There has been less tension at the top end of the paddock at the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix with both available championships for the year won by Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, and you could tell from both them and Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel that the stress of fighting for the titles had subsided. That doesn’t mean it was an easy weekend for everyone however.
While Hamilton and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas were quickest during the free practice sessions, during the majority of qualifying the gap between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing in lap times was small, which Hamilton wasn’t able to take advantage of as he crashed at the beginning of the session and later started from the pit lane. By the end of qualifying Bottas had pipped Vettel to pole position, with Kimi Raikkonen the only other driver within five-tenths of a second of the leading two.
Hamilton had an even more difficult task this weekend with starting from the pits compared to his fight back in Mexico from sustaining a tyre puncture. The four-time world champion kept calm, and with knowing that the title fight was already over he knew he could push harder. He was helped by a first lap safety car caused by a couple of incidents involving drivers in the midfield, but he made the drive look easy.
By the end of the race, Hamilton was in fourth position and less than six seconds from Vettel in first. Starting on the soft tyres he was able to stay on track for longer during his first stint, and after pitting was able to come out in fifth with fresher super-soft tyres. Hamilton showed why he has become the most decorated British champion in Formula One, and that Sir Jackie Stewart’s recent comments about how Hamilton could still break records set by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher is something that we could actually see happen.
At the front of the grid, Vettel was able to overtake Bottas at the start while entering turn one, keeping his lead throughout the race except after the two pitted. While an attempt on the safety car restart by Vettel to try to get his team-mate Raikkonen into second didn’t come through, the German wasn’t too threatened by Bottas.
At times Red Bull Racing looked to be running at a similar pace to the leaders, but the team had to run their engines at a lower setting like Scuderia Toro Rosso and Renault Sport Formula 1 Team. Daniel Ricciardo also had to start from further down the grid due to a penalty. Both him and Max Verstappen were able to finish in the top six but there was a noticeable gap both in front of them and behind. Fortunately for the team, it won’t have to run the engine with similar setting for the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
There were a variety of stories from the midfield teams both on track and off track. Coming out of turn two Ricciardo was spun thanks to a minor collision beside him between McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen.
Not too long later Magnussen’s team-mate at Haas F1 Team, Romain Grosjean, oversteered into Esteban Ocon, putting the Sahara Force India F1 Team driver out of the race. It was a rare occurrence for Ocon, as not only was it his first retirement in Formula One, but his first retirement in single-seater races since 2014. His team-mate Sergio Perez was able to come home ninth as the last car not to be lapped by the leaders, but a difficult time with race strategies meant that he was on the back foot.
In front of him was a battle between Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso that lasted the majority of the race. After retiring from the Brazilian Grand Prix last year which at the time Massa thought would be his last, he was able to enjoy a tough but fair battle with his former Ferrari team-mate before leaving Formula One. Alonso praised Massa straight after they both crossed the finish line, with emotions running understandably high for Massa after the race.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was able to pick up his first point since the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August, with the German having to endure two finishes outside of the points and four retirements in September and October. With an argument between Renault and Toro Rosso over the weekend about engine woes that had to be calmed by people from both sides, both Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. were able to finish ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. Brendon Hartley was the only driver using a Renault engine to retire from the race, although rather than the engine being the issue his early finish was due to high oil consumption by his car.
Sauber F1 Team was able to finish ahead of both Haas drivers, with both Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson both on different strategies and running quicker than each other at different points during the race. Ericsson was let through late in the race by Wehrlein for 13th as Ericsson was on the faster compound.
The last race of the season in two weeks time will no doubt be fairly similar with no battles for championships and many positions in the constructors’ standings already having been decided. A brewing battle will be for sixth place between Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas, with six points separating the three teams.