Issue 40: Brazilian Grand Prix Review

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18 November 2014

Race Summary: Nico Rosberg won from pole position hotly pursued by Lewis Hamilton. The Williams of Felipe Massa came home to an emotional third place on home soil, albeit over half a minute behind the Mercedes. Jenson Button finished fourth a few seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel who in turn took the flag ahead of the two Ferraris in sixth and seventh places.

In the heat of Interlagos…

There were two surprises at the Brazilian Grand Prix. The first was that it didn’t rain despite dire (and near certain) forecasts for rain on all three days of the race weekend. The second surprise was that Nico Rosberg (finally) managed to convert pole position into a win. The German had seized pole by 0.03 seconds from Hamilton in qualifying, his 10th of the season. Yet, this was only the third time Rosberg had converted pole into a win. In truth, however, Rosberg was ‘on it’ all weekend; he was slightly faster than Hamilton in every session, with the possible exception of the race. Hamilton was certainly faster in certain parts of the Grand Prix, for instance, setting quicker laps than Rosberg every lap between Laps 31-48, bar one. However, that was after the Briton had spun while pushing immediately prior to his second stop of the race. I thought that at the time, this spin had cost Hamilton victory. After all, he had set a fastest lap of the race on Lap 27 and crucially had almost secured sufficient time to pit and re-join ahead of the German. Although he set a quick first sector time on the next lap, there was no guarantee that his tyres would have performed for the whole of Lap 28. The Pirellis were wilting in the heat with track temperatures of 50+ degrees, which caused severe tyre blistering for all runners. In any case, his spin at Turn 4 on Lap 28 put paid to any chance of jumping ahead of Rosberg in the pits.

Hamilton spent those quick laps between his second and third stops closing incrementally on Rosberg. The gap was down from around seven seconds to about two seconds. That setup a climatic final phase of the Grand Prix with Hamilton harrying Rosberg till the end, never more than a second behind the leader. Rosberg had him covered though, being generally faster in Sector 2 of the lap. This prevented Hamilton getting a run on him into Turn 1 and the Briton made no attempt to overtake.

Rosberg’s victory was undoubtedly a fillip for him. He put one over his championship rival for one thing. Nevertheless, in reality Rosberg’s victory meant little in the context of the championship. Rosberg finishing second or even retiring would have meant little too. In short, the title could still be Rosberg’s (or Hamilton’s for that matter) in Abu Dhabi whatever happened in Interlagos. As a result, I felt that the Brazilian Grand Prix was somewhat of a non-entity. A warm-up, at best, for the final decider.

The other race at Interlagos

In recent races, I have been guilty of focusing almost entirely on the private battle between the Mercedes pair at the front of the field. So gripping has the action been that it’s all too easy to forget about Williams, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and the rest. Yet, in Interlagos, the ‘also-rans’ gave us a good scrap too.

The dry race meant that the superior power of the Williams in particular (and McLaren in Button’s hands at least) told over the grip and downforce of the Red Bull. That said, I thought Williams had blown what looked to be an easy third and fourth place finishes after Massa was done for speeding in the pitlane and somewhat bizarrely, Bottas’ seatbelts came loose mid-race, which did cost him a high finishing position. My pre-race expectation (which was for a wet race) was that Williams would struggle in the wet due to comparatively less downforce and that Red Bull would be able to gain from that to compete for a podium. I think it’s fair to say that Red Bull missed the rain more than most.

Button, on the other hand, underlined his driving credentials, making better use of his car’s potential around Interlagos than his team-mate. Magnussen ultimately finished in ninth place largely as a result of sustaining higher tyre degradation than Button.

As for Ferrari, Alonso and Raikkonen gave us a rare intra-Ferrari fight late on as the three-stopping Alonso encountered the two-stopping Raikkonen. Alonso spent six laps attempting to find a way past his team-mate without assistance from the team, a new experience for him, but Raikkonen was running out of tyre grip so the Finn was always fighting a losing battle. Even without losing an additional five seconds in the pits at his second stop, Raikkonen would still have finished behind Alonso.

@TheWheelspinner

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