Sebastian Vettel had Ferrari back on top, but a pair of robust recovery drives from Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo stole the show in Sao Paulo.
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Lewis Hamilton: qualified 20th, finished 4th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 1st, finished 2nd.
There was one Mercedes driver who had a standout performance in Brazil, and it wasn’t the one who started on pole and finished in second place. Bottas had a golden opportunity to use the fastest car in the field to claim a much-needed first win since Austria back in round nine; since, he’s been roundly thrashed by Hamilton in the sister Silver Arrow as the Briton careered towards a fourth world title. With the Finn on pole and Hamilton starting from the pit lane after crashing out of qualifying, Brazil was there for the taking – instead, it was Bottas who was taken, the Finn elbowed into second place at the first corner by Vettel and never really staking a claim for the lead later on, despite Mercedes getting aggressive with its pit-stop strategy and bringing him in for new tyres on lap 27 to put the frighteners up Ferrari. It didn’t work, and he finished 2.7 seconds from the win – and just 2.7secs ahead of Hamilton in fourth after the Briton narrowly missed out on becoming the third driver ever to start from the pits and end up on the podium. Hamilton came to Brazil vowing not to back off after winning the title last time out in Brazil, and showed how hard he was prepared to push when he overdid it in qualifying, burying his car in the Turn 6 fence and causing a red flag. An early safety car that bunched up the field helped his cause, but Hamilton was inside the top 10 after nine laps and looked set to catch Raikkonen for third, but a lock-up at the first corner inside the last five laps brought his stirring charge to an end. While a pole, a podium and Hamilton being voted Driver of the Day were good, what wasn’t was the news some Mercedes staffers had been robbed at gunpoint leaving the circuit on Friday night after practice, one of a number of similar incidents over the weekend that saw an increased security presence at surely the most dangerous location F1 continues to insist on visiting.
Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, finished 6th. Max Verstappen: qualified 4th, finished 5th.
The high altitude of Sao Paulo and Red Bull’s fragile Renault engine supply always loomed as a bad combination, and for Ricciardo, who retired from the previous two races in Austin and Mexico City with powerplant problems, Interlagos was a triple-whammy, more engine component changes making for a 10-place grid penalty. The chances of the Australian arresting his wretched record in Brazil – he’d competed in more races (six) than scored points (five) at Interlagos before Sunday – looked like a lost cause when was spun at Turn 3 by Vandoorne, whose McLaren had been tagged by the Haas of Magnussen at the previous turn, on the first lap. No matter; Ricciardo returned to the pits, had new tyres fitted, and then spent the afternoon tearing back through the field, his late-braking passes of one rival after another into the tricky downhill Turn 1 a highlight. Hamilton’s drive from the back in a better car gained more plaudits, but Ricciardo’s effort was sublime. Verstappen, who came in after winning two of the previous four races in Malaysia and Mexico, had a more statistically successful afternoon than his teammate, but spent much of the race frustrated at the power provided by his engine, and asked for a late-race pit stop to replace tyres that he said “felt like rocks”. With nothing to lose from fifth place, the team agreed to his request, and the Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on lap 64 of 71. Fifth was as good as it was going to get – and sixth will be the best he can do in the drivers’ standings with just the race in Abu Dhabi to come.
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 1st. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 3rd, finished 3rd.
After losing the title to Hamilton in Mexico last time out, Vettel responded in the best way possible with just his second win in the past 13 races, a remarkable stat considering he led the title chase for the opening 12 rounds of the year. The German said he “chickened out” of his qualifying lap on Saturday, when Bottas edged him by 0.038secs for pole, but got his courage up on Sunday off the start, muscling past the Mercedes at the first corner and looking seemingly untroubled from there. It was Vettel’s fifth win and 12th podium of the year, and one that all-but assured him of finishing runner-up in the world championship – he leads Bottas by 22 points with a maximum of 25 available in Abu Dhabi. Raikkonen never looked like challenging his teammate in qualifying or the race, but took a third successive podium finish for the first time in his second stint at Ferrari, and for the first time since China-Bahrain-Spain in 2013, when he was at Lotus. Fourth in the drivers’ championship remains up for grabs, provided he can score seven more points than Ricciardo in Abu Dhabi.
Sergio Perez: qualified 6th, finished 9th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 11th, did not finish.
With fourth in the constructors’ championship sewn up, would Force India allow its drivers to race one another again in Brazil, and risk revisiting the acrimony between Perez and Ocon that marred the first half of the season? Sadly (for our entertainment, not the team’s) we never got to find out, as Ocon was pitched into a spin by Grosjean on the first lap and crashed, ending his perfect F1 finishing record; the young Frenchman had completed all 27 races he’d started before Interlagos. Ocon was unhappy with qualifying outside of the top 10 after he’d been a third-row fixture in recent races, and the dangers of being back in the pack in the frantic opening exchanges were painfully obvious. Perez, who didn’t drive in opening practice as the team elected to run Mercedes-backed British junior George Russell, this year’s GP2 champion, in his car, was thrilled to qualify sixth, which became fifth on the grid with Ricciardo’s engine penalty demotion. The Mexican was less happy on Sunday though, finishing at the back of the three-car train behind Massa and Alonso that flashed across the line almost simultaneously, two points a reward for his efforts.
Felipe Massa: qualified 10th, finished 7th. Lance Stroll: qualified 18th, finished 16th.
Interlagos was Massa’s final home Grand Prix – after it was his final home Grand Prix a year ago before he was retained for 2017 after the team lost Bottas to Mercedes. While he didn’t get the emotional send-off of last year after he shunted the car in the rain and was given an ovation from the passionate Brazilian fans, a seventh-place finish – effectively best of the rest behind the big three teams – was as good as it could have been, and Massa would have especially enjoyed keeping old Ferrari mate Alonso at bay in the closing stages, finishing less than half a second ahead of the McLaren. Massa jumped past teammate Stroll back into the top 10 of the championship after a difficult first visit to Brazil for the Canadian, who had his qualifying preparations ruined when his car needed a gearbox change – and subsequent five-place grid penalty – on Saturday morning. Stroll’s start from near the back was poor, and he had to make a late-race pit stop to change tyres after his left-front delaminated following several lock-ups into the first corner, finishing last of the 16 drivers classified.
Fernando Alonso: qualified 7th, finished 8th. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 13th, did not finish.
Watching Alonso manhandle his McLaren into positions it has no realistic business being in – onto the fourth row of the grid in qualifying and competing for decent points in the race – has become a Sunday staple, and the Spaniard’s Saturday lap in Q3 was raw aggression and sublime skill at its finest. The lack of long straights at Interlagos didn’t punish McLaren’s cruel lack of straight-line speed, and the car looked mighty in the twisty middle sector, where the driver can make a sweet-handling chassis sing. Four points for eighth was Alonso’s second-best result of the year, which was encouraging on one hand, but a reminder of his past glories on another; the two-time world champion has been on the Brazil podium eight times without ever seeing the view from its top step. On the other side of the garage, Vandoorne’s race was over almost before it started, the Belgian squeezed into contact with Ricciardo’s Red Bull by Magnussen and making the long journey back to the pits on foot.
Pierre Gasly: qualified 17th, finished 12th. Brendon Hartley: qualified 15th, did not finish.
No points, but plenty of drama for Red Bull’s ‘B’ team in Brazil. Toro Rosso took engine penalties in Brazil for the fourth race in a row as their relationship with Renault splutters to a conclusion before a move to Honda next season – and then things got really interesting. Renault intimated that the installation of the engine could be to blame – “there are never coincidences in this sport,” said Renault head Cyril Abiteboul – which Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost strongly refuted. The team then issued a statement prior to qualifying, suggesting that Renault’s constructors’ championship fight with Toro Rosso might have something to do with the recent unreliability of the engines it provides to the team … In the race, Hartley stopped just after half-distance with yet another reliability gremlin, while Gasly, who said he found the repeated engine penalties “hard to accept” as he negotiates the early days of his F1 career, was a lapped 12th after starting from the back. The good news? The lack of points didn’t hurt the team too much in the constructors’ championship, Toro Rosso taking a four-point lead over Renault (and six over Haas) into the final race in the UAE.
Romain Grosjean: qualified 12th, finished 15th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, did not finish.
Grosjean wasn’t happy to be in an incident with Ocon on lap one, and his mood didn’t improve when he was penalised – harshly, it appeared – 10 seconds at his first pit stop for being deemed to have caused the collision with his compatriot. “You must be kidding me,” he groaned. Stroll’s late puncture and subsequent pit stop spared Grosjean from finishing dead-last. Magnussen didn’t come close to getting that far after being the trigger for the first-lap accident with Vandoorne and Ricciardo. “I broke my front suspension, so it wasn’t the best,” he said afterwards.
Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 8th, finished 10th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 9th, finished 11th.
One point for finishing 10th usually isn’t much to get animated about, but for Hulkenberg, it was a welcome relief after the German hadn’t finished the past four races, and was driving with one hand behind his back to a degree, with Renault managing engine power delivery modes to combat Sau Paulo’s high altitude and its own unreliability. The margin between Hulkenberg and Sainz was miniscule all weekend, suggesting the car was being driven to its potential, but whether that potential can translate into points to vault past Toro Rosso in the team’s race despite having a much more experienced and successful duo of drivers remains to be seen.
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 13th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 16th, finished 14th.
Ericsson made a strong start and benefitted from the early chaos behind him to nibble at the edges of the points for quite some time, but faded to 13th as his search for that elusive first world championship point continues with just one race left this season. Wehrlein, who was given a new suspension and aerodynamic update to his car for the race to combat the handling problems that had plagued him in recent outings, ran ahead of his teammate for some time, but admitted to “really struggling” as he dropped to 14th by the flag.