Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 18° Track 20° Humidity 98% Wind 0.3 m/s
Winning is a funny thing. You can win an event and always, as you get close, stray thoughts start to ping off the inside of your cranium, mostly beginning with the words “what if”. Your hands might develop a slight tremor, heart rate starts to go through the roof, which is where the mental game of a champion sets them apart, Jordan-like from the firmament in which they compete. It’s a killer instinct, overcoming lots of social conditioning and it’s why athletes talk of being “unconscious” in their greatest performances, as do musicians and actors, it’s that state where you get completely out of your own way. And the thing is, if you’ve never been there before, you really don’t know when the fear will hit and you will suddenly, and tragically realise, exactly how much is at stake, which is usually when your game will collapse. Funny thing, though, familiarity tends to lessen the impact.
And then it goes and rains, to the point where it’s pissing down and on the edge of a standing start versus Safety Car start at Interlagos, and your last race in the rain was exactly the wrong thing to hold in your mind as it was a big struggle, because your tyres wouldn’t switch on and the one result you can’t afford as the season winds down.
Never before has Nico Rosberg been so in control of his World Championship destiny and with 2 races to go the weight of that achievement starts to hang increasingly heavy, no matter how well trained your mind is. Still, all season long he has seemed more capable of bringing it home, but the steady drip of championship points to Lewis was massively aided by the Malaysian implosion that gifted Rosberg a seemingly unbridgeable gap. And yet, here we are and Hamilton has what he might consider a dream scenario, a wet Brasil, pole position and nothing to lose. Of course, he’s been punted off in the rain here too and there’s no guarantee that Rosberg will struggle with his tyres as he did in Monaco, but it does ratchet up the narrative tension exponentially as the lights approach.
It’s the rare human that is naturally stronger in the lead than chasing and we are rapidly going to find out whether Rosberg has the mental game to cross the finish line leading the championship, a question that can only truly be answered once he walks off the podium with the hardware.
30 minutes to go, and then Grosjean goes and wrecks not only his car, but almost certainly any chance of a standing start by acquaplaning off and directly into the barriers coming out of the final turn, ending the best showing by HAAS in ages. Because it’s essentially set on the side of a hill, always there will be draining water to hit as long as the rain continues.
Force India versus Williams, Ferrari’s last gasp for 2nd and Sauber’s desperate struggle to get ahead of Manor all just got very interesting as well, as the forecast is for rain and then heavier rain.
A 10 minute delay gives all the players plenty of extra time to consider their options as the rain is predicted to continue for at least an hour into the race.
Safety Car start it was and perhaps a small sigh of relief for Lewis as it’s one massive variable managed, but less so for Rosberg as he had struggled to get his tyres and brakes up to temperature with Verstappen lurking behind.
The cars tiptoed away for an unknown number of laps behind the Safety Car and it was not a wiggle free effort as Hamilton lagged the Safety Car sufficiently to keep the spray out of his face.
Lots of water between the straights reported Vettel as it looked to be a longer stint behind the car than first anticipated. Lewis was at 193 kph his first time through the speed trap which was which was upped to 218 kph on his 2nd trip. Lots of acquaplaning and visibility complaints littered team radio as lap 3 got underway and it was clearly going to be one of those days where no one in their right minds would be envious of the drivers.
Ricciardo confidently predicted lap 4 that it would just be a lap or 2 as Lewis continued to bob off the back of the Safety Car, looking impatient to go faster than Maylander was capable of, dropping back and accelerating repeatedly.
Verstappen picked up the complaint, radioing in that going slow would not improve the track as clearly Red Bull were eager to kick things off. Even Magnussen said it was time to get going lap 6 as they continued to circle behind the Safety Car.
AS Rosberg called for more laps FIA called it and they were underway lap 8. Bang out of the corner went Lewis well clear as Verstappen went for Raikkonen into T1 and got the job done. Magnussen boxed immediately and strapped on the Intermediates.
Lap 8 and it was 2 seconds for Lewis and nearly the same for Rosberg. Ricciardo and Vettel were both stacked behind Raikkonen who was struggling with his pace early on. Ricciardo wanted out of the spray as Button strapped on a pair of Inters.
First call on the tyres was Magnussen setting better times than Palmer as lap 10 ticked off, but Nico waved them off saying no way, too early. AS Alonso boxed for tyres, Vettel went for a spin and was left pointing the wrong direction, forced to wait as traffic cleared before he could get underway. The crossover to Inters loomed large, with Ricciardo looking likely to get first call, but Vettel jumped the queue having lost so much time with his spin.
9 drivers on Inters as lap 12 entered the history books, with no sign that Mercedes was considering coming in as harder rain was predicted. It became increasingly hard to believe that Ricciardo was staying out as the gap from Raikkonen to Verstappen was huge.
Fortunately Ericcson set off a Safety Car at that point and it was straight in by Verstappen for Inters, around Ericsson who had come to a stop before Whiting closed the pitlane. Ricciardo, however, entered after the pitlane was closed and there was no immediate call for an investigation, leaving both Red Bulls on Inters, Verstappen P4 and Ricciardo P9.
As Ericsson’s car was retrieved, Rosberg confirmed he was still happier with the full Wets as lap 16 ticked over. Also being investigated was a Massa versus Gutierrez overtaking before Safety Car line.
Ocon, one of the few backmarkers to stay on the full Wets, was up to P10 but Nasr, for Sauber, was up to P8 so that was one battle that was clearly on for the rest of the race. Palmer took advantage of the reopening of the pitlane to go back to the full Wets, which told the story at the back.
Ouch, lap 19 and Ricciardo was officially under investigation as the Safety Car was announced as coming in.
Another solid lead for Lewis as he hammered down the straight and then bang Raikkonen spun it straight into the wall as he came onto the start/finish straight, nearly collecting a Red Bull as he bounced back across the track. Out came the red flag lap 21 as Kimi climbed out of the car, unharmed, and the race was halted. Hulkenberg had a bit of Ferrari bodywork wedged into his front wing which was apparent once they halted and the Mercedes drivers made a beeline for the back of the garage, making it appear that the delay was going to be somewhat lengthy.
On the way back to the pits, Vettel had a somewhat epic rant about how the race should be stopped as how many crashes do they want. Should be pointed out perhaps that it was mainly the backmarkers and Ferrari that seemed to be having the issues, which says rather a lot about the state of their chassis and aero. Hulkenberg piled on by complaining that the tyres were also not up to the job, a commonly stated belief by drivers.
The Red Flag also allowed the stewards plenty of time to catch up and it was Massa first to feel the hand of justice, getting a 5s penalty for overtaking Gutierrez too soon. Ricciardo was next, and he too picked up a 5s penalty for entering the pitlane whilst it was closed.
Replays showed just how close both Verstappen and Ocon came to the stricken Ferrari at full speed at the last restart.
Having exhausted the maths of half points, lap 54 is where full points were on, the commentators became increasingly desperate to fill the air, a task made easier as the Safety Car ventured forth to sample the conditions as all awaited an announcement as to the restart.
At last, after several laps by the Safety Car, the 10 minute warning was given, the race restarting as the rain began to ease a bit. But not before Lewis stole a bit of limelight, lending his a team coat to a grid girl that was chilly. Yes, that’s how desperate the World Feed was for things to show the viewers whilst they waited.
FIA required all cars to start on the full wets as the teams prepared them to trundle off behind the Safety Car yet again. Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Perez lead the way as the race resumed. Ricciardo was buried in 8th and Ocon had his work cut out for him P9 to Nasr in P7 as the backmarker grudge match looked to continue. Vettel was the worst of the lot, though, P14 for his restart and piloting a decidedly twitchy steed.
Multiple laps was the way forward, and as the SC continued round, Perez was warned of heavy rain coming soon. Fun times for all…
Lap 23 and Hulk was in, apparently for a puncture which was Heidfeld level luck. But still better than Palmer, who simply was listed as retired, according to Renault as a result of Kvyat whanging into him fairly hard on the restart.
Verstappen got distracted by his SnapChat as he rather clearly came around and in front of Rosberg before backing off and yielding the position. Lewis was anxious for the off as lap 27 counted down, pleading his case with Charlie as the less bad weather continued.
Lap 28 and Max added his voice to the start the race contingent, and as the crowd booed, it was announced that the red flag was coming out yet again. I will say it is ridiculous if the drivers think it’s fine. especially as the faster the cars go, the more water comes off the track. In fact, the more time there is for reflection, the more irritating the decision became as the vast majority of drivers being replayed on team radio were calling for them to go racing.
Still, the red flag stops the clock and as once again the pitlane busied with scurrying engineers and mechanics. And even as those maths started to be done, the FIA said it was not happy to continue the race and declared an indefinite stoppage, to much unhappiness from the Sky commentariat and most of the wags on Twitter.
To underline the absurdity of this choice, the rain began to ease as this announcement was made, and F1 yielded another important bit of its heritage to corporate interests.
And after that bitch fest, the race once again was announced as starting in 10 minutes. Back into the car went the drivers and it was Force India predicting a time limited race. The saddest part of it all is somehow up to that point, the FIA had managed to create a wet race that was entirely boring, something I thought truly impossible.
AS they lolled around behind the Safety Car, immediately it was announced that more than 1 lap would be run before the track went green. The order was Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Perez and Sainz in the top 5 as it was lap 31 that the Safety Car was brought in, just as Verstappen said it was actually slightly worse than before. Go figure….
On the restart it was Hamilton with another good start and Verstappen on Rosberg but couldn’t quite do it. A twitch for Rosberg and wheel to wheel and Verstappen nails the position outside of T3 along the bottom of the track.
Ricciardo took advantage of T3 as well to take Carlos Sainz’ toy of P5 away. Sainz did not appear happy about that and tried to fight back, but without the Red Bull chassis there was not much chance of that coming off.
Lap 34 and Hamilton was fastest on track, into the 1:26s and roughly 0.2s faster than Verstappen. Vettel took Wehrlein for P10 and back into the points.
The following lap and purple for Verstappen who was just outside 1s off Hamilton, who responded by resetting fast lap and banging the gap back out to 1.5s with Rosberg nearly 5s back.
Hulkenberg put it past Magnussen as Bottas navigated by Wehrlein. Seiing the momentum out of T1 Hulk kept his foot in it and slid effortlessly by Wehrlein as well, holding P12 to P11 for Bottas.
Vettel took Ocon lap 38 as it turned out it was possible to race in the rain. Massa and Button had both opted for Inters as Verstappen got it entirely sideways and just kept it out of the barriers as Rosberg suddenly had the Redd Bull squarely in his sights. Into T1 the battle raged but it was Verstappen holding the advantage and Rosberg, with much more to lose keeping himself squarely on track.
Lap 40 and it was Ricciardo on the back of Perez, which was not good news for Rosberg, who was happily lingering in the safe zone created ahead of Perez. But no, quelle surprise, it was into the pits lap 41 for Inters to put the pressure on Rosberg and Mercedes to match the choice.
Hulkenberg was up to P10 and Vettel P8 as lap times continued in the 1:26’s at the front. Vettel banged it past Alonso lap 43 as the front runners awaited Ricciardo’s times.
A 1:25.532 made the Inters look very inviting indeed as Alonso complained of being pushed off track by Vettel.
Bang into the pits for Inters came Verstappen lap 44, with Lewis still able to set competitive times in the full Wets. Rosberg appeared to be most under threat, as his times were stuck in the 1:26’s, unlike Hamilton’s .
Vettel took P6 as Button demanded a set of full Wets, despite being told that Inters were where everyone was headed.
An off for Rosberg followed, chopping his margin to Perez down to 7 seconds. A half spin exit of T12 according to the team. With 35 seconds to Hamilton, Verstappen was no immediate threat to the Mercedes unless they needed to pit.
Ohhh and just like that it was game over for Massa, bringing out the Safety Car and once again closing the entry to the pit lane, as he came to rest, as did Ericsson, blocking it. He was out of the car and unhurt as the Safety Car undid all of the hard work that Hamilton and Rosberg had put in, with lap 54 and full points fast approaching.
Hamilton was on the radio saying that his tyres were seriously starting to go and with the SC out and pit closed there would be no easy answers for the Mercedes strategists.
Button continued to whinge mercilessly over the radio about the undriveability of the car, as Alonso quietly occupied P8 and Massa took his long stroll back to the pits wrapped in a Brasilian flag. As he walked down the pitlane to embrace his family, all the teams issued forth from their garages to applaud him.
Lap 52 saw Magnussen, Gutierrez and Button released to overtake as the race prepared to kick off afresh. Into the pits for full wets went Ricciardo as Hamilton struggled to get the temps up behind the Safety Car.
Rosberg wanted the end of the race as he complained of more water just as full points was hit, but no word from his teammate. Even Verstappen wanted an end to the madness, but still being out on the Inters he desperately needed a red flag to be able to change tyres. And lap 55 saw Verstappen in for the extremely sensible choice of full wets.
Safety Car in and bad news for Verstappen who then had lots of rather dicey work to do and not much time to play with as less than 25 minutes remained in the race.
Perez P3 now as Hamilton again got the jump on Rosberg who was playing it as safe as possible in the circumstances.
Ocon into P8 and as they headed up the hill it was Alonso who had a spin and wound up behind Button, which one hoped would’ve got Jenson to cease his incessant whinging.
Lap 57 and the show was now going to be Perez P3 and Sainz P4 with Nasr P6 and Ocon P8. Meanwhile Ricciardo was up to P10 and closing, 16s back of Hamilton. Sainz closed on Perez at the front as both Perez and Rosberg were running off the pace being set by Hamilton.
Kvyat was the next target for Ricciardo and he tiptoed carefully around behind him as Hulkenberg had a look at Nasr into the Senna esses. It was Verstappen first to get it done as he took Ricciardo unawares and then around the Toro Rosso of Kvyat through T1. Hulkenberg got by Nasr as well putting the Sauber firmly in the sights of Ocon who had every motivation to catch him.
Lap 61 and Verstappen closed up to Ocon and rocked on by, counting on Verstappen to drive the Sauber back toward him and reducing the points that Nasr could score. AS Ricciardo finally got round Kvyat Bang! Bang! went Maxwell’s silver hammer and by Nasr he went as the 2 Red Bulls threaded their way through the field.
At the front, Vettel had slowly been reeling in Sainz and lap 64 saw the sole Ferrari within a second of the Toro Rosso occupying P4, but languishing nearly 10s back of Perez and 13 behind Rosberg. Gutierrez was shown having some rather unhappy words with Gunther Steiner after he was forcibly retired as apparently FOM wanted some drama with their drama.
Verstappen was the fast one on track though, up and by Hulkenberg, less than a swecond off Vettel and here it came, wheel to wheel into T4 and Vettel grimly hung on as Verstappen was forced to yield.
Rosberg must’ve got the word as his times picked up, but it was Verstappen, up the inside then forcing Vettel wide onto the grass. Sainz was right there and the Spaniard wisely put up no fight, and thus, 4 laps to go and it was Perez less than 2 seconds ahead and the podium his for the taking. At this point, Perez was on tyres that were 42 laps old compared to Verstappen’s 21 laps. Into T1 it was Perez retaining the advantage but with Verstappen firmly planted on his gearbox.
Boom, inside, outside and around he went for the podium as they cruised up toward the final turn, with a rather large twitch for Max just to make it fun. Slightly farther back Vettel nosed Sainz for P5 and leaving Carlos vulnerable to Hulkenberg as Kvyat in P13 radioed in his front end was done and began dropping like a stone through the order.
Hamilton miraculously then ticked lap 71 and the end of the race, which had looked rather dubious at one point. Rosberg found his way safely home 11s astern and then it was Magnificent Max, who oppo-locked his way to loads of screen time with his overtakes. Despite the podium it’s worth asking if Red Bull did not make a bit of a misstep by not splitting strategy on Inters with Verstappen running P2. Ferrari have confirmed their position in the pecking order, and it’s not happy news for the Scuderia.
Questions will abound as well for the FIA as the red flag lap 28 after running around behind the Safety Car, when the majority of the drivers that were heard on the radio thought it was past time to get racing, as did a majority of Brasilians watching from the grandstands.
Another first win for Hamilton, Rosberg did what he had to, but again it was Carlos Sainz making the argument on track that he deserves a close look for a top ride. Sauber bypassed Manor in th WCC as Nasr, too, made the argument on track that he was more than just someone else named Felipe. And, of course, Force India utterly buried Williams in the WCC, but that mattered perhaps a bit less to them with the exceedingly flush Lance Stroll walking into Massa’s car next season.
The championship will go down to the wire so at least there’s that, but Abu Dhabi remains a less than ideal track to conclude the season and decide a championship.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
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