He may have lost the war, but victory in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix was a welcome fillip for Sebastian Vettel, as the Ferrari driver finally returned to winning ways.
The German led the points table for the first 12 rounds of 2017, and is having to come to terms with losing a championship that he had previously led – something he’s never previously experienced.
SEBASTIAN VETTEL WINS THE BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2017
His fifth win of 2017 and first since Hungary
Valtteri Bottas crosses the line in second from Kimi Raikkonen in third. pic.twitter.com/1o7nP1885j
A rot that had seen him only win one of the last 12 Grands Prix came to an end at Interlagos, and his third win at the circuit means that only Michael Schumacher (4) has more victories at the Autodromo Jóse Carlos Pace. For Ferrari, it was a first win in the entire Americas – North, Latin or South – since Felipe Massa’s bittersweet victory here in 2008.
Such a victory seemed to be against the odds at the start of the day, as nobody had won from below pole position on this circuit since Jenson Button’s last career victory back in 2012. It gave Vettel a 98th career podium finish, conspicuously moving him ahead of Fernando Alonso and into fourth on the all-time list, trailing only Alain Prost (106), Lewis Hamilton (116) and Schumacher himself (155). Alonso has been stuck on 97 since the 2014 Hungarian GP (more of him later).
Valtteri Bottas finished in the top five for the 14th consecutive race and finally got on the podium in his fifth trip to Interlagos. The Finn’s consistency is laudable but he’s likely to be frustrated not to claim a win after taking a last-gasp pole position on Saturday, edging out Vettel by just 0.038s. It seems Bottas is your man if you like close battles for pole, as he has the two thinnest pole-winning margins of 2017 – he was on pole in Bahrain by just 0.023s!
VALTTERI BOTTAS TAKES POLE POSITION AT INTERLAGOS— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 11, 2017
Ben: "He's done it! Bottas has taken pole position in Brazil. You said it was a pressure point and he’s delivered! Vettel has ended up second.”#BrazilGP #C4F1 pic.twitter.com/E8eZTUlgpb
Mercedes have already bagged both titles for the fourth successive season, but Sunday’s result was a serious blow in their attempts for an unprecedented fourth straight year of drivers finishing 1-2 in the championship. With Bottas losing to Vettel, only a win will do for Bottas in Abu Dhabi – and even then, eighth place would be enough for Vettel to clinch the runner-up position. The last time he finished there was 2009, the year before he reeled off four consecutive titles…
His Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen could celebrate a small victory on Sunday. Not only did he hold off a seemingly irresistible Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages, but his third place was a first podium finish in Brazil since 2008. More importantly, it means Raikkonen has finished on the podium for three consecutive races, remarkably something he hadn’t done in F1 since the 2013 Chinese, Bahrain and Spanish GPs, back in his final year at Lotus.
As for Hamilton, a great fightback drive seemed likely to be rewarded with a podium finish – or perhaps even more – but in the end he had to settle for fourth in the first Grand Prix in world championship history to feature two four-time world champions.
Hamilton went into the race having only scored four podium finishes in his 19 career starts from outside the top ten on the grid, one of which was at Interlagos – he was 3rd from 17th on the grid back in 2009. It was not to be this time, but he did break an obscure F1 record this week. Sunday was his 207th consecutive Grand Prix without missing a start, breaking Nico Rosberg’s record of 206. Nobody has ever been more continuously present on the F1 starting grid week-in week-out than the Briton.
Hamilton was adamant that he could've overtaken Raikkonen if he had a few more laps available and possibly even caught the leaders— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 13, 2017
DC: "You can’t win them all.”#BrazilGP #C4F1 pic.twitter.com/kbjrO5ITAU
While Hamilton won last year’s Brazilian GP, the race was mainly remembered for Max Verstappen’s stunning fight back from a late pitstop to finish third in heavy rain. This weekend was rather more sedate, but fifth for the Dutchman means he remains the top scorer in the last five Grands Prix, with 90 points (8 more than Lewis Hamilton).
Verstappen also smashed Juan-Pablo Montoya’s 13-year-old Interlagos race lap record by 0.429s. Admittedly it was mainly due to a precautionary pitstop right at the end of the race, but even so, Montoya’s lap was set in an era of lighter cars and engines of nearly twice the capacity, in the middle of the tyre war. It was already staggering enough that Bottas’ pole time was so quick that Montoya’s pole position time from the 2002 race would not have got him inside 107% in Q1 this weekend!
It may have seemed as though Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo endured a poor weekend – admittedly not helped by yet more grid penalties. He eventually finished sixth after a day that included a lap 1 spin (and consequent pitstop to change flat-spotted tyres), before coming home 16 seconds behind his teammate.
There's mayhem in the midfield at Turn 3 as Ricciardo spins!— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 12, 2017
Ben: “That’s a dreadful start for Ricciardo!”
However the Red Bull ace gets back going again, albeit at the back #BrazilGP #C4F1 pic.twitter.com/RkhLBtSOGK
Sounds bad, right? Not so. Sunday was Ricciardo’s BEST ever result at Interlagos! This is one of his two big bogey tracks in Formula 1. Of all the tracks on the current F1 calendar, Interlagos and Sochi are the only venues at which he is yet to score a top five finish in his career.
It was an emotional weekend for Felipe Massa, as he bade farewell to a Formula 1 career that has netted him 11 Grand Prix victories and got him to within an ace of becoming Brazil’s fourth world champion. He’d already been through this routine 12 months ago before embarking on an extremely brief “first” retirement.
Given the circumstances, it was good that he came back. Last year he crashed out in the rain, but this year he had one of his strongest weekends of the season, running in the top five early on and eventually finishing seventh – his best result in the last 15 Grands Prix. Alas, it appears 2017 will be the only season of Massa’s career in which he failed to record a top five finish, but it was certainly an improvement on last year’s outcome.
Massa’s impressive day was partly a consequence of passing Fernando Alonso at the first restart. The Spaniard then spent almost the entire rest of the afternoon staring at the back of the Williams without finding a way through. His best middle sector time was over 0.4s quicker than Massa, but even with DRS the McLaren’s woeful top speed held him back. In qualifying he had been as much as 10.2mph down on the top cars with equal DRS use.
Ben: “Not quite the Brazilian flag but nearly.”— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) November 13, 2017
Massa cruises back to the paddock with a green flag in one hand. What a memorable final home race for the Brazilian icon #C4F1 pic.twitter.com/LhoZVncgLG
Despite this deficit, Alonso had starred by lining up sixth on the grid – promoted from seventh by Ricciardo’s penalty – his best F1 start since the 2014 US Grand Prix. The only time he’s started higher in a McLaren Honda was when he was fifth on the grid at the Indianapolis 500.
In the end eighth was perhaps a mild letdown, but it was Alonso’s first time scoring in consecutive races in 2017. For McLaren, it marked the passing of five years without an F1 win, by far their longest-ever winless streak.
McLaren locked out the front row at Interlagos back in 2012 before Jenson Button claimed victory, but since then they don’t have a win, don’t have a front row start, have only finished on the podium in one of the last 97 races and have only led 9 laps. Despite all of that, they have the statistical anomaly of having led the Constructors’ Championship in that time (after Australia 2014).
Speaking of such anomalies, it was noted this weekend that Carlos Sainz, somehow, had more points in the drivers’ championship than BOTH teams for whom he has raced in 2017. The Spaniard started the day on 54 points, while Toro Rosso had 53 and Renault only 48.
It would be a pointless afternoon for Sainz on this occasion, but teammate Nico Hulkenberg claimed the final point, keeping up his 100% point-scoring record in 7 Interlagos starts – albeit his worst-ever result in Brazil.
One place ahead of him was Force India’s Sergio Perez, who claimed a 16th points finish of the year in ninth. The Mexican is now only seven points short of his 2016 total, meaning a top six finish in Abu Dhabi will make this the biggest haul of his career.
Force India have shown what can be done through consistent race finishes, and had already clinched fourth in the Constructors’ Championship for the second consecutive season. Perez has only suffered one retirement all season, while teammate Esteban Ocon started the day with an F1 record 27 consecutive race finishes without ever retiring from a race in his career. He had completed 45 single-seater races since his last DNF, on the first lap of the 2014 Macau F3 race.
That run finally came to an end at Interlagos, when he was bumped into retirement by a spinning Romain Grosjean, as Haas suffered a miserable day on team founder Gene Haas’ 65th birthday.
It was with a certain irony that Ocon’s groundbreaking run of finishes ended with a crash on the first lap, but apparently that’s the way of things. The previous record holder was Max Chilton, who finished the first 25 races of his F1 career before ALSO being eliminated in a first lap shunt!