With less than a week’s turnaround from the grand prix in Austin last week, Formula One travelled down south the friendly and ever passionate nation of Brazil and the city of São Paulo for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG) after having won the race in Austin, Texas found himself with a 24 point lead over his championship rival and teammate Nico Rosberg. For Rosberg, a victory was now vital here at the Interlagos circuit in order to keep some realistic hope for the championship.
And Rosberg responded to this call of duty, as he dominated the entire weekend from Friday to Sunday. However it was not all that easy, as Hamilton did take the fight to him during the 71 lap race.
The Interlagos circuit had recently undergone a resurfacing of the track, which meant the new tarmac would provide more grip. Pirelli were forced to revise their initial tyre choices of the hard and medium compounds to the medium and soft sets after there were calls over the safety of having harder tyres.
What that gave the drivers instead was a group of tyres which did not last very long. The medium tyre was the preferred race tyre, but as seen during the race, as many as three stops were taken by the drivers to ensure a competitive strategy.
As mentioned earlier, Rosberg started his weekend long domination from the practice sessions, where he was fastest all the way through. During qualifying, only a margin of 0.033 seconds separated Hamilton from Rosberg who picked up his tenth pole position of the season.
Behind the Silver Arrows typically were the Williams cars led by local hero Felipe Massa. Jenson Button (McLaren) turned things around for qualifying after his team were nowhere during the early stages of the weekend to start fifth on the grid, whilst Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull could only manage a ninth fastest time.
From pole position, Rosberg led Hamilton right through the first two rounds of pit stops. In behind them, Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) out of sixth position suffered a poor start which saw him concede a spot to Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) who started behind him.
Come the time of the first round of stops, it was Massa who started the concertina of the front runners to get their service done. At this time both the Williams’ were competing with Button on track for that third spot on the podium. Unfortunately for Massa, he was found to be speeding in the pit-lane and had to serve a 5 second stop/go penalty during his next stop.
During Massa’s next stop in which he had to serve the penalty, the stop went for longer than usual which meant he lost more time than was expected. However this didn’t mean that Button was able to pass. Meanwhile Valtteri Bottas in the other Williams was having his own pit stop dramas with the team having to readjust his seatbelt during his second stop. Unlike Massa, this was a huge disadvantage to the Finn who dropped back and was put almost out of touch with the top ten.
Massa’s third pit-lane faux pas came when arrived into the McLaren pit box rather than the Williams one. Still this didn’t mean he lost time to exit behind the McLaren of Button.
After the second round of stops, Hamilton started to close in at front to Rosberg. However he was limited in using his ‘hammer time’ for only one lap as the tyres would drop away very quickly. Hamilton also suffered a spin going into Turn 4 which undid the work he had done in that stint. Once both leaders had pitted for a third time, the 2008 world champion had a deficit of 7.4 seconds to chew away at.
Ricciardo on lap 39 had to retire his car for only the second time this after the suspension failed on his Red Bull. This ended a streak of fifteen straight points finishes for the Australian driver in 2014, but despite scoring no points on this occasion he sealed out third position in the drivers’ world championship.
Towards the latter part of the race, Alonso set about dueling with Button as they did in Austin a week earlier. The current McLaren driver had the pace over the two-time world champion on this occasion and that would seal the Briton fourth place in the race behind the Williams of Massa. After the battle with Button, Alonso fell into an intense encounter with his teammate Kimi Räikkönen, which is something no one’s seen all year.
Whilst both drivers were on alternate strategies and Alonso had the younger tyres, the Finn would not yield sixth to his teammate that easily. It was expected (as per tradition) that Ferrari would order Räikkönen to move aside for Alonso to pass, however no such call was made and the Spaniard had to make the move on his own, which he eventually did.
Rosberg cruised home to win his fifth race of the season and described how this makes for the race lost in Austin, in which he also started from pole position. With Hamilton finishing second, it meant that distance between the pair points wise is only 17 now. Massa rounded out the podium places with his third place finish, despite the pit stop calamities throughout the race. The Brazilian in front of his home crowd notched his second podium of the season, with the first coming at Monza earlier on.
Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Magnussen and Bottas rounded out the top ten, whilst Romain Grosjean (Lotus) had to retire from the race due to a power-unit related issue. There were only two retirements from this race, including Ricciardo.
So to conclude then, in terms of the championship; if Rosberg wins the race in Abu Dhabi then Hamilton only needs to finish in second to clinch his second title. The double points being used as a one-off for the season finale will be applied to all the points paying positions, which could still impact a few constructors’ championship battles too.