From the relatively young Circuit of the Americas to an old-school classic within the space of a week, Formula One stopped off in Brazil for the penultimate round of the 2014 World Championship.
Incredible Interlagos has crowned champions in 6 of the last 9 years, but Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg knew that while their enthralling championship fight would not be resolved until Abu Dhabi, this Brazilian Grand Prix could well decide who enters the desert decider with the upper hand.
Neither driver have ever tasted victory in Sao Paulo but the vast superiority of Mercedes’ W05 over everyone else meant that one of them almost certainly would break that duck. Which would it be…if any? Could the sensational straight-line speed of the Williams (driven by one particular crowd-pleaser) intervene? Will Hamilton stay at the summit heading into the finale or will Rosberg make a rapid turnaround?
THE RACE: Rosberg wins after Hamilton spins!
P1 + P2 + P3 + Q1 + Q2 + Q3 = absolute perfection for Rosberg. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking Hamilton’s sublime winning streak would have knocked the stuffing out of him but Rosberg’s response in Brazil has been truly admirable.
However, only Massa (2008) and Vettel (2013) have ever won from pole position since 2000, so it would not have been hard to envisage a similar scenario as we saw in America, where Rosberg could not manage to spearhead the field from start to finish.
He knew he had to win but Hamilton was surely determined to take his first win at the track where he claimed his (for now) only title. Could Rosberg hold off a hard-charging Hamilton this time?
ROSBERG MAINTAINS HIS ADVANTAGE
Rosberg’s start was impeccable and consequently did not even need to defend from Hamilton at turn one. The Williams cars also maintained position on a relatively uneventful opening lap.
Position changes were few and far between but at the circuit where he scored a record-equalling 13th win last season, Vettel was the notable loser on lap one. Possibly mindful of his almost costly collision with Bruno Senna in 2012 at Subida do Lago, the German ran wide at the same corner and allowed both Magnussen and Alonso into 5th and 6th.
All drivers, including Sutil (forced to start from the pit lane), completed the opening lap without incident. That meant focus immediately turned to strategy; the newly-resurfaced tarmac and track temperatures of around 55 degrees Celsius promised very early first pit stops.
Since the bulk of the pack started on the softs, the pit lane was expected to become very busy, very soon. As it turned out, Maldonado’s Lotus made the first move as early as lap four, with Massa’s Williams the first of the front runners in on lap five.
Hamilton made his first stop for mediums on the ninth lap, just after Rosberg, and emerged closely behind his championship rival.
Rosberg had retained his ‘net’ lead but was forced to navigate long-running medium tyre runners in Grosjean, Kvyat and Interlagos specialist Hulkenberg.
The Mercedes drivers successfully regained their familiar 1st and 2nd positions but Hamilton looked to the next round of stops to pounce on his team-mate.
HAMILTON PUSHES TOO HARD
Once again, as demonstrated in most races this season, it appeared that Hamilton was the slightly quicker driver as he nibbled away at Rosberg’s lead. However, the German never looked flustered and shielded the oncoming sister car without too much difficulty by the time he pulled into pit lane on the 26th lap.
Rosberg was in…and it was very much ‘hammer time’! Hamilton put the pedal down and was hungry for P1. His tyres, like most other drivers, had shown blistering but on (what he initially thought was) his in lap, he was showing blistering pace.
His pace was so impressive that he may have inadvertently persuaded the team into leaving him out for another lap to increase his chances of overhauling Rosberg. A purple lap, fastest of anybody at that moment in time, appeared to have justified staying out.
But then came the moment where he looked to have thrown the win away. Subida do Lago: the corner that signalled the beginning of the end of his title ambitions in 2007, the corner where he pulled off with a faulty gearbox in 2011, the corner where he collided with Bottas in 2013, was the corner where he made a shock mistake.
He admitted after the race that turn four was his nemesis and it proved deadly for him once again as he locked his rears and slid off into the run-off area. The Briton managed to re-join without damage but lost around 7 seconds: seconds that would hand Rosberg the lead on a plate.
EVENTFUL HOME GP FOR MASSA
Massa can still boast the impressive feat of being the only driver to have prevented a Mercedes pole position in 2014. That was at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, quite a similar style of circuit to that of Interlagos (one that primarily rewards straight-line speed), so he and his Williams team could have been forgiven for being optimistic.
He always seems to come alive in Brazil, having taken 4 podium finishes in his past 7 home Grands Prix with 2 race wins (and a world title for 30-odd seconds). In a competitive Williams chassis with fantastic straight-line speed, a podium was firmly in his sights.
He maintained the 3rd position he earned in qualifying but seemed to do his best to mess up prospects of 5th podium in 8.
The Brazilian received a 5-second time penalty for his next stop for exceeding the pit lane speed limit before hilariously pulling into the McLaren pits by mistake in a later pit-stop. He mistook the silver of the McLaren mechanics for the white of the Williams guys, an error we have seen a few times recently, with Button in China 2011 and Hamilton in Malaysia 2013 committing similar sins.
Amazingly, despite those howlers, Massa was still safe in 3rd position. This was because the other Williams car was also having a shocker in the pit lane. Bottas’s first stop was delayed massively due to an issue with his seat belts while he was delayed again at his next stop. A trip through the run-off area to allow Hulkenberg and Raikkonen past topped off a rare miserable day at the office for the Finn.
BATTLE OF THE CHAMPIONS
It was not a race abundant in action for many, but it sure was for Ferrari. In-coming Ferrari driver Vettel, out-going Ferrari driver Alonso and almost certainly next year’s other Ferrari driver Raikkonen (7 world championships between them) provided some breath-taking race-craft.
Vettel performed possibly overtake of the day with a superb move around the outside of Raikkonen at turn six and eventually pulled away in pursuit of 4th placed Button.
When the Ferrari drivers were alone, Alonso sought to pass his two-stopping team-mate for what would end up as 6th place. The 2007 champion, off-colour for the vast majority of 2014, seemed pretty racy in Brazil, having had a thrilling wheel-to-wheel dice with Button earlier on.
The Iceman was not prepared to make life easy for former title foe Alonso despite racing in the same colours. It was merely delaying the inevitable though as Alonso would eventually sail past on the main straight with the benefit of much fresher tyres.
ROSBERG WEATHERS HAMILTON’S STORM
The battle of the Ferraris may have settled but the battle of the Mercedes drivers was unrelenting in the closing stages.
Some have criticised Rosberg for being seemingly unable to win wheel-to-wheel battles with Hamilton but the German certainly came out of this one on top.
Rosberg crossed the line 1.4 seconds ahead of his title rival to claim a much-needed win. He ended Hamilton’s superb streak of victories and surely regained a vital psychological boost heading into the finale in Abu Dhabi.
Massa generated a ginormous collective cheer amongst the Brazilian faithful with what has to be said was a far from flawless 3rd place, but popular nonetheless.
He was 7 and a half seconds clear of Button’s McLaren (the Briton finishing in the top 5 of every Brazilian Grand Prix since his title-winning 5th place at Interlagos in 2009).
Vettel was less than 3 seconds behind the McLaren in 5th ahead of Ferrari duo Alonso and Raikkonen. The latter was in severe danger of giving up his 7th place to a rapid Hulkenberg but just held on by a couple of tenths. Magnussen was the last car on the lead lap in 9th while the highly unfortunate Bottas picked up the last championship point in 10th.
Kvyat, Maldonado, Vergne, Gutierrez, Perez and Sutil occupied positions 11 through 16 while Grosjean’s run of miserable luck in Brazil continued as a power unit problem ended his race 8 laps before the flag.
The only other retirement was the Red Bull of Ricciardo; the Australian suffered a rare non-finish after a left-front suspension failure just after the half-distance mark. Fortunately for him, his position of 3rd (or ‘best of the rest’) in the Drivers’ Championship was secured despite his failure to score points.
ADVANTAGE HAMILTON FOR ABU DOUBLE
18 down…1 to go! A highly intriguing season is nearing its end with the ‘intriguing’ double points rule a potential spanner in the works for championship leader Hamilton.
He may have failed to beat Rosberg in any of the 7 sessions in Brazil from P1 to the race itself, but there is no doubt whatsoever that it is very much advantage Hamilton heading into the season finale.
Rosberg’s win cut his deficit to the Briton to 17 points, meaning a 2nd place for Hamilton will be enough for his second Drivers’ Championship regardless of the German’s position.
Under normal circumstances, 6th would be enough for the Brit, but double points means that anything less than the top 2 would hand Rosberg a glorious opportunity to seal his first ever championship. However, given Mercedes’ dominance this season, both should be 1 and 2 (not regarding reliability issues of course).
It has been a gripping rivalry between two outstanding competitors. Hamilton or Rosberg? Who will be the 2014 World Champion? Abu Dhabi will decide in a fortnights time.
One final important point I wish to make is a massive thank you and maximum respect to all our heroes who gave their lives for our country in the Great War.
Armistice Day was particularly poignant this year, 100 years on since the outbreak of World War One, and I would like to end this post with wholehearted appreciation of their bravery and courage as they fought in a truly devastating conflict and risked their lives for our nation.
Lest we forget