Nico wins, Lewis spins: Brazilian GP review

By on Monday, November 10, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

There’s an irony in that one of Formula 1’s most unpopular rule changes in history was ultimately, pointless, if you excuse the pun.

Double points may well decide the title, but Nico Rosberg’s victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix means that 17 points will separate him and Lewis Hamilton as the pair prepare for the most important race of their lives in Abu Dhabi. In normal circumstances, with 25 points on offer for the win, there still would have been a showdown at sundown…

But before 'double points' there was the matter of the penultimate round of the season in Brazil. The defining moment came on lap 28 of a race which ebbed and flowed between the two title protagonists.

Hamilton, leading the race after Rosberg’s second stop for fresh Medium tyres, hurtled along the Reta Oposta and braked, as usual, for the Descida do Lago. But, with his brake bias shifted too far rearwards, the back of the car stepped out. Usually, saving such moments is a none too fruitful task for Hamilton, but as the back end stepped out, the rear tyres – marginal due to the hot conditions at Interlagos and the late change to shift to softer rubber – cried their last. The Mercedes rotated too much and Hamilton was pushed into a half spin. He prevented further disaster but his advantage, for now, had been lost.

Rosberg had led away from pole position, with Hamilton dutifully slotting into second place. The Option tyres did not last long and after the first stint, the pair had to pass drivers who had started on the Prime compound.

Rosberg scythed his way past Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kvyat and Nico Hülkenberg, while Hamilton was slightly more cautious and the gap extended to over two seconds.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

But as the second stint developed, Hamilton began to eat into Rosberg’s lead and when the German pitted, the gap had been reduced to around a second.

Hamilton, as expected, stayed out and was given his usual message to pit. By the time he reached the end of lap 27 he had set sufficient sector times to emerge ahead of Rosberg when he made his stop. But Mercedes kept Hamilton out.

“I think the protocol is when he [Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s engineer] says to push, that means generally in that lap, which I did,” he said.

“But then I wasn’t coming in, it [the call] took me by surprise and the rear tyres were dead. It’s not a big issue, we lost points and I was clearly quicker.”

Hamilton recovered and stopped at the end of the lap, by which point the deficit to Rosberg had ballooned to 7.2 seconds – irrecoverable, surely?

Hamilton pressed on and as the third stint of the race progressed he slashed the gap to Rosberg to just two seconds. Was this one of the most impressive charges of the campaign, or was this Rosberg merely cannily controlling matters?

"I was confident, yes, definitely, because already in the first stint I could see that I could control the gap and could just make sure that Lewis didn't come into the region where he could launch an attack, so from that point of view, once I saw that, I was very confident that I could keep on controlling the gap for the whole race," said Rosberg. "Also, when Lewis had the spin and was further behind, I saved more tyres than I normally would have done and so that I could just make sure that at the end of the stint I had enough, because it was so critical on tyres today and that worked out really well too."

The final round of stops were undertaken smoothly – with Hamilton staying out just one lap more – and when the Brit emerged from his final stop the gap was down to a second.

For the remaining 25 laps the pair circulated within a second. Hamilton was quicker in the first and third sectors – DRS assisted – while he was unable to match Rosberg in the second sector, partly due to turbulent air and partly due to Rosberg’s superior ability through the middle part of the lap. However, Hamilton never had a serious chance and Rosberg sustained the pressure to take his fifth win of the campaign.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Third place went to Felipe Massa, who managed to finish on the podium despite making a couple of errors in the pits.

The first was that he copped a penalty for speeding when he made his first stop, the second coming when he accidentally entered the McLaren pit box.

It was an excusable error, for Williams’s garage was moved for this weekend’s race and Massa has usually aimed for the one team in white overalls – the Grove based team typically neighbours Toro Rosso and Marussia. Therefore, as Jenson Button stopped on the same lap, McLaren was ready for their man and Massa had a momentary lapse.

Button battled to a fine fourth place, the highlight being a superb battle with Kimi Räikkönen that was eventually settled in favour of the McLaren driver. If Button isn’t on the grid in 2015, it’ll be Formula 1’s loss.

Sebastian Vettel was wary of his accident at the Descida do Lago two years ago so left Kevin Magnussen sufficient room on the inside and promptly went wide.

He spent the first stint behind Fernando Alonso but got ahead of his rival, by which time Button was too far up the road.

Alonso placed sixth after passing Kimi Räikkönen with a handful of laps to go. Räikkönen did a superb job to recover from a low-key start and pull off a two stop strategy, although he lost time when Ferrari suffered a front jack failure at his second stop. Without that, he might have been able to fend off Alonso.

Hülkenberg did a fine job to claim eighth place for Force India while Kevin Magnussen suffered with his tyres and could managed only ninth.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Valtteri Bottas started from the second row of the grid but endured a troublesome race. He lost time at his first stop with mechanics appearing to be tightening his seatbelt buckles. He was later edged off track by Hülkenberg at the Senna S and placed 10th, just ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.

Pastor Maldonado had to switch to a three stop strategy and came home 12th, while Jean-Éric Vergne was 13th after spending time stuck behind Sergio Pérez.

Esteban Gutiérrez’s 14th place belied what was a very strong weekend for the Mexican; he qualified 11th, made a spot at the start and stayed there until he regressed to the usual position of the recalcitrant Sauber. Pérez was 15th after a penalty for speeding in the pits, while Adrian Sutil had to start from the pits due to a cooling problem and a slow stop left him at the back.

Daniel Ricciardo suffered a suspension failure at the Senna S and retired for the first time since Malaysia; Romain Grosjean’s Brazilian Grand Prix ended in a heap of smoke for the second successive season.

Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, this season will be remembered as a classic. We can only hope that the fight for the title is fair and results in the right champion.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

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