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.
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.
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.
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.
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.