The Brazilian Grand Prix is usually one of the most dramatic races of the season — something always seems to happen and often because of the crazy weather at Interlagos. There’s often a World Championship battle at Interlagos too, and six times in the past the title has been settled here. But this year was a bit different. With the championship already done and dusted, there was a slight end-of-term atmosphere.
But there was also tensions throughout the F1 community because of the security threats after a number of teams were targeted in armed hold-ups on their way from the circuit.
Hamilton’s Q1 shocker
On the track itself, there was also the absolute shock and drama of Lewis Hamilton crashing out in Q1, which is probably the most shocking thing we’ve seen all season in qualifying!
At this stage you assume the Mercedes, Red Bulls and Ferraris are just going to cruise through unless they have a reliability problem.
Clearly, Hamilton pushed too hard too soon and ended up in the barrier. There was a massive roar that came from the grandstand, not of joy but of shock. It was a really big surprise to everyone — including his team!
On the other side of the Mercedes garage, it was great to see Valtteri Bottas — and his fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen — have a strong weekend. It’s a shame we didn’t get to a straight fight in qualifying between Hamilton and Bottas, as that could have been fun.
Bottas looked to be back in form, which is something we haven’t seen for a long time, and he did a really good job of taking pole position. It was an exciting session because Bottas had to dig deep and come back from beyond to push Sebastian Vettel off the top spot by less than half a tenth. That was a really good effort by him.
Vettel muscles to victory
Hamilton’s incident created a different sort of race, it gave us a bit of drama having to see him coming through the field from behind. At the front, Vettel made a perfect getaway and positioned the car exactly where he needed to be, which meant that Bottas had no option but to let him by.
The only chance Bottas could have had was to move over to the left and squeeze Vettel earlier on, but either way I think that Vettel had a bit too much momentum and that wouldn’t have happened.
Once the Ferrari was in front, really Bottas’ only chance was around the pit stops. Mercedes made an attempt to pit early and do the undercut, but ultimately Bottas’ out lap wasn’t fast enough to get ahead of Vettel. It just didn’t quite work out for him.
Vettel did everything he needed to do. He got the start, he stayed ahead around the pit stops and from there it was a pretty straightforward race.
Bottas was on my flight home and we were chatting, saying how the pace up at the front was strong. The two Ferraris and Bottas had to really push all the way through because there was minimal tyre degradation.
The modern 2017 cars, with all this downforce and grip, have made them quite physical, and Brazil is quite a physical race anyway because of the anti-clockwise nature of the track layout. It made it quite a physical race and the drivers really had to work to earn their living at Interlagos!
Hamilton handles pace
In contrast to his qualifying, Hamilton’s race was absolutely stellar. He once again showed why he’s been the stand-out driver of the season and why he deserves to be world champion.
Tyre management is a big part of modern day Formula One, and Hamilton demonstrated why with his pace on November 12. There was a point when he had tyres that were 29 laps old in contrast to Bottas, who had just done his pit stop and his tyres were only two laps old. And yet, Hamilton’s lap times were pretty much the same at that stage.
Okay, he started to go into the degradation zone a little after that, but he was still hammering in those low 1min 13s with tyres that had done nearly 30 laps. His pace was absolutely astonishing, and as soon as he put on the supersofts you knew he was going to come back at them.
To finish just five and a half seconds behind the winner, having started from the pit lane — and okay, he benefited from the safety car — is a staggering achievement. He once again illustrated that he probably had the pace to win the Grand Prix and that he is clearly the top dog in that Mercedes team.
Brazil a drag for Red Bull
The Red Bulls seemed to be off the pace over the weekend, which was a bit of a disappointment considering Max Verstappen’s astonishing dominance in Mexico recently. Christian Horner was saying how he thought that the long drag up from Turn 12 to the start/finish line really, really sapped their power much more than the Mercedes and Ferrari because of the gradient and the curved straight. Which meant that they just didn’t have the pace to attack and then they were over-compensating by pushing too hard on the tyres and blistering them in the high track temperatures.
Overall, it was a race to forget for them and not one they can really be happy about.
Massa signs off in style
Further back, I thought a great race for Felipe Massa, obviously a very emotional weekend. It seemed like the whole of Sao Paulo had descended on the Williams motorhome when I went in there race day morning.
It was good for him to get a strong race under his belt, finishing seventh, and say goodbye to his fans that way. He had a great battle with Fernando Alonso all the way through, who himself reiterated the fact that when it comes to the race and relentless lap after lap pace he is the man.
Overall, those were two strong performances from the midfield.
Last stop Abu Dhabi
Onto the season finale in Abu Dhabi, where I’m sure everyone’s now ready for the season to wind down. It’s been a long year, the championship battles are done and dusted but Abu Dhabi should still be a great race between Ferrari and Mercedes.