There was bound to be a lot of emotion in Sao Paulo as the Formula 1 circus attended the penultimate race of the season on the historic Interlagos track. Local crowds flocked to the grandstands to cheer on their compatriot, hoping against odds the win would go to a Brazilian driver; and all others tuned in to judge by themselves which of the Mercedes drivers would have the edge for the final race of the season. Brazil did not disappoint.
Following a lost battle in the US Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg impressed throughout the GP weekend in Sao Paulo by consistently delivering the fastest times in practice and qualifying sessions, to eventually claim the pole position – but, as he himself admitted, that could have been rendered irrelevant on the race day, as it had been just week earlier in Austin. But the German’s confidence was visibly boosted in the approach to Sunday and once the lights were out he did everything he could to retain his lead over the Interlagos pack – and this time he succeeded, but only after 71 laps of intense pressure from behind.
Potential reliability issues or freak accident aside, Lewis Hamilton had little worries of losing the 2014 title that particular weekend, holding a 24-point advantage over his team-mate ahead of the start of the race; regardless, the Brit was in it to win it, looking forward to add to his career firsts by finally scooping the Brazilian trophy. His attack on Rosberg was relentless, and has brought him split seconds up close to his team-mate on several occasions that afternoon, but he never managed to make it stick. Firstly, he missed out by an inch on the first pitstop, emerging just behind his team-mate; but the biggest blow to a potential win was the approach to his second pitstop.
As Rosberg made his way into the garage for a new set of medium tyres, Hamilton was on his fastest laps of the race; but instead of following in his team-mate’s footsteps a lap later, the Brit stayed out on track, following his team’s encouragement. But the push eventually cost him dearly, as he lost control over his car and spun on Descida do Lago turn on lap 28, losing precious 6 seconds of his time and, as he claimed after the race, effectively the Brazilian victory.
“Generally, when I’m told to push it means the team is bringing me in that lap so that’s what I did,” the Brit explained.
“In the end, they left me out for another lap which caught me by surprise. By the time I came round to do the second lap my rear tyres were gone from where I’d been pushing so hard.
“Even so, it was my mistake locking up the rears and ultimately that cost me the win.”
Eventually, the Brit finished 1.4 seconds behind Rosberg, who relished finally being the winner in a fair duel.
“That was a fantastic weekend and I felt very comfortable over the whole three days,” he said.
“I had to learn from Austin, which was a big disappointment, and I think I achieved that.
“The Brazilian people have been so great to us throughout this the whole weekend so it was also a good day for them. Now we have a great finale to look forward to in Abu Dhabi.”
But with everyone well aware the final race of the season would focus on these two, the crowd’s full attention was turned to the third step of the podium, where Felipe Massa stood. The result was a fantastic achievement for the Brazilian who had a season peppered with bad luck – also in his home race.
It wasn’t an easy start to the race for the Williams driver, despite his 3. qualifying position; his troubles started at the end of his early first pitstop, when he was handed a penalty by the stewards for speeding in the pit lane. This meant he would lose valuable five seconds during his second stop on a short track where time was of essence. And if that wasn’t enough, on the approach to his third pitstop he confused the McLaren garage for his own, making an unexpected visit to his rival’s before reaching his own engineers. Despite all this, he still edged out his team-mate, to claim his second podium of the season – and probably the most important one.
Neither did Valteri Bottas have an easy afternoon, experiencing a painful delay in the pits due to an issue with his belt, which contributed to his demotion from 4. place start to 10. place finish. One unlikely benefactor of this misfortune was Jenson Button, who got back on his feet after a difficult race in Austin, finishing eight places higher than a week earlier, in 4.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t hang on to Felipe, but it was still a fantastic race. I really enjoyed it,” Button said.
The result, together with his team-mate Kevin Magnussen’s 9. place finish confirming the Brit’s advantage over the Dane in terms of points scored this year, would be a positive boost to Button’s confidence as his future in racing is yet to be announced. The confirmation of McLaren drivers for 2015 is due sometime ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Fernando Alonso meant to be named as one of them, as part of an alleged “biggest deal in Formula 1’s history”.
The Spaniard did neither impress nor disappoint in Brazil, delivering his all-too-regular 6. place finish; but Sao Paulo saw a revival of a racing spark in his current team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who fought a few mesmerising battles despite experiencing his own set of woes. His charge for points was hindered in his own garage when the jackman lost the hold of his car, adding unnecessary time to the tyre change. The Finn tried to recuperate the loss with a two-stop strategy and managed it as the only player on the track, but only to finish just behind his team-mate.
Romain Grosjean was the other driver attempting a two-stopper after a very long first stint, but his afternoon was cut short when he was ordered to stop his car on track on lap 63 due to a problem with his power unit, which left his car in a cloud of smoke.
Albeit still classified, he joined the only other race retiree, Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie, who had proved his worth with an excellent campaign throughout the year, had to call it a day when discovering a break issue on lap 40, resulting from a suspension failure.
“It had been a bit of a boring race, we were close to everyone but not close enough to have many fights; I would have liked to have had a bit more fun, but it didn’t really happen,” Ricciardo said after his early finish.
“It’s a shame, but I had a pretty good run until now, so I can’t be too greedy.
“It would be good to finish on the podium at the final race of the season,” he added.
Overall, the Brazilian GP was a race full of positive energy, driven primarily by race-loving crowds who celebrated their hero’s, which was as close to a win as it could get. But as the circus flies over to Abu Dhabi for the last event in 2014, with 50 points up for grabs for the race winner and 17 points splitting the title contenders, the F1 tension becomes tangible.
The World prepares for the Silver Arrow showdown.