The podium ceremony of the legendary Brazilian Grand Prix was a somewhat subdued affair, following the tragic events in Paris a few days earlier. But, in fact, bar a few parties sealing the deal on their individual successes, there was little of on-track action to celebrate anyway.
Although one of the well awaited races of the season, this year Interlagos delivered little excitement, partly due to the reduced speeds after some of the kerbs on track had been lifted, forcing the drivers to take caution. In Saturday qualifying it was Mercedes at the front again – and again Nico Rosberg was the quicker of the two drivers to snatch his fifth consecutive pole.
Both McLaren drivers also made an appearance on the post-qualifying podium, but only to show their faces to their loving crowds. In fact, neither of them made it out of Q1, with Jenson Button clocking the 17th fastest time, while Fernando Alonso was set to start from the back not only due to a retirement in the session, but also suffering a grind penalty for installing a new engine – his 12th this season. It is fair to say that the Spaniard’s sun lounging was one of the most entertaining parts of the weekend, taking the internet by storm.
On race day there weren’t even many retirements or safety cars to spice up the action; the only causality of the afternoon was Carlos Sainz, who finished his race on the first lap having suffered from power outages on his engine since earlier that day. After that, the afternoon continued in an orderly fashion, allowing Rosberg to cruise to his second consecutive victory, and his fifth of the season.
His team-mate, and newly crowned champion, Lewis Hamilton pursued the elusive victory in Brazil, at times staying right on Rosberg’s tail, and even looking likely to snatch the position from the German following the first pitstop out of the team’s three that afternoon. Eventually, he dropped off with extensive tyre wear; failing to overtake on a track which made it “impossible to follow”, the Brit sought to be given a free hand as to his on-track strategy, but the team remained strict on that front.
“If the driver in the car starts to determine strategy then he is going to lose every single race because that is not an instinct-driven decision,” Mercedes’ motorsport boss Toto Wolff told Autosport.
“Your instinct might be right sometimes, but if you don’t have the full set of data then you are going to get the majority of the races wrong. We will keep it like this.”
Following Hamilton in the far distance was Sebastian Vettel, later joined across the line by his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, painting the familiar 2015 picture where Ferrari, albeit good enough at times to win a race, were still well off the Mercedes’ mark for title victory.
Complementing this picture was the familiar front-row face, Valtteri Bottas, who sealed Williams’ third place in the constructors’ championship with his 5. place finish. In the meantime, his team-mate Felipe Massa has suffered a powerful blow on his home turf after the race, when he got disqualified from the results for not breaching sporting regulations. The stewards had found that the Brazilian’s right-rear tyre did not comply with the maximum permitted temperature ahead of the start of the race; the team had appealed the decision, which had promoted Lotus’s Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, and Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen into eighth, tenth and ninth respectively – all of which had their share of the spotlight that afternoon.
Sadly, it wasn’t a positive attention for either of the Lotus drivers; despite his positive comments post-race, Grosjean was visibly moved by the weekend events in his home country, and the respects paid to the victims by the F1 community. Maldonado, in turn, did his usual thing, which was to collide with another object on the track – this time it was the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson, at the mid-point of the race. They were both able to continue, and Maldonado finished five places ahead of the Swede despite a five-second penalty.
To the contrary, the attention given to Verstappen was well and truly deserved, marking him – additionally to what we had seen before – a champion in the making. Copying his own impressive manoeuvres at other circuits this season, he made a move on lap 32 on Sergio Perez’s Force India in the least expected – and most notable – place on the track, the Senna ‘S’, and made it stick. This was the young Dutchman’s sixth successive points-scoring finish – a record run for a Toro Rosso driver.
That was pretty much all the action at the race that sealed Nico Rosberg’s second place in the title standings – for the second time in a row. The German believes he’s regained his winning attitude, and is hopeful another win in the last race of the season – in Abu Dhabi, in just under two weeks’ time – would give him the upper hand for 2016.
And yet, we have all seen how many changes the winter break can bring into F1 – many of which for the worse.