If you simply looked at the results of the Brazilian Grand Prix it would be easy to think that it was a simple run for Vettel to sixth position and an amazing third world title.
It certainly wasn’t, though, as not only did Alonso drive a typically strong race leaving him second, behind race winner Button, but Vettel was tapped and spun by Bruno Senna on the opening lap. Vettel was left facing the wrong way with the entire field passing on either side of him. He was lucky to escape with only minor damage to the rear of his left sidepod, but the title must have felt very far away after that first lap.
As well as Vettel becoming the youngest triple world champion ever, Button drove a superb race, judging, as he always does, the dry/wet conditions perfectly. He crossed the line first after one of the busiest F1 races of the year.
The forecasted rain on Sunday was Alonso’s big chance to close the point advantage held by Vettel going into the weekend and so he opted for a wet setup on his off-the-pace Ferrari. It didn’t help him in qualifying as although part of the track was damp at the beginning of Q1 it dried out. The McLarens made the most of their superior dry pace and locked out the front row with Hamilton just edging team-mate Button. It was the 62nd front row lock out for the team – a fact that surely didn’t escape Hamilton as he lined up for his last race for the team. The fastest Mercedes of Rosberg lined up ninth after Maldonado was given a 10-place grid penalty for his third reprimand of the year.
Behind the McLarens were Webber, Vettel, Massa, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Räikkönen, Rosberg and then di Resta in 10th. Before the race McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh expressed his wish for a “boring pedestrian race”. No doubt Vettel was hoping for the same as Alonso’s only hope of winning the title meant a podium finish and Vettel nearly out of the points.
As the cars made their way round the track to the grid drizzle started to fall, but it wasn’t enough to warrant intermediate tyres, and certainly not enough for Alonso to get excited about his wet setup.
When the lights went out Vettel bogged down and Massa managed to get past both the Red Bulls and Button’s McLaren. Alonso also made a typically good start and slotted in behind Webber in fifth. It was then that disaster struck for Red Bull. Vettel, having made a slow getaway, was deep in the midfield pack and more at risk of contact. Senna tried to head down the inside of the Red Bull, but Vettel turned in – quite rightly – and his left rear clipped Senna’s Williams, sending him into a 180 degree spin. It was a minor miracle that he didn’t sustain more damage as both Senna and Perez were out of the race on the spot.
The race was still raging at the front of the field, though, and at the start of the second lap Alonso managed to dive past both Webber and Massa into Turn 1. There was certainly some help from Massa – something the Brazilian would do brilliantly throughout the Grand Prix, but it was a great manoeuvre nonetheless.
As Alonso set his sights on the leading McLarens, Vettel was told by his team to stay out. They needed to find out the extent of the damage and there was no way they could fix it in a pit stop. The best they could do was to cross their fingers and hope the slightly fragile Red Bull would not only make it to the end of the race, but do it without too much of a speed deficit to normal.
Within in a lap it became clear that the sixth-place grid position of Hulkenberg wasn’t just down to qualifying speed. He made it past Webber for fourth and then started closing quickly on the Ferraris. There was good news for Red Bull as well – Vettel, having dropped to last, was climbing through the field. On lap four he was 17th and come lap eight he was as high as seventh.
The conditions were getting more and more treacherous, though, and a small mistake from Alonso let Hulkenberg past. The Spaniard was struggling for grip and only some great defensive driving from Massa – who was behind him – kept Webber where he was. In doing so he left the Australian in reach of Kobayashi who tapped him and sent him spinning off – he rejoined, but the immediate danger to the Ferraris was over.
Up at the front and Hamilton wasn’t having an easy last race for McLaren. Button had closed what gap there was and got past him. Hamilton wasn’t going to make it that easy for Button and then dived back down the inside at the first turn on lap 7. A lap later and Button was through again.
By lap 9 it was certainly wet enough for intermediates, but the information that the teams had was saying that the weather wouldn’t last for long – it would slowly dry. It was Webber that was the first front runner to jump and pitted for intermediates on lap 10. Räikkönen had done the same a couple of laps earlier, but he was still lapping slower than the race leaders. Even if that was the case Hamilton pitted for inters a lap later, as did Alonso and Vettel, who had by now made it up to sixth.
Intermediates certainly seemed to be the popular tyres to be on, but out front were Button and Hulkenberg. “It’s stopped raining!” came the call from the McLaren driver and neither of them looked like they wanted to change from slicks.
As the track slowly dried Hulkenberg, far from being happy to follow Button and pick up a podium on his last appearance with Force India, managed to overtake the race leader. With the pair nearly 20 seconds ahead of the rest of the field Hamilton pitted again for slicks, as did Alonso. Vettel, however, stayed out hoping that the rain would become heavier once again. To the dismay of the Red Bull strategists it didn’t and a lap later he was heading for the pits as well.
With all the contact on the first lap and plenty of drivers exploring the less well known parts of the track the debris had by now become a serious problem and the call was made to send the safety car out on lap 23. A 47-second lead for Hulkenberg and Button was decimated on the spot.
Even behind the safety car the relentless run of action continued and come the fifth lap of following the Mercedes, drivers started to complain that they couldn’t keep heat in their tyres. The rain was gently coming down again and all the cars were on hard slicks. A lap later, once the lapped cars had caught up with the pack, the cars were released, though. Hulkenberg made a great restart, as did Kobayashi who passed Vettel into turn 1.
The safety car had also reignited Hamilton’s chances of a victory and on lap 31 he got past Button for second. He then started setting fastest lap, every lap, but crucially for Force India it wasn’t hugely faster than Hulkenberg. Even though the German was complaining about a very aggressive downshift on his car he was showing us all why he’s so well regarded as a driver. However, we had spoken too soon – a tyre on a white line was all it took for Hulkenberg to have a huge moment. He just caught the car and prevented a full spin, but Hamilton didn’t need asking twice. He was through and into the lead.
It was big news for Hamilton, but it was also great news for McLaren as this one place change had put them back into second place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Ferrari.
It wasn’t ever going to be that easy, though, as with 20 laps to go the mist had become heavier. Rain was on its way again! Rosberg flinched too early, pitting for inters on lap 52 – it wasn’t yet wet enough and Vettel, who was in the lap after, changed to another set of slicks. As the track got damper, however, Hulkenberg got faster and managed to get alongside race leader Hamilton on the pit straight. If he could get the Force India stopped he’d be through.
It was wetter than he thought, though, and as he tried to steer his car round turn 1 he lost the back end which clattered into Hamilton’s front right wheel. The McLaren driver was out of the race on the spot and Hulkenberg soon received a drive-through penalty. A sad end to what was shaping out to be the race of his career.
The rain was getting worse and Vettel – whose radio had stopped working a few laps earlier – pitted for inters. Red Bull wasn’t ready and a mad scramble ensued to get the tyres out and onto the car. It could have been worse, though, as Alonso decided to stay out. By this time it was a fully wet track and a lap 13 seconds slower than most other runners meant he would be well out of touch with the leaders when he finally changed his slicks.
He fed back in behind Massa on lap 58 and within a few laps he was let past into second. Vettel now had to finish seventh to seal the title and, despite the slow pit stop, that’s where he was. He wasn’t finished yet, however, as despite various calls from his team suggesting that he was just fine where he was, he went after Schumacher. By the time he made it onto the back of his Mercedes, Schumacher had actually moved over. A fitting end to his career perhaps, considering his relationship with Barrichello at Ferrari?
It mattered not as with a lap to go di Resta lost it on the run up to the pit straight and ploughed into the wall. He was fine, but the safety car was called out again and the Red Bull team had a very tense final lap, slowly counting down before Vettel crossed the line in sixth to seal the World Championship.
He duly did and a choked-up Christian Horner was quickly on the radio to tell him he was a triple world champion. “Oh my God guys,” was all Vettel could manage.
The title decider was always going to be an anxious affair, but with a wet/dry race and enough action to fill a season of racing the championship will feel even sweeter for the Red Bull driver.
As for Alonso – he’ll be gutted, he did everything he had to, but it just wasn’t enough. If Ferrari doesn’t come out fighting next year it’s going to be a very hard pill to swallow.
A huge congratulations to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull for sealing, once again, the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles.
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