The release 2: Lewis Hamilton kept on his helmet for a while in the green room behind the podium, just while he gathered himself together. Sitting in solitude for a few seconds taking it all in, a second world championship accomplished with a solid victory, one that had almost jumped out and grabbed him the moment the starting gantry lights went out; the tension, the performance and now the release. There was a tear or two in his eye as he removed the helmet.
The release 1: From the moments the lights went out, this was Hamilton’s race. A beautiful start while his only rival Rosberg bogged down from pole. Lewis didn’t even need to sit it out through the first turn – away and gone, an ever-widening stretch of dusk between them.
All the ambivalence of how he should approach the race, the calculations, the worry – all of it instantly dissolved. For all that he had been insisting he was approaching the race just the same as ever, that could never be true – as he admitted afterwards: “I had so much pressure coming into the weekend. Niki [Lauda] was right: he told me I would hardly sleep and I didn’t. I spent last night thinking of all the negative things that could go wrong.
“I was thinking ‘This is it. Tomorrow is D day’. I went to bed at 1am, was awake by 5am. I went for a run. I thought I’d be tired by the time of the race start. But actually I wasn’t. The energy was there. But it was weird; I felt totally calm, not like in 2007 and ’08 when my emotions were all over the place. I wondered if that was right.
The start he described as probably “the best I’ve ever had” and it coincided with one of Rosberg’s worst. Felipe Massa followed Rosberg through turn one as Hamilton headed off into the evening and it was the number 19 Williams that would keep the Mercs honest throughout. Massa took over second not long after Rosberg’s Merc lost the use of its energy recovery system and its attendant 160bhp (and the difficulties that brings with rear brake temperatures).
Felipe’s long middle stint in the two-stop race then enabled him to have a short enough final stint that he could get onto the super-softs and eat into Hamilton’s lead. There was a moment where it even looked like Williams might be about to win its first race of the season. “Not bad for an old man,” said Rob Smedley over the radio as Felipe crossed the flag 2.6s behind the new world champion, fireworks exploding high into the night sky.
Valtteri Bottas, on a more conventional strategy, took a distant third in the other Williams after a poor, clutch-slipping start that had left him swamped. Up in the green room he went to put an arm of congratulation around the still-helmeted figure sitting in the corner – and Hamilton’s reverie of solitude was broken. He was ready to return from the bubble and into the real world as a champion once more.
Rosberg’s continuing excellence placed Hamilton under enough pressure to crack in Q3, just like in Montreal, Austria and Interlagos. From being quickest in Q1 and Q2, when it came time to deliver the goods in Q3 – on a track that had suddenly lost a lot of grip as the sun went down – Hamilton locked up on both his runs while Rosberg calmly aced it. Either of his two laps would have secured him the pole, which he eventually took by the margin of 0.386s.
“I was sure I was going to be second,” he celebrated to his engineer Tony Ross over the radio. “I’m really thankful to my engineers,” he said afterwards. “They did a good job, sorted out the car and I was really happy with the set-up.” It was a standard Rosberg weekend, in other words, of him fine-honing through the practices, building up the pieces of a perfect set up, ready to deliver in a crescendo at the crucial moment. It nicely accumulated the pressure upon Hamilton, something Nico was not shy about vocalising.
Running around half a second slower than Rosberg, the Williams’ of Bottas and Massa locked out the second row, Felipe making a lock up at the crucial time. Impressively, Bottas was fastest of all through the high-speed sweeps of the first sector and the Williams was coming under a lot of scrutiny from rival teams about just how much its front wing was deflecting here.
It lost the bulk of its time to the Mercedes through the tight twists of the final sector. The FW36’s wing flexibility was checked by the FIA afterwards and found to be OK. But similar checks on the Red Bull RB10s revealed them as definitely not OK – getting Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel (who’d qualified fifth and sixth, separated by a chunky 0.626s) excluded from qualifying.
They were allowed to start from the back. Leaf springs housed within a camouflaged rubber shroud were found within the outermost flaps of the Red Bulls’ wings… Before that came to dominate the story of Red Bull’s qualifying, Vettel had been talking of his disappointment at bowing out of the team on a relatively low note, having guessed the wrong direction on set up for one-lap pace in the cooling conditions of Q3.
Daniil Kvyat came within 0.015s of equalling Vettel’s time after a great lap in his Toro Rosso, having worked away at an initially very difficult balance. He just edged out the McLaren of Jenson Button who had a handy 0.4s advantage over 11th-fastest team-mate Kevin Magnussen. “The track changes so much here as the sun goes down and it’s difficult guessing which end you’re going to lose the grip from,” said JB. The MP4-29 retained its old front wing after experiments with a new Red Bull-type revealed it to be down on ultimate downforce, albeit more consistent.
Ferrari was not in great shape here, the F14T’s weaknesses in top speed and driveability exposed cruelly by the second and third sectors. No set up could be found that gave the car a good balance over the lap, only at the fast corners or the slow – but not both. Kimi Räikkönen qualified his ninth, one place ahead of Fernando Alonso, who ran wide on his final qualifying run for Ferrari.
Off the dummy grid Hamilton’s start wasn’t that great, the track grippier than had been anticipated. Radios crackled with adjustment instructions up and down the grid. The two Red Bulls took up their places at the end of the pit lane, as required by the regulations when the specifications have been changed. The springs – or metal strips as the team preferred to call them – had been removed from the front wings, the endplates made less flexible. They would be starting the race on the prime (soft), just like the first four cars that had qualified outside the top 10.
It was much the more durable tyre with a degradation rate of only around 0.15s per lap rather than the 0.35s of the option (super-soft). A new option was around one second quicker, but at those degradation rates the prime would be quicker after five laps in addition to being able to run around 15 laps longer.
But there was a subtle little twist to the tyre story. The super-soft is designed to work in lower track temperatures than the soft – so as the track cooled into the evening it was going to come into its own at some point. With the fuel loads light and the track cool, there was every chance of it being very quick near the end.
Two-stopping was calculated as a quicker strategy than three over the 55 laps and for those obliged to start on the option on account of having graduated to Q3 the day before, the challenge was going to be to get a long but quick enough middle stint on the soft to allow you to have a final short stint on the super-soft as it came into its own. It was going to be something of a stretch. Those qualifying outside the top 10 had quite a strategic advantage in being able to adopt a soft/soft/super-soft sequence for each stint.
Adjustments between torque and clutch slip made, they lined up again amid the long shadows of the 5pm start, the floodlights already beginning to get the upper hand over the sun. This time it was pole man Rosberg’s Mercedes that bogged down and Hamilton’s which made a peach of a start. “That was probably the best start I’ve ever had,” he said. “It took off like a rocket.”
1 L Hamilton Mercedes 1h39m02.619s
2 F Massa Williams +2.576s
3 V Bottas Williams +28.880s
4 D Ricciardo Red Bull +37.237s
5 J Button McLaren +1m00.334s
6 N Hulkenberg Force India +1m02.148s
7 S Pérez Force India +1m11.060s
8 S Vettel Red Bull +1m12.045s
9 F Alonso Ferrari +1m25.813s
10 K Räikkönen Ferrari +1m27.820s
11 K Magnussen McLaren +1m30.376s
12 J-E Vergne Toro Rosso +1m31.947s
13 R Grosjean Lotus +1 Lap
14 N Rosberg Mercedes +1 Lap
15 E Gutiérrez Sauber +1 Lap
16 A Sutil Sauber +1 Lap
17 W Stevens Caterham +1 Lap
– K Kobayashi Caterham Vibration
– P Maldonado Lotus Engine
– D Kvyat Toro Rosso Electrical
As Bottas got way too much clutch slip, Massa was immediately into third, Kvyat steering his Toro Rosso around the outside of Bottas to avoid hitting it, but this delaying him enough that he was behind Button’s McLaren and Räikkönen’s Ferrari into the tight but wide left hander of turn one.
Kimi had nudged and swayed alongside Alonso to prevail into there, Kvyat briefly slotting into the gap between the Ferraris – and only then came Bottas, from third down to eighth in a few hundred metres. On through the fast uphill sweep of turn two, the long arc of three-four and into the braking zone for the tight left-right-left of five, six, seven. Through here Alonso squeezed ahead of Kvyat to get himself back on Räikkönen’s tail.
Sergio Pérez ran his Force India across the run-off as the traffic bunched up tight, Magnussen tried going around the outside of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India through six but got hung out to dry over the heavily serrated kerbs there. Hulk was later given a penalty for ‘forcing another driver off track’ which was a rather harsh interpretation of the incident. Magnussen was in further wars just a few seconds later as Adrian Sutil tried to squeeze his Sauber between the narrowing gap separating the McLaren from the Force India as they headed up the long back straight. This swamped the McLaren further and inflicted extensive bodywork damage but it remained driveable.
From 205mph they brake down to around 45mph for the tight left-right flick of turns eight and nine, the end of the first DRS zone where most of the race’s passing would happen, cars going light over the crest as they struggle to feed the torque down and then onwards through the second DRS zone, 200mph again before the urgent direction changes of the final sector begin.
No passing through here but it was the perfect territory for the Red Bulls at the back, the place where they could best overcome the lap time penalty of their lack of straightline speed. Ricciardo led Vettel, but it was only as Sutil pitted out of his way on the fifth lap that he began to make real progress.
Meanwhile, Hamilton had crossed the line on the first lap already out of Rosberg’s DRS reach and proceeded to gradually ease away, all under control, Rosberg in turn putting distance on Massa who was under no real pressure from Button. Not far behind the McLaren, the Ferraris were squabbling. Alonso got himself into Räikkönen’s tow on the back straight out of the hairpin on the fifth lap, used his DRS to line himself up to go around Kimi’s outside into turn eight. As Kimi got off line, so he was then picked off down the following straight by Kvyat.
As the man ahead, Alonso now had Ferrari strategic preference and radioed that he was coming in immediately to rid himself of the already degrading super-softs – in an attempt at undercutting himself past Button. That plan floundered on Fernando coming out behind the Caterhams and Button pitting (along with Kvyat and Räikkönen, who was overtaken on his in-lap by Bottas) on the very next lap. The order between them remained unchanged.
D1 Lewis Hamilton 384
2 Nico Rosberg 317
3 Daniel Ricciardo 238
4 Valtteri Bottas 186
5 Sebastian Vettel 167
6 Fernando Alonso 161
7 Felipe Massa 134
8 Jenson Button 126
9 Nico Hulkenberg 96
10 Sergio Pérez 59
11 Kevin Magnussen 55
12 Kimi Räikkönen 55
13 Jean-Eric Vergne 22
14 Romain Grosjean 8
15 Daniil Kvyat 8
16 Pastor Maldonado 2
17 Jules Bianchi 2
18 Adrian Sutil 0
19 Marcus Ericsson 0
20 Esteban Gutiérrez 0
21 Max Chilton 0
22 Kamui Kobayashi 0
23 Will Stevens 0
This all promoted Bottas into clean air and he used it to unleash the Williams’ superior pace and good tyre usage (the latter in distinct contrast to the car’s traits earlier in the season) for another four laps. He rejoined from his stop having ‘overcut’ his way past Kvyat, Alonso and Button and immediately put a pass on the yet-to-stop Vettel. He was now back somewhere near his rightful position, following that poor start.
Hamilton had pitted on that same lap from just under three seconds ahead of Rosberg, Nico pitting the following lap, both now on the more durable primes. For the last couple of laps of the Merc stints, Massa had actually been going faster than them, again emphasising the FW36’s good tyre use, and he led for three laps before making his first stop. The extra few laps he’d squeezed out of the super-softs, in addition to how long he would make the softs of his middle stint last, would later allow him access to a better tyre strategy than the Mercs. He rejoined third, around 5.5s behind Rosberg. With Bottas a long way behind him and no threat, for Massa this stint was going to be all about stretching out the stint length.
The Mercs were pushing each other by this time. Hamilton, anxious not to overwork anything, had given his new tyres a relatively easy time on his out-lap. Rosberg, with pressure to apply, was 0.8s quicker on his and took a further 0.3s out of Hamilton’s advantage next time around. Lewis responded, keeping the gap between 2.5-3s – but this wasn’t an easy pace they were setting and Massa was soon 10s or so behind.
Kvyat had retired on the 14th lap, with dead electrics, promoting Räikkönen back up behind Alonso. Fernando remained engaged in a tight battle with Button. The McLaren was slow through the sweeps of the first sector and similarly lazy to the Ferrari through the direction changes of the last, but it had rather more power to put down on the exits and JB was placing it beautifully in what may have been the last Grand Prix of his long career.
Their first stops had put them behind the yet-to-stop Red Bulls, running very long on their original primes. Ricciardo was making rather more progress than Vettel – mainly on account of putting a successful move on Magnussen while Vettel lost lots of time behind the damaged McLaren. Even with their legal front wings, the Red Bulls were quick – and had they started from where they’d qualified (assuming they could have done that with the legal wing), they’d probably have been mixing it with the two Williams cars.
Ricciardo pushed aggressively onwards, passing cars as soon as he encountered them, never more impressively than on Jean-Éric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. JEV imposed a very stern defence as they raced down to turn eight on the 12th lap, forcing Daniel onto the extreme inside line, kicking up clouds of dust into the floodlit night, the Red Bull’s rear end twitching viciously. Daniel got through, JEV repassed on the exit, the Red Bull completed the move more decisively a lap later, with Vergne then peeling off for his first stop.
Not for the first time this year Ricciardo was keeping up a better pace yet taking less from his tyres than Vettel, who just before stopping on the 21st lap was 13 seconds behind and three places back from his team-mate. Ricciardo would go on to do a stint six laps longer, each extra lap strategic gold dust. For a time he kept the newer-tyred Bottas at bay for fourth before surrendering to the inevitable. This was one of the best of his many great drives this season.
Running a similar strategy to the Red Bulls, the Force Indias of Hulkenberg and Pérez were taking full advantage of its benefits, though were unable to run as long a first stint. They pitted from just ahead of Ricciardo – Pérez undercutting Hulkenberg as they did so on account of Hulk’s five-second penalty – but Daniel’s superior pace and tyre usage saw him emerge well ahead of them later. Vettel however would remain behind them.
Rosberg had just renewed his attack on Hamilton when he ran wide onto the run-off area of the tight right-hander of turn 17 between the harbour and the spangly purple-lit Yas Viceroy hotel on the 23rd lap. It was the first symptom of an ERS problem within the number 6 Mercedes. A few corners further on and he was complaining of a sudden lack of power.
This was just like at Montreal, though with a different cause that had yet to be firmly established at the time of writing. His pace dropped by around three seconds per lap and the team desperately looked at ways they might bring his energy recovery systems back to life. It was all futile, though the engine itself remained fully healthy. So he began running it harder through the gears, moved his brake bias forwards to take strain off the now-overworked rear discs. The airwaves were dense with instructions and demands as Nico desperately sought to hang on. After all, if Hamilton were to retire, all Nico would need would be a fifth-place finish and with double points the title would be his. Still he dropped back and soon Massa was upon him, the Williams sailing past into turn eight on the 28th lap.
This had of course just simplified Hamilton’s task, though in truth he’d looked in full control throughout. “I was asking the team if I could turn down the power at this point,” he reported. “I was thinking I’ve got to look after the tyres and started avoiding the kerbs, all those kinds of things.”
1 Mercedes 701
2 Red Bull/Renault 405
3 Williams/Mercedes 320
4 Ferrari 216
5 McLaren/Mercedes 181
6 Force India/Mercedes 155
7 Toro Rosso/Renault 30
8 Lotus/Renault 10
9 Marussia/Ferrari 2
10 Sauber/Ferrari 0
11 Caterham/Renault 0
Massa was 12 seconds behind the leader and now Rosberg was being caught by Bottas who sailed by five laps after Massa, at the same place. Nico would spend the rest of the evening falling steadily backwards, a limping shadow of fading hope. Hamilton rejoined after making his second and final stop for a fresh set of primes on the 31st lap and did so just behind Rosberg on the track but almost a full lap ahead. He lapped him a few corners later and disappeared into the night.
The Button-Alonso fight was still raging. Button emerged from his lap-28 stop just ahead of the Ferrari, Fernando made a DRS attempt up to turn eight, Button squeezed through ahead before then going too deeply into turn 10 and losing the place – temporarily. On the next lap it was his turn to have DRS and he nailed the place for good into turn eight. From there he was able to ease away as Fernando began to suffer a power loss.
For the last four laps of his middle stint Hamilton had been slower than Massa who was within 10 seconds of the Merc as Lewis pitted on lap 31. Partly, this was just about Hamilton not needing to push, but also it was about the Williams and Felipe being impressively easy on the delicate rear tyres. He maintained an excellent pace in the lead for 12 laps after Hamilton pitted – and this opened up the possibility of getting onto the super-softs just as conditions were perfect for them. “We had a big gap back to Valtteri,” explained Felipe, “and so we were discussing it and said let’s try.”
Bottas had pitted just a lap after Hamilton and was therefore on the safe choice of primes for the final stint. He was running behind Ricciardo, who had yet to make his second stop and Valtteri would go on to pass the Red Bull on track. Ricciardo emerged from his late stop on a set of options, having made up enough time to get out in fourth, comfortably ahead of Button. Vettel also switched to options for his short final stint, exiting the pits just behind Alonso and immediately putting a pass on him. A lap later and Seb went past the struggling Rosberg for eighth, though behind the recently stopped Force Indias.
Hulk’s brave choice of a relatively early switch to super-softs (four laps before Pérez) worked for him, getting him out sixth, back ahead of his team-mate who afterwards was rueing the later stop. Hulk’s super-softs were still in good shape at the end as he closed to within a couple of seconds of Button. The superior tyre strategy enabled by not qualifying in the top 10 had allowed the Force Indias to grind ahead of the Ferraris, Hulk clearing them both at his stop, Pérez coming out just behind Alonso, but able to use his fresh super-softs to pass him.
Alonso’s power loss had lost him a lot of time and soon he was only just ahead of Räikkönen and appearing to be holding him up. The problem then stabilised and Fernando was able to pull out a few seconds of margin on his team-mate, the Ferraris a lowly ninth and 10th.
Massa finally stopped for his options on lap 43, 12 from the end. He came out 10.8s behind Hamilton but lapping sometimes over one second quicker. Mercedes advised Hamilton to change some settings to help him respond. He reported back that he was reluctant to do so, that he preferred to control his pace without straining the car.
“I was rubbing the cockpit,” said Lewis, “and saying, ‘come on baby, we can make it. Stick with me.’ Actually I had complete faith things were going to go the right way today. But the car was feeling good and I wanted to respond to Felipe. For a moment I thought ‘Jeez, he’s going to catch me and get the win’.” But the super-softs had given their best after five laps and thereafter the risk to Hamilton’s victory was spent. “In the last four laps the tyres were degrading,” said Felipe, “and I just didn’t have quite enough and he was able to gap me. But I’m so proud to be on this team. This is just the beginning.”
Hamilton’s 11th seasonal win, the 33rd of his career, was a suitable way to clinch his title. His rival Rosberg had resolutely stayed out there, passed on the final lap for 13th place by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. Afterwards Nico graciously sought out Lewis, offered him his congratulations. Lewis reciprocated with nice words about the challenge Rosberg had provided all season. Any negative feelings between them were now released too.