This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix was an action packed affair from start to finish, as Sao Paulo unleashed treacherous weather conditions on the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, with a non-stop deluge of rain. From out of the darkness and spray however, a shining star emerged…
All eyes were on Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team driver Lewis Hamilton, who needed to maintain his winning streak in Brazil to keep the title race alive, but it was Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen that made all the headlines, in what can only be described as a breath-taking display of skill.
Hamilton did secure victory, despite the many disruptions in what turned out to be a three-hour race, taking the title battle to the season finale in Abu Dhabi, and reducing the gap to team-mate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings to twelve points. It is still a mountain to climb for Hamilton, and the championship is the German’s to lose, but when there is even the slightest of possibilities that he could defy the odds, Hamilton will undoubtedly take it.
A break is as good as a rest – unless you are racing…
Rain was already pouring when the official start time of the Brazilian Grand Prix came around, and after a ten-minute delay the race started under a safety car, not before Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean had spun off into the barrier on his way to the grid however, rendering the Frenchman unable to start the race.
On lap 8 the safety car finally peeled back into the pits and the race proper got underway. Hamilton got a strong getaway after backing up the pack, and led Rosberg into Turn 1, but Verstappen immediately got to work and overtook Kimi Raikkonen to rise up to third place, whilst many were still getting a feel for the conditions.
Scuderia Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel found himself in a bit of trouble on lap 10, as he took too much curve at Turn 14 and span the SF16-H onto the grass, finding himself facing the wrong way on track, but managing to recover and make it back to the pits. Unfortunately for the German, there was a problem with the wheel gun, delaying his return to the track.
Hamilton pulled away at the front, whilst a number of drivers, including the McLaren-Honda Formula 1 Team, the Renault Sport F1 Team and the two Williams Martini Racing drivers and Sauber F1 Team driver Marcus Ericsson, took the opportunity to pit for intermediate tyres, having all started as a matter of course, on the full wets.
Is it a bird? No, it’s an aquaplane…
It made no difference whatsoever to those drivers however, and it in fact made matters worse for Ericsson who found himself aquaplaning into the wall at the entrance to the pit lane, a mere passenger in the C35.
With the Sauber now blocking entry to the pit lane, and visibility extremely poor, the Swede was lucky not to have been hit by other drivers, who were having to make quick reactions to avoid a collision left, right and centre. The safety car was deployed to allow the safe removal of the car and splayed debris and pit lane access closed, not before Verstappen had managed to get in there however to switch to intermediates.
Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo however was not so lucky, and he received a five second time penalty for entering the pits after the message of closure had been displayed.
On lap 20 the race got back underway, but the drivers had barely managed one circuit of the track before Kimi Raikkonen aquaplaned down the straight, after saving a spin three times on the way, also crashing into the wall alongside the pit lane.
Sahara Force India F1 Team driver Nico Hulkenberg was running close behind the Ferrari at the time, and was unfortunately unable to miss collecting the Finn’s front wing as he sped by. Whilst Esteban Ocon made an incredible avoiding move to not clatter into the Ferrari on his way by.
Further back, Verstappen experienced a similar moment, whilst Daniil Kvyat and Jolyon Palmer also came together amidst the poor visibility.
The Brit was barely able to see the Russian ahead of him due to the spray, and whilst attempting to get by crashed into the left rear of the Scuderia Toro Rosso, damaging the STR11 and forcing Palmer to retire from the action.
The race was immediately red flagged to clear away the debris and for race control to decide whether the conditions were now unsafe, bringing about a thirty-five-minute delay to proceedings.
Red flag in Brazil, racing is nil…
The luckless Hulkenberg immediately lost his well-earned fourth place when the action got back underway behind the safety car, the German was forced to pit after sustaining a puncture to the right rear of the VJM09.
A few laps later race control felt the conditions had become too dangerous and the race was red flagged once again. A further twenty-five-minute delay passed before the race was restarted behind the safety car.
In lap 32, not yet quite at halfway, we were off racing once again and Verstappen made possibly the move of the race, as he outrageously came round the outside of Rosberg at Turn 3 to steal away second place from the likely gobsmacked German.
Hamilton meanwhile had begun to pull away up ahead, and his lead was boosted further when the Dutchman made a phenomenal save to keep the RB12 out of the wall as he aquaplaned along the pit straight, just ahead of Rosberg. Amazingly, he was also able to keep hold of second place.
As the race settled into a rhythm, Red Bull made the strange move to pit their drivers for intermediate tyres, having switched back to full wets at the re-start, and it looked like a genius decision as Ricciardo immediately began to set the fastest lap times of the race so far.
Verstappen had dropped down the order to fifth after the stop, but his pace was so strong compared to the rest of the field, the Dutchman seemingly able to find grip on every part of the track, it looked inevitable he would catch Rosberg again with little problem. But…
Felipe Massa, competing in his final ever home grand prix, was forced to end his challenge early as he too aquaplaned into the wall at the now notorious pit straight, which was closed once again.
With no danger now prevalent in the pit lane, Massa walked back to the pits down the track as he waved to the fans, who cheered him with overwhelming passion. As he reached the garages, the now tearful Brazilian was given a guard of honour by all the teams as he headed for the Williams area, much humbled by everyone’s affection.
Whilst the FW38 was recovered from the track, the safety car was again deployed. It took eight laps before the drivers were released once again on lap 56, at which point the rain had begun to fall much more heavily.
Fernando Alonso span the McLaren on the run up to the pit straight, proving in these conditions that even the best are susceptible.
It was also bad timing for the Red Bulls who now had to pit once again to switch back onto the full wets, dropping them rapidly down the order, with Verstappen emerging from the pits down in fifteenth place.
What unfolded thereafter was an inspiring and fearless performance, with some of the finest wet weather driving you will ever see on display.
Verstappen was now on a charge to make up the time lost in that extra pit stop, and he surged back through the pack with a series of extremely bold overtakes, first on team-mate Ricciardo, then Felipe Nasr, Hulkenberg, Vettel and Carlos Sainz Jnr, before claiming the final podium spot with just two laps remaining.
The Dutchman boldly passed the Force India of Sergio Perez on the run to the Juncao corner, putting an end to the Mexican’s goal of surpassing the most podiums achieved by a Mexican in a season.
A crucial win…
Hamilton took the chequered flag 11.4 seconds ahead of team-mate Rosberg to win the Brazilian Grand prix, a race that had eluded him for so long, and doing exactly what he needed to keep the title train rolling on to the final round of the season, now twelve points adrift of the German.
All the Brit can now do is ensure he wins in Abu Dhabi, and hope that other factors take care of the rest. If Hamilton takes victory on that final day, Rosberg must finish in third place or higher to be crowned champion, and Hamilton will be praying that Red Bull or Ferrari can somehow come into play.
Verstappen took a well-deserved third after a sublime comeback display, akin to the likes of Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna on their day.
And the rest…
Perez held on to take fourth place in the end, the Mexican commenting that just finishing the race was like taking a victory, and it crucially saw the take a good chunk of points from main rivals Williams.
Vettel was fifth, in the only Ferrari to finish the race, ahead of Sainz Jnr, who put in a fantastic performance to achieve sixth place, equalling his best ever result.
Hulkenberg was seventh, ahead of Ricciardo and Nasr, who held on to finish in ninth place despite being overtaken by numerous drivers during the latter stages of the race, securing Sauber’s first points of the season.
Alonso was tenth and took the final point for McLaren, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Ocon. The French rookie had looked like he might hold on to also collect his maiden points of the year, but despite a strong performance in the wet, it was not to be on this occasion.
Kvyat was thirteenth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Pascal Wehrlein who struggled in the conditions and dropped right down the order to fifteenth place. The German still crossed the line ahead of Jenson Button however, who had numerous problems finding grip on any of his tyre selections throughout the race, pitting five times in total to no avail.
Esteban Gutierrez meanwhile was forced to retire from proceedings in the final laps of the race with an electronics issue, which infuriated the Mexican driver, who has recently been dropped by the Haas F1 Team.
Camera shots showed a heated discussion between Gutierrez and Team Principal Guenther Steiner after the race, and the Mexican was also snapped talking to Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn later that day…make of that what you will!
Sunday’s result see’s Hamilton reduce Rosberg’s lead in the Driver’s standings to twelve points with just the final race of the season to go, putting the German firmly in the driving seat and the most likely of the two to take the championship crown.
It is undoubtedly Rosberg’s title to lose now, but as the great Murray Walker once said “Anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does!”
Red Bull sealed runners-up spot in the constructor’s championship with their incredible performance this weekend, ensuring there is now nothing more Ferrari can do to recover second place being seventy-six points adrift going into the final race.
With both Williams drivers finishing out of the points in Brazil, Force India have now taken a twenty-seven-point lead over the Grove based squad in the battle for fourth place. Though there are more points than that up for grabs in Abu Dhabi, it is unlikely Williams will finish high enough up the order, if current form is anything to go by.
The gap to Toro Rosso from McLaren in sixth place has also reduced dramatically, with just twelve points now splitting the two squads, whilst further down the order the Haas F1 Team look safe in eighth.
Sauber finally scored their first points of the season this weekend, with Nasr security a fantastic ninth place and earning the squad a much need two points. That sees the Swiss squad jump ahead of Manor Racing MRT in the standings, and unless the Banbury based squad can do something amazing in Abu Dhabi, they look set to be relegated to last place.