In a bid to keep the Championship battle alive until the final round in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton did what he needed to and took his first Brazilian Grand Prix. It was a stop-start race as the heavy downpour of rain effected running and threated, at one point, to bring a premature end to the race.
Although the conditions were less than perfect, Hamilton took his first career win at the Sao Paulo circuit with an 11.4 second lead. This brings the points deficit to teammate Nico Rosberg down to 12 points as we head to the final round.
Rosberg never seemed to push more than he needed to in the tricky wet conditions, coming home in second place. To become 2016 World Champion, Rosberg merely needs to finsih on the podium, irrelevant to whether Hamilton wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In a sensational drive that reminded everyone of his talent, Max Verstappen took the final step on the podium. Even those who do not particularly like Verstappen after the incidents of the Mexican Grand Prix could not deny that his drive today was in a class of its own and highly deserving of his third-place finish.
Heavy rain saw the start of the race pushed back ten minutes, but this would be the first of many delays to the racing. Before the grid had even formed, Romain Grosjean took hismelf out of the race. Standing water on the track saw the car snap away from him as he headed to the grid, spinning out into the barrier and destroying the front suspension.
A total of five appearence of the Safety Car happened over the race duration – one being to start the race – and two red flags due to ‘undriveable’ contintions really started shuffling up the race.
After the Safety Car start, that lasted about ten laps, many drivers started making the early switch to the intermediate tyres. It would be those who stayed out on the full wets that would hold the advantage as more rain fell and the track was just not dry enough for the intermediate tyres.
Sebastian Vettel, plus many others, were reminded of this as they touched the white track barrier lines. These were slippery due to the rain and caused a lot of twitches and near spins.
One driver who did not get away with touching the white paint was Marcus Ericsson. The Safety Car was pulled as the remains of the striken Sabuer were removed from the track. But the position of the crashed car was right on the pit entry. For safety reasons, the pit entry was closed, preventing anyone from gaining an advantage in stopping in the safety car period.
Verstappen managed to pit just before the call was made to close the pitlane, but his teammate was not so lucky. Daniel Ricciardo picked up a five-second penalty for pitting after the pit lane was closed.
Boos from the Brazilian crowd could be heard as the Safety Car continued to lead the field. Racing probably got underway for around five seconds before the Safety Car was back out, almost instantly turning into a red flag.
Kimi Raikkonen, who was fourth and running on full wets, hit some standing water on the final conrer and spun down the start/finish straight. It was a scary crash as, due to the safety car, the pack was running very close. Nico Hulkenberg ran directly into the separated front wing of the Ferrari, which subsiquently broke his own. It was even worse for Esteban Ocon who nearly drove straight into the Ferrari. The red car was invisible with the rain spray and restricted visibility until it was almost too late to avoid.
A 35-minute delay followed as the track marshals waited in hope that the weather conditions would improve. The cars were lead out by the Safety Car with many reporting that the conditions were now drivabley. But this was not good enough for Race Director Charlie Whiting. After only 8 laps behind the Safety Car the Red Flag was out once again, with all cars returning to the pits. This was much to the displeasure of the crowd who made their opinon clear by booing. Some even left the grandstands.
27 minutes of stoppage followed but this was the last delay the race would see.
At the restart, Verstappen showed he was on a mission and made an impressive overtake around the outside of Turn 3 for Rosberg’s second place. This put the German at a major disaadvantage because with a third place Hamilton would just have to win Abu Dhabi to take the title back. Rosberg needed to get the position back but there did not seem that there was anything to do to caatch the rapid Verstappen.
The chance was handed to him when Verstappen had a high speed half spin at the final corner that saw him lose a lot of time he had gained on Hamitlon. Verstappen held the spin exceptionally well and managed to not crash his Red Bull. Although Rosberg was under a second behind the Red Bull he still couldn’t close the gap and had to watch Verstappen disappear down the track.
It was a tactical call that ultimately lost Verstappen the chance to potentially battle for the win. Red Bull elected to switch both of their drivers to the intermediate tyres. This dropped Verstappen right down the order and promoted Rosberg back into second, giving him some breathing space to hold to position he needed to keep his Championship bid on track.
More spins from full wet runners showed Red Bull how bad that strategy decision was, and before long they were rueing the desicion.
Felipe Massa has a sad bow out of his final Brazilian Grand Prix as he had a very similar crash to Ericsson, losing his car at the pit entry. Once again the Safety Car came out and once again the pit entry was closed.
It was with tears in his eyes that the Brazilian driver walked back up the pit lane towards his team. A touching tribute from Mercedes and Ferrari saw both team’s mechanics coming out of the garages to applaude Massa as he walked passed. His wife and son dashed out to meet him outside the Williams garage before he was engulfed in his team to mourn the DNF.
Once the pit lane had reopened, Red Bull had to coneite that the intermediate tyres were the wrong choice. Ricciardo pitted first, before Verstappen followed a few laps later. But the Dutchman was on a mission to regain the positions he had lost in the extra pit stop.
With 16 laps left, Verstappen climbed an incredible 13 positions to get himself back on the podium. His driving was outstanding, making the experienced drivers look like rookies as he took unconvetional lines to make unbelievable passes. It was like watching him race on a dry track whilst everyone else was on a wet one. His pace, staggeringly, was around three seconds a lap faster when he clocked in the fastest lap of the race.
It looked like it might be close for the last podium position at the end of the race. Carlos Sainz Jr did well to hold back Vettel for quite a while for fourth, even looking at making some advances on Sergio Perez then in thrid. But as Verstappen came through the young Spaniard seemed to topple a little, losing a few places consecutively. He ended a career matching-best sixth place behind Perez, who ended fourth, and Vettel.
Nico Hulkenberg took seventh after his race turned into more of a recovery drive. He was forced to pit under the Safety Car following Raikkonen’s incident as he picked up a puncture, which dropped him right down the field.
Ricciardo was eighth, unable to replicate his teammate’s driving performance, ahead of ninth-placed Felipe Nasr. The two points Nasr scored this weekend were monumental for Sauber. Firstly, it was their first point-scoring finish of the season. But more importantly it moves Sauber ahead of Manor in the Constructor’s Championship. Manor must score a ninth place in Abu Dhabi to regain tenth place in the Constructor’s Championship.
Esteban Ocon was running well, along with his teammate, using the red flags and safety cars to not have to pit during the green racing laps. However, both fell from the points as those faster cars behind them who had pit started moving up the field.
Fernando Alonso took the final point, getting his Mclaren to tenth place. Only 16 of the 22 racers finished, with Jenson Button taking the wooden spoon after what he described as a horrible race. The Brit struggled throughout the 71 laps to get his tyres working or find grip out on track.
Along with Grosjean, Ericsson, Raikkonen and Massa, Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Guttierez were lost from the race.