Sebastian Vettel got the jump on Valtteri Bottas at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix, and held on to the lead until the chequered flag for his fifth victory of the season on Sunday.
However, the action behind, particularly the fight back through the field for Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, with the latter having the added problem of facing the wrong way at turn three on the opening lap.
The safety car was deployed on the opening lap after a turn two clash between Stoffel Vandoorne, Kevin Magnussen and Ricciardo left the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team and Haas F1 Team drivers out of the race, and the Red Bull Racing racer facing the wrong way.
Esteban Ocon’s run of consecutive race finishes ended at turn six on the opening lap after being turned around by the second Haas of Romain Grosjean, with the Sahara Force India F1 Team driver suffering two punctures that made it impossible for him to recover to the pits. It was the first time in his Formula 1 career that the Frenchman failed to see the chequered flag, and the incident saw the Haas driver earn a ten-second-time penalty for causing a collision.
Despite Bottas and the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team trying the undercut during the pit stop cycle, Vettel remained in front when he took his own stop a lap after the Finn, although it was a close run thing as they headed down to turn four.
Vettel was not truly able to shake off Bottas, but the Finn was never close enough thereafter to challenge, and the Scuderia Ferrari driver remains on course to secure second place in the championship standings.
Kimi Raikkonen claimed his third consecutive podium with a relatively straightforward afternoon in the second Ferrari, although his last laps saw the Finn have Hamilton in his mirrors, as the Briton, on an alternative strategy that saw him end the afternoon on the Supersoft Pirelli tyre, closing significantly on those ahead of him after dispatching Max Verstappen.
Hamilton had made early progress thanks to the first lap chaos, and was in an aggressive mood as he found his way ahead of the likes of Brendon Hartley, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz Jr., Nico Hülkenberg, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa to run fifth before lap, and then inherited the lead as the leading quartet took to the pit lane for their first stops.
When Hamilton took his stop, he dropped down to fifth, but such was his advantage over those ahead of him, he caught and passed Verstappen for fourth and ended just 5.468 seconds off the victory despite having started from the pit lane. He lost momentum a couple of laps from the end whilst on the rear of Raikkonen’s car, and by the time he had recovered, he had taken the best out of his tyres and was forced to settle for fourth.
Verstappen ended up fifth after taking a late second stop that enabled the Dutchman to set the fastest lap and a new race lap record, while Ricciardo ended the day sixth after a number of aggressive moves, with turn one his favourite overtaking spot throughout.
Massa finished seventh in his final Brazilian Grand Prix before he retires, with the Williams Martini Racing driver holding off the challenge from Alonso throughout the race after jumping the Spaniard at the restart following the safety car.
The McLaren racer was in DRS range for the majority of the afternoon, while a late race charge saw the second Force India of Sergio Perez finish on their tail, all three drivers being separated by just 0.618 seconds at the chequered flag.
Hülkenberg secured the final point for the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team, with the German a lapped tenth, with team-mate Sainz Jr. ending 6.546 seconds back in eleventh, with Gasly the sole Scuderia Toro Rosso driver to see the chequered flag in twelfth having run as high as tenth thanks to the early carnage.
Hartley’s third Grand Prix start ended with a second retirement as more mechanical issues curtailed his afternoon, and should it be engine related, there could be more pressure between team and engine supplier post-race after the war of words that broke out between Cyril Abiteboul and Franz Tost this weekend.
Marcus Ericsson got the better of the battle of the two Sauber F1 Team drivers to finish thirteenth, but Pascal Wehrlein ran as high as twelfth early on before fading towards the end of what could possibly be his penultimate outing with the Swiss team before he finds himself replaced for 2018 by FIA Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc.
After his early clash with Ocon and his ten second penalty in his final stop, Grosjean ended up twice lapped down in fifteenth, while Lance Stroll was the final finisher having suffered a late issue with his front left tyre that necessitated a unscheduled pit stop.
But no one had an answer for Vettel on the day, while Hamilton’s recovery drive was something to behold and earned him the driver of the day award, and there is just one round of the season remaining in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month.
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace Race Result
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