Lewis Hamilton ensured the championship battle will go to the season finale in Abu Dhabi as he clinched his first victory in Brazil at a very wet Autódromo José Carlos Pace in a race affected by five safety car periods and two red flags.
Hamilton controlled the race from the front despite all of the interruptions, and ultimately took his Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team machine to victory by 11.455 seconds from team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg survived a brief moment towards the end of the race when he hit a patch of water to finish second to ensure he takes a twelve point lead going into Abu Dhabi, and will only need a third place finish to ensure his maiden Formula 1 World Championship triumph. But it was far from straightforward.
Part of the problems Rosberg had was the pace of Max Verstappen, who drove a superb race despite making three additional trips to the pits than either of the Mercedes drivers and survived a huge moment at the final corner. The Red Bull Racing driver hit a puddle and aquaplaned into a half spin that he was lucky to not collect the barrier.
Verstappen put in an overtaking master class, having pitted late to switch back to the full wet tyre when it became clear intermediate tyres were not the way to go. He rejoined in twelfth but made great moves around the inside and outside of his rivals, including team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, both of the Sahara Force India F1 Team drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr’s Scuderia Toro Rosso, Sauber F1 Team’s Felipe Nasr and Manor Racing MRT’s Esteban Ocon.
The pass on Sergio Perez a couple of laps from the end was exquisite, denying the Force India driver a third podium finish of the season, and Verstappen was driving at another level, with his final laps up to two seconds faster than those ahead of him.
Perez took fourth ahead of Vettel, who survived a spin of his own early in the afternoon in the tricky final sector that was an issue throughout the afternoon, with the Ferrari driver lucky to be able to recover having been facing the wrong way to the oncoming traffic.
Vettel managed to pass Sainz late in the afternoon, but the Toro Rosso driver matched his career best finish for the second time this season in sixth, holding off the late race challenge of Nico Hülkenberg, who was running as high as fourth before being forced to pit behind the safety car with a puncture.
Ricciardo was unable to match team-mate Verstappen and was forced to settle for eighth, which was not helped by a five second time penalty when he pitted when the pit lane was closed early in the race just after Marcus Ericsson brought out the safety car when he crashed his Sauber at the final turn.
Talking of Sauber, it was a great day for Nasr, who ended the team’s pointless streak that went all the way back to the United States Grand Prix of 2015 by taking ninth place, while Fernando Alonso snatched the final point on offer on the final lap for the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team from Ocon, despite a spin on the final restart.
Ocon was a star throughout the race, running inside the points for Manor for long periods of time despite the obvious shortfall on downforce the team have, but after shadowing Nasr for long periods of time only to see both Alonso and Williams Martini Racing’s Valtteri Bottas get ahead on that final lap.
Nasr’s points coupled with Manor’s failure to score means the advantage in the constructors’ championship switches to the Swiss team, with just one round of the season remaining.
Daniil Kvyat was thirteenth for Toro Rosso, surviving an early clash with Jolyon Palmer on the main straight when conditions were at their worst, an incident that ended the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team racers afternoon.
Kevin Magnussen was the first driver to pit for intermediates but could not better fourteenth in the second Renault, while Pascal Wehrlein was fifteenth in the second Manor, having run as high as ninth just behind team-mate Ocon, but did not have the same confidence or speed as the Frenchman.
Jenson Button endured a tough afternoon, finishing sixteenth and last in the second McLaren having struggled on all tyre compounds, an unusual result for the Briton who is traditionally very good in mixed and wet conditions.
The race was twice halted as the weather conditions played havoc, with the first stoppage coming when Kimi Raikkonen aquaplaned on the start/finish straight, and was lucky not to be collected by drivers heading towards him as he spun across the circuit.
Raikkonen’s incident came moments after the safety car left the track after Ericsson’s crash, which came at the same place that Romain Grosjean crashed out of on the installation lap before the race even started and caused the Haas F1 Team driver fail to start the race. It was a bad day all round for Haas, as Esteban Gutierrez retired in the pits after mid-distance, and was clear angry when he got out of his VF16.
The race restarted behind the safety car once Raikkonen’s accident was cleared up, only for race officials to red flag it once more when conditions appeared to worsen, but when it restarted Felipe Massa’s final Brazilian Grand Prix came to an emotional end when he crashed at the same point that Ericsson did, bringing out yet another safety car.
Massa walked back to the pits in tears, and was applauded by both Mercedes and Ferrari mechanics as he passed their garages, and with his wife and son on his arm, was congratulated by every member of his team as they gave him a guard of honour.
But the championship battle now heads to Abu Dhabi with just twelve points between Rosberg and Hamilton. It may be in Rosberg’s hands, but as Interlagos proved on Sunday, anything can happen in Formula 1, and usually does.
Autódromo José Carlos Pace Race Result
|3||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull-Tag Heuer||+21.481||15|
|4||11||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India-Mercedes||+25.346||12|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz Jr||ESP||Toro Rosso-Renault||+29.160||8|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India-Mercedes||+29.827||6|
|8||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull-Tag Heuer||+30.486||4|
|13||26||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Toro Rosso-Renault||+51.192|
|DNS||8||Romain Grosjean||FRA||Haas-Ferrari||Did Not Start|