Rosberg returns to winning ways in Brazil

After a run of five consecutive victories for his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, it was vital for Nico Rosberg to reassert himself in Brazil. To be fair to the German driver, that’s exactly what he did. Rosberg topped every single practice session at Interlagos and all three parts of qualifying including, most importantly, Q3 to put himself on pole position – his tenth of the season.

The biggest test, of course, would be the race itself. After Hamilton so expertly caught and overtook Rosberg last time out in Austin, Rosberg must have been fearful that the same might happen in Brazil, despite his dominance. In the end, though, Rosberg did enough on race day to secure his fifth victory of the season and reduce the deficit to his team-mate in the drivers’ standings to 17 points heading into the final round of the season – the double points race in Abu Dhabi.

However, although Rosberg took the victory, it was down, in large measure, to a mistake from Hamilton. The 2008 world drivers’ champion seemed to have the edge in race pace and would have overtaken Rosberg at the second round of pit stops but for a spin on lap 28, which cost the Englishman seven crucial seconds.

Hamilton was around a second behind Rosberg when the latter pitted on lap 26. It’s normal that the driver that pits first will have the advantage of fresh rubber to increase their advantage over the pursuing car, but that certainly wasn’t the case in this instance. Released from the turbulent wake of his team-mate, Hamilton immediately put in a stunning lap, which would have been enough for him to leapfrog his team-mate.

This spin for Hamilton proved crucial in deciding the outcome of the race

This spin for Hamilton decided the outcome of the race

Crucially, though, instead of diving into the pits at the end of lap 27, Hamilton continued for another lap, seeking to take even more of an advantage. That proved to be his undoing. As it turned out, the tyres were simply not able to cope with two consecutive laps of the same speed and intensity, and Hamilton spun at the end of the second DRS zone.

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Instead of a narrow advantage over Rosberg, Hamilton emerged from the pits on lap 29 some seven seconds behind his title rival. The points leader drove brilliantly to relentlessly close that gap down over the remainder of the race, closing to within DRS range of his team-mate by lap 53, after the final pit stops. However, Rosberg managed to do just enough to hold Hamilton at bay. Hamilton never quite got close enough to attempt a pass thanks to Rosberg continuously having a small advantage over his team-mate in the middle sector of the lap.

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battlesbehind the Mercedes duo

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battles behind the Mercedes duo

Although, we didn’t see any over taking action up front, there was plenty further down the field. We saw some great battles involving the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button’s McLaren and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. We also saw Felipe Massa take a memorable podium at his Home race for Williams, despite a five second penalty, and nearly stopping in the McLaren pit box.

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

The Brazilian was clearly delighted on the podium, but despite the promise that they showed in qualifying, the Williams were never able to compete with the all-conquering Silver Arrows when it came to the race. The 2014 world constructors’ champions were, yet again, in a class of their own in Brazil. It’s only fitting that the battle for the world drivers’ championship comes down to the last race, in a straight shoot out between the Mercedes team-mates.

It would, though, be incredibly sad if Rosberg were to overturn Hamilton’s 17 point advantage thanks to double points in the final race of the season. In any other season a sixth place finish would be enough for Hamilton to secure the drivers’ crown, even if his team-mate were to win the race. Double points, though, means that the Englishman must finish second to take the title if his team-mate wins the race.

Such is Mercedes pace advantage over the rest of the field that a 1-2 finish would look to be odds on in Abu Dhabi, though, so surely Hamilton doesn’t have too much to worry about, right? Wrong. All drivers are using power units that are right at the end of their working life, which means that reliability could play a crucial role in Abu Dhabi.

Still, though, the championship, reliability aside, is in Hamilton’s hands. Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, I hope it’s a fair fight. May the best man win.

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Vettel crowned champion amid chaos in Brazil

When all was said and done at the end of the race in Brazil it was Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel who was crowned the youngest triple world drivers’ champion in Formula 1 history after a chaotic and action packed race. Vettel wasn’t the only winner in Interlagos, though. It’s easy to forget that it was Jenson Button who won the race, but that was almost immaterial as Ferrari beat McLaren to second in the world constructors’ championship, with Caterham finishing ahead of Marussia in the constructors’ championship battle between the ‘new’ teams.

Sebatian Vettel, Red Bull RB8
Bahrain, 22 April 2012
By Ryan Bayona, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s start with Vettel and Fernando Alonso and the battle for the glory of becoming the youngest triple world champion in the history of the sport. After qualifying on Saturday, Vettel was in the better position of the two going into the race. On top of this 13 point championship lead, he had out-qualified the Ferrari driver yet again. It certainly wasn’t a classic qualifying performance from Vettel, but he would have been quietly satisfied that he was fourth on the grid, compared to just seventh (following a 10 place grid penalty for Pastor Maldonado) for his Spanish rival.

Vettel’s starting advantage didn’t even last a lap, though. As we’ve seen so often this season, Alonso got off the line brilliantly and was ahead of Vettel once the cars emerged from turn one. Things went from bad to worse for Vettel, as he fell back into the midfield and then collided with Bruno Senna at the end of the back straight. The Williams was out of the race and it looked for all the world that Vettel would be too, as he rolled backwards while the rest of the field streamed past him.

Vettel was able to continue, though, despite some damage to the rear of the Red Bull. On lap two Alonso was third, while Vettel was 22nd, with lots of work to do to save his championship. The German proved himself up to the task. Despite a clearly damaged car he was soon carving his way through the field and into the points. By lap 9, Vettel was up to seventh while Alonso had slipped out of the podium positions to fourth. Amazingly, Vettel was back in control of the championship.

Despite the chaos of changeable weather and two safety car periods, Vettel remained in control of his own destiny throughout the rest of the race. Despite the damage to his car, he was able to lap consistently and competitively, and despite some nervousness his Renault alternator didn’t fail him at Interlagos. That’s not to say that Alonso was giving up, though. By the end of the race the 2005 and 2006 world drivers’ champion had negotiated his way into second place, albeit aided by his team-mate Felipe Massa, who eased off the throttle down the back straight to let Alonso through on lap 62.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012
Sepang, Malaysia, 24 March 2012
By Morio, via Wikimedia Commons

Alonso’s cause was also aided by the lap 54 collision between then leader Lewis Hamilton and second placed driver Nico Hulkenberg. The Force India driver had driven brilliantly to lead the race, before almost spinning on lap 49 to let McLaren’s Hamilton, in his last race with the Woking based team, through into the lead. Hamilton led Hulkenberg for five laps before the Force India driver attempted to repass the Englishman as the McLaren was held up by traffic. The pass went badly wrong as Hulkenberg spun into Hamilton at turn one. Hulkenberg was able to continue, but received a drive-through penalty for the incident, but Hamilton was out of the race. A sad end to an illustrious career at McLaren for Hamilton and a real shame for Sauber-bound Hulkenberg who was in a position to be able to challenge for a first Formula 1 victory. The young German did, though, go on to finish a creditable fifth.

Although Alonso benefitted, it was never enough to put him in position to take his third world drivers’ championship. It was, though, enough to hand Ferrari second in the world constructors’ championship. With Hamilton leading and Button in third place, there was a very real chance that McLaren would overhaul their Italian rivals in the constructors’ championship. With Hamilton shunted out of the race Button went on to win, but with Alonso and Massa joining him on the podium Ferrari managed to outscore McLaren by eight points in Brazil and claim hand on to second in the constructors’ championship. An amazing achievement considering that the Ferrari F2012 has been far from the best car, while the McLaren MP4-27 has probably been the fastest. Reliability and operational issues have cost McLaren dearly in 2012.

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham CT01
Australia, 16 March 2012
By parepinvr4, via Wikimedia Commons

While Ferrari proved able to hang on to their constructors’ championship position, the same could not be said of Marussia. The Anglo-Russian team were in pole position to claim 10th in the world constructors championship ahead of Caterham thanks to Timo Glock’s 12th place finish in Singapore, but the chaotic final race of the season threw a spanner in the works for them and handed a lifeline to Caterham. Amid the increasingly adverse weather conditions, Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov – likely to be out of a Formula 1 drive next season – passed Marussia’s Charles Pic – ironically on his way to Caterham in 2013 – for 12th place on lap 67. This would have been enough to give Caterham tenth in the constructors’ championship, but things got even better for them as Force India’s Paul di Resta crashed out on the penultimate lap, triggering the safety car and moving Petrov up to 11th.

While Petrov couldn’t quite take that elusive first point for Caterham, one driver that did manage to score points was the retiring Michael Schumacher. The German seven time world drivers’ champion crossed the line in seventh place for Mercedes, scoring six points and ending a barren run of results for the Blackley based team in the process. While such a result would have been a huge disappointment for Schumacher in the first part of his Formula 1 career, it must have brought a smile of satisfaction to his face in the last of his 308 race in the premier class.

The man with the biggest smile on his face at the end of the race was Sebastian Vettel, though. He survived some post-race controversy when TV replays appeared to show him passing under yellow flags and although there was no sixth race victory of the season for the 25-year-old German, I’m sure that he was more than happy with sixth position instead, and with it a third world drivers’ championship.

It’s certainly been a thrilling 2012 season, and a long way from the 2011 cakewalk for Vettel. 2013 has a lot to live up to. Let’s hope it lives up to the challenge.