Formula 1 arrived in Sao Paulo last weekend to deliver the Brazilian leg and penultimate instalment in what has been an enjoyable and highly-watchable 2017 season.
Despite the fact that both major prizes for the season have been wrapped up by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton respectively, there was no sign of any of the drivers taking it easy or thinking ahead to their end-of-year holidays. A gripping race was the result, with Sebastian Vettel claiming the winner’s trophy. The Brazilian Grand Prix doesn’t usually disappoint, and once again, there were several things to learn from F1’s visit to Interlagos…
Take note, all concerned
The final outcome of the 2017 season may be sealed and settled by now, but there was no quarter given anywhere during the weekend, with frontrunner and backmarker alike fighting for every inch. To make matters even more intriguing, the gap between the two main protagonists of 2017, Mercedes and Ferrari, proved to be slim, and pole was settled by a difference of 0.038 seconds. Come race day, the top four finishers were covered by only 5.4 seconds, with the result in doubt right up until the chequered flag. Such tiny margins have seldom been seen in Formula 1 in recent times, with the pecking order usually relatively clear. Much has been made of late of the direction that the FIA and Liberty Media intend to take the sport in over the course of following decade. Those set to make these decisions would do well to take note of the closeness of the competition in Brazil. While Ferrari and Mercedes generally remain a cut above their rivals, if the likes of Red Bull and McLaren can get their ducks in a row for next year, Formula 1 could be set for a season to remember in 2018. An outcome like that is what the sport should seek to deliver on a consistent basis, not merely once or twice per season.
After seeing his hopes of winning the world title go up in smoke last time out in Mexico, Sebastian Vettel produced a Brazilian weekend far more reminiscent of his form in the first half of the season. The Ferrari man missed out on pole by the tiniest of fractions, but his start was straight from the top drawer and he deserved to take the lead on the opening lap.
From there, the German produced a drive reminiscent of his Red Bull glory days, controlling proceedings with a flawless and measured performance. Vettel was never far from the clutches of Valtteri Bottas in P2, but the Ferrari man never really looked like he would be caught by the Finn, and in the end he made it all look quite comfortable as he claimed the 47th victory of his Grand Prix career. Sadly, this upturn in form comes too late for Vettel and Ferrari, but it gives the German a base to build on for next year.
Bittersweet for Bottas
The second half of the 2017 season has been a spell to forget for Valtteri Bottas, as a strong opening half that included two victories fizzled out as the races wore on. In Brazil, the Finn produced his strongest weekend since the summer break, holding his nerve to pip Vettel to pole by the tiniest of margins. Come Sunday, however, Bottas gave away his advantage at the start as Vettel came storming up the inside into turn one.
The Finn kept the German honest, but never really looked like mounting a serious bid to reclaim the lead. However, he crossed the line only 2.7 seconds behind Vettel, and given how small the margin between Mercedes and Ferrari was in Brazil, if Bottas had just managed to hold on to the lead on the opening lap, he could possibly have held it all the way to the flag. On paper, a pole position and a podium make for a fine weekend from Bottas, but given his recent struggles, the Finn would dearly have wanted to deliver the full basket of goods in Brazil.
The drive of a champion
Lewis Hamilton vowed not to cruise to the end of the season after winning the title in Mexico, and in Brazil, the newly-crowned world champion was true to his word. He showed strong pace during practice until an unusual mistake in Qualifying saw him collide with the barriers. Starting from the pit lane, the Mercedes man delivered a storming drive from the back of the field, scything his way up the order at a rate of knots. The Briton was virtually flawless all afternoon, and as the laps ticked by, the gap to the podium places shrunk by the corner. Ultimately, Hamilton wasn’t quite able to get past Kimi Räikkönen for P3, but given where he started, it was an exemplary recovery effort from the four-time world champion.
Massa says goodbye in style
Felipe Massa still has one race to go in his F1 career, but given that this was to be his final Brazilian Grand Prix, there was a real sense of the Williams man saying goodbye to the sport at Interlagos. It’s a circuit that the Brazilian has fond memories of, with two wins and three further podiums over the years. This time around, Massa’s Williams didn’t quite have the performance necessary to fight for the champagne, but the veteran fought tooth-and-nail nonetheless.
A strong start saw him advance from P9 to P6, and from there he spent the whole race bravely fending off the advances of Fernando Alonso. It was only for P7, but it was an effort that signified the gritty nature of a driver that has always been a perennial underdog, a winner, but not quite a champion, well-regarded, but never placed alongside the more illustrious names of his generation. Massa fought bravely in his final home race, as he has always done, and while he will never earn the coveted world championship crown, the Brazilian can look back at his Formula 1 career with pride in the fact that from the first lap to the last, he fought every inch of the way.
The battle for P6 is going down to the wire
The final order in the Constructor’s Championship is just about settled, except for the titanic battle for P6, which is yet to be resolved. Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas are separated by just 6 points, with all three teams determined to claim P6 and the extra financial reward it offers, at the final round in Abu Dhabi. In Brazil, it seemed like Renault had the chance to gain the upper hand in this battle, given that both Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz started in the top ten on Sunday, with their rivals towards the back of the field.
Unfortunately for the French outfit, they weren’t able to take advantage of their strong starting position, with Hülkenberg scoring a single point for P10, while Sainz came home in P11. There were no points scored by Toro Rosso or Haas in Brazil, but given that Renault weren’t able to capitalise, they remain totally in the hunt. It may only be for P6, but it’s a fight that each of the three teams in question will be determined to win.
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