Champion Vettel signs off in style: Brazilian GP review

By on Monday, November 25, 2013
Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

2013 world champion Sebastian Vettel remains undefeated since the summer break as he stormed to his ninth successive victory, ahead of outgoing Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Heading into the winter break with some scope for optimism is always an important asset in Formula 1. The first test of 2014 at Jerez begins in a little over two months and every single team is determined to get it right; fail and the consequences could be felt for more than just the start of Formula 1’s new era. For Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, they will head into the 2014 season having not been beaten since the chequered flag fluttered above sun-drenched tarmac at the Hungaroring in late July as the conquerors of the sport finished the 2013 season in style. Vettel’s ninth successive victory equals that of the great Alberto Ascari – although Indy 500 related technicality causes statistical problems – while his 13th triumph in a single season matches the record set by his idol, Michael Schumacher, in 2004.

Wet weather is usually referred to as the great equaliser and the heavens opened above Interlagos during qualifying on Saturday. Vettel’s response was to snatch the 45th pole position of his Formula 1 career by six-tenths of a second…

But when the five red lights went out for the 19th and final time in 2013, the German didn’t have it all his own way. Not for the first time in 2013, the champion’s getaway was tardy enough for his nearest rival – in this case, Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg – to take advantage and lead into the Senna S. Vettel had a look at Rosberg into the Descida do Lago and Ferradura and continued to hound the Mercedes around the rest of the opening lap.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Fernando Alonso found himself in a lofty third place on the grid – equalling his best qualifying result of the season – and was primed to attack at the start. Alonso swung to the right but was hung out to dry and was usurped by Lewis Hamilton, while Mark Webber edged out Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Both drivers were starting their final race for their respective teams: Webber will join Porsche’s assault on the World Endurance Championship next year while Ferrari stalwart jumps ship to Williams. Webber and Massa got close at the Senna S but fortunately avoided contact and continued on their merry way.

Rosberg’s time at the front lasted mere corners as Vettel enjoyed a strong slingshot exiting Juncao and was tucked under the rear wing of the Mercedes as the cars approached the end of the opening tour. Vettel coasted through on his compatriot, while a few car lengths back Alonso did likewise on Hamilton.

Red Bull’s champion quickly set about escaping DRS range as Rosberg’s rear tyres felt the heat from Alonso’s prancing horse. The second Mercedes of Hamilton was quickly overhauled by Webber, who was keen to make amends for dropping a place at the start.

A feisty Alonso soon passed Rosberg and set about hunting down Vettel as the clouds lingered over Interlagos, an ever-present threat of rain turning the champion’s drive into a meteorological analysis. Race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin usually spends the race urging his charger to avoid trying to set the fastest lap – an accolade which was taken by Webber – but in Brazil, Rocky’s message was for Vettel to keep an eye on the sky.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Webber closed the gap to Alonso in the battle for second place and duly made the move stick on lap 13, only to lose the position through the pit stop phase. Alonso headed into the pits first while Webber waited a lap and lost time when the left rear was uncooperative. It didn’t take much longer for Webber to get back ahead of Alonso and the positions remained the same until the chequered flag.

Massa and Hamilton scrapped for fourth place and that battle seemed to be settled in favour of the Mercedes driver once Massa cut the pit entry (again, having ignored previous warnings) and was awarded a drive through penalty. The furious Brazilian reckoned that he was not the sole offender.

“Suddenly, I got a drive-through penalty for crossing the line on the main straight,” he said. “I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't overtake cars outside the track, I didn't hold anyone up. It was really a shame. These guys [stewards] they think they have all the power and they can do all they want. It's a shame more for them, not for me. Everyone saw it. I'm sure I wasn't the only car to do that.”

Massa’s penalty elevated Hamilton to fourth but the Mercedes driver was destined not to finish in that position as he collided with Valtteri Bottas into the Descida do Lago. Bottas attempted to un-lap himself but the Brit moved over under braking, with the duo making contact with sufficient force for the Williams’s right rear wheel to be ripped off. Fortunately, the errant Pirelli came to a safe halt. Hamilton sustained a puncture and was deemed to have caused the collision, resulting in a voyage through the pits as his punishment.

“I don't really know what happened, if I'm honest, I need to go and watch the replay,” said a dejected Hamilton straight after the race. “I really can't quite work it out. I moved to the left. He outbraked me and we touched. Obviously I did something wrong.”

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

That collision sent Red Bull into a tizzy as they moved to cover the possibility of a safety car. The mechanics were expecting Webber but Vettel pitted and his right front tyre was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, a mechanic retrieved the tyre but the German’s lead was slashed from 12 to five seconds and Red Bull’s delay also affected Webber, who emerged from the pits with Alonso much closer.

The problems for Massa and Hamilton elevated Jenson Button to an unusually lofty fourth place. The Brit started the race from the midfield on the hard tyres and the conditions suited the McLaren. He sliced through the field and jumped erstwhile race leader Rosberg during the pit stop phase, keeping the Mercedes at bay for the final laps. Rosberg’s fifth place was underwhelming considering his front row start and he was almost eclipsed by Sergio Pérez. The Mexican crashed out of qualifying and he dropped to 19th on the grid due to a gearbox change but he battled back with panache. Pérez had to save fuel through the final laps, thus limiting his attack on Rosberg. That result nonetheless secured second place in the championship for Mercedes, a vast improvement compared to 2012. McLaren, in a season with little to shout about, also managed to break the reliability record as its two cars completed 99.17% of the racing laps, besting BMW-Sauber’s total from 2008.

Massa recovered to seventh place but his mistake meant he threw away a podium in his last appearance for Ferrari, as team-mate Alonso intended to concede the final rostrum slot to the Brazilian. Nico Hülkenberg elevated himself to 10th place in the championship courtesy of eighth while Hamilton recovered to ninth and Daniel Ricciardo held off Paul di Resta and Esteban Gutiérrez to secure the final point of the season.

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Adrian Sutil was 13th and his only noticeable contribution to the race was gesticulating at Pérez while the duo battled. Force India nonetheless secured the sixth place in the championship that was their target pre-season. Heikki Kovalainen finished 14th – a repeat of Austin – after a dreadful start dropped him towards the back. Jean-Eric Vergne struggled with the balance of his STR8 and came home 15th, ahead of Pastor Maldonado in his final race for Williams. The duo collided at the Senna S, with Maldonado coming off worse. The dry race was bad news for Caterham but good news for Marussia who secured the financially lucrative 10th place in the constructors’ championship. Jules Bianchi’s 13th place finish in Australia ended up being the clincher for Marussia and the Frenchman again won top honours between the two teams in Brazil by finishing in 17th. Giedo van der Garde was 18th after a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags, with Max Chilton rounding out the finishers. In a year when there was little to shout about for Chilton, there were celebrations at the young Brit managing to finish every race, which was a unique achievement for a rookie.

Renault planned to send their V8 engines into retirement with a bang but the one in the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus started that particular party prematurely. Grosjean, who was recovering after a slow start, accelerated out of Juncao with plumes of white smoke pouring from the car and that was game over. The other retirement was Charles Pic, when the suspension on the Caterham CT03 cried its last with a handful of laps remaining.

For Vettel, there were no such worries as he secured a ninth successive victory, followed by the now obligatory donuts. The German broke his own points tally, finishing 155 clear of nearest ‘challenger’ Alonso, with Vettel having dropped just 78 points (out of 475) all season. Not that the four-time champion was thinking too deeply about such achievements.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

“I think it is very, very difficult for me to realise probably now and in the next couple of weeks what we have achieved again, and in particular this year at the end of the season," he said. "I think in terms of a certain record with Alberto Ascari you can't really compare it, it's at a completely different time. If you consider the fact that in the fifties the races were much longer and there were a lot of things that were breaking down, much more than nowadays where it's very professional, reliability is exceptionally good for everybody.”

“I think his record still stands out a lot. So at the end of the day, as I see it now, it's just a number but hopefully one day, when I've got less hair and chubby then it's probably something nice to look back to.”

The final word on the race and the season though goes to Webber, whose 215 race journey in the sport came to a close with second place. The Australian, never one to conform, will be missed in Formula 1 and celebrated by removing his helmet on the slow-down lap.

"It's not easy to get the HANS device system away from the helmet so I spent half a lap trying to get the left hand side off, so I finally got it there but the cars are bloody noisy with no helmet on, I know that much, so it was really noisy, all the vibrations and you can hear lots of things that you don't want to be hearing with the helmet on, that's for sure," he said. "It was good to get it off, obviously the marshals, the fans, to see... in this sport, it's not always easy to show the person that's behind the wheel."

“We can in lots of other sports but in Formula One we've always got the helmet on so it was nice to drive back with the helmet off. Only time you're seen with the helmet off is on the podium if we have a good day which we did both, so nice to get it off. In the last sector, I got it a little bit jammed, so I think the marshals were a little bit worried that I couldn't turn left but in the end, no it was fine, it was a nice moment to come back, a little bit of a different touch to bring the car back.”

Brazil podium

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