Magnussen this time as Verstappen lingered 1.2s off Rosberg’s keel as Perez again had a go and again was unable to seal the deal.
Lewis hammered past Magnussen at the end of the start/finish DRS zone the following lap and set his sights on Kvyat, next up to be lapped. Much like quali, the traffic was keeping it close with Verstappen in the Red Bull again practically within DRS of Rosberg.
At the back, it was Nasr being the stalking horse, having run his Mediums nearly 44 laps and thanks to the pit stop offset all the way up to P12. Lap 44 saw Rosberg bang in a fast lap and Hamilton responded in kind, basically matching Nico’s time as he approached the group of 8 cars he would need to pass, starting with Kvyat.
Bang down the straight and it was by Kvyat as Raikkonen was back in lap 46 for more Medium tyres. Why? not sure but possibly to cover later stops by teams ahead. Conveniently now it was Vettel in the lead of the Scuderia’s race.
Kimi not the only one with problems as Lewis was facing Button this time round and Mercedes told him to use overtake to help get by but to use caution as well as they were all fighting for position.
Silver lining for Kimi is he immediately put his tyres to good use setting fast lap and setting off in pursuit of Hulkenberg as McLaren helped Alonso out with a particularly slow stop. Grosjean name checked his brakes as Rosberg, caught up in the same traffic that bedeviled Hamilton, allowed Verstappen again to close up to within Rosberg.
Nico locked it up into T1 and Verstappen was within 0.5s and out of T3 into T4 he gave it a go and went wide, losing the position and the time, back to 2.5s back. While that was happening Ricciardo was in and out lap 51 with the Soft tyres on, P6 and 1.8s behind Hulkenberg.
The upshot of that battle was that Hamilton was now 7s up on Rosberg and 9s on Verstappen as Ricciardo, enjoying the Softs, put paid to Hulkenberg with little effort. In fact, he was the better part of a second a lap quicker than the leader, though how much the Mercedes had in hand was an open question.
Lap 54 saw Ricciardo again raise the bar, banging in a 1:21.134, a full 2 seconds quicker than Hamilton and 1.5s up on Vettel who was his target, 6.6s ahead. Kvyat got dinged for a 5s penalty, leaving track and gaining advantage, but the offense was not televised so did it really happen? The philosophers amongst our commenters are welcome to make hay with that one.
Lap 57 saw Ricciardo up to the traffic that drove Vettel to yet again complaining on the radio, whilst earlier Kimi was also pointing out the new tyres that were on his car were not doing him any favours. Into clean air Lewis was back to the 1:22’s whilst Rosberg was just now coming upon another cluster of traffic.
And then the race slipped into a torpor as Ricciardo got stuck in the same traffic Vettel just cleared and there was no progress till he cleared it lap 61. 9 seconds back and 10 laps to go and Ricciardo’s race was clear. Ahead it was Vettel chasing Verstappen 3s up the road and Verstappen falling off of Rosberg a bit, also 3s behind.
Button had a rare overtake, clearing Palmer for P12 but still sweet music to Jolyon’s ears as he was still 5 places up on his teammate. Raikkonen halfheartedly caught up Hulkenberg and began to have a go as Vettel was bringing it to the young Dutchman, who it turned out was very well aware of the approaching Scarlet menace in his mirrors, telling his engineer in disgust that he saw Sebastian coming.
2.5s to Verstappen as Ricciardo had whittled it down to 6.5s, though he was running out of laps if that was the best he could do.
Lap 65 1.7 seconds for Vettel and it was on with no backmarkers to toss a spanner into the works. Alonso was all over Palmer to distract as lap 66 ticked over. 1.3s for Vettel and Ricciardo within 4s as lap 67 unfolded.
Lewis times continued to drop at the front and it was Rosberg now nearly 10s back. Raikkonen got round Hulkenberg for P6 and Hulkenberg spun, without further loss of position.
Vettel on Verstappen and it was Max locking up and going straight on keeping his position in front of the Ferrari, going wide across the runoff and grass outside T1.
Red Bull told him to give position back as the battle continued into lap 69 and Vettel worked the refs hard as Ricciardo snuck up behind him and suddenly on the penultimate lap it was Vettel in a Red Bull sandwich as Max was clearly now holding up Vettel for the benefit of Ricciardo. Ricciardo had a huge go at Vettel up the inside and it was a no go as Vettel held on and the words Vettel used to describe Max were, well, somewhat less than entirely complimentary.
Drama Drama Drama but none for Lewis who swanned across the finish line to take his second victory in a row. Rosberg followed suit 8 seconds later and it was Vettel on the radio who on being radioed the bad news from the race director that there would be no penalty, basically telling Whiting to ***** off. Repeatedly. Oh dear.
And it wasn’t long after the end that Whiting announced a 5s penalty for Verstappen, which would demoted him to P5, behind Vettel and Ricciardo. AS Vettel raced back down the pitlane to the cooldown room, someone asked Verstappen to leave and so he did, but not till after wiping his sweaty mug all over the towel for P3. Meanwhile the official Society for the Defender’s of Ricciardo were asking, rather correctly where Vettel’s penalty for moving in the braking zone was.
Further fun as Rosberg then donned the 1st place hat and the whole thing descended into anarchy with Vettel still racing down the pitlane. Lewis and Nico looked rather bemused by the whole affair and as Herbie Blash stepped in to inform Vettel he still needed to be weighed, Vettel said he stopped and took care of it on the way to the podium.
Whew, that’s rather a lot. Oh and Lewis just passed Senna for most wins from pole, with only Schumacher ahead of him, so feel free to complain about that if you like, but still an impressive stat.
Hamilton and Rosberg get the job done, both doing what they needed. Nice drive by Palmer as well to dust his teammate from the back. Ricciardo was most eloquent that Vettel deserved a penalty for moving in the braking zone, which might have fallen on deaf steward ears as the reason it was so close was very much down to his teammate not giving way once the advantage was gained and moreso being told to do so over team radio. Ricciardo continued on to say that not only did Vettel deserve a penalty, but Max did and Hamilton as well.
As to Hamilton, on replay the big difference would be not only was no one trying to overtake him into T1, but crucially he made an attempt to keep it on the asphalt, unlike Verstappen. A bit of snap oversteer changed his mind and between that, Rosberg cutting the chicane in his own battle with Verstappen and the Safety Car nullifying the race it was what it was. Certainly plenty of room for disagreement however so have a good time in the comments!
Post race comments by Verstappen continued the Vettel is frustrated theme by Verstappen and certainly the next driver’s meeting really ought to be televised as it’s liable to rival the pre-fight weigh in for a championship bout. In the same breath, however, Max adamantly denied backing Seb into Ricciardo, which is, of course, exactly what happened.
A win by Rosberg in Brasil seals the championship for him and it turns out that it’s a track where Lewis has never won. Should be fun.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
And remember to play nice in the comments!!