Lewis Hamilton may have already secured the 2017 title, but there was still plenty at stake in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel’s championship campaign spectacularly fell apart after the mid-season break but he claimed a comfortable win at Interlagos to arrest his dip in form and lay down a clear marker ahead of 2018 season.
Hamilton showed that he has no intention of taking it easy for the final races after starting at the back of the field and working his way into fourth place, narrowly missing out on a podium and finishing behind Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.
And Felipe Massa completed his last home race in fine style, taking seventh after some exciting action with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Redemption in Brazil for Vettel
Starting from second on the grid, Vettel had a “rocket ship start” to take the lead into the first corner. The German was never seriously troubled after that point although he did come under a moment of pressure when he pitted a lap later than Bottas and returned to the track only marginally in the lead. But from there Vettel controlled his pace and tires to be ahead by a few seconds for most of the race.
“Initially, I had a very good getaway and then I had a bit of wheelspin and I thought I had missed my chance, but then he seemed to struggle more, so I had a chance to squeeze down the inside,” said Vettel.
“I think I surprised him a bit. After that and the safety car it was 68 laps flat out. I just tried to build a gap and control the race.”
Vettel said on Saturday that he and Ferrari would have “failed” if they did not secure second in the championship behind Hamilton. This win now takes him into the final round in Abu Dhabi with an almost unassailable 22-point lead over Bottas, but it still can’t make up for missing out on the title.
“It has been a tough couple of weeks for us but it is nice to be up here.”
Hamilton Shows Class In Fight Back
With Vettel controlling the race out front, much of the excitement came through Hamilton as he fought through the pack to finish in fourth narrowly behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
Hamilton made an uncharacteristic error in qualifying that meant he started from the back. The four-time world champion ran an inverted tire strategy and stayed out on track longer than most other drivers, getting to sixth within 20 laps and into the lead on lap 30 as leaders Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen’s made their pit stops.
After his single pit stop, Hamilton attacked for a podium finish using the super-soft tires with better grip to target the cars ahead who had already switched to the slower soft compound tyres. He made up an 8.4 second deficit to Verstappen within 14 laps and then went about trying to close the 5 second gap to Raikkonen. Hamilton got onto his tail within a handful of laps and only a fortuitous lock-up and the Finn’s experience kept the title holder at bay.
Hamilton said: “I had so much pace today, it would have been an easy win this weekend. So on the one side I am disappointed that I put myself in the worst position for today. But yesterday is behind me, today has been very positive, I had fun coming through – it felt like the go-karting days where I would always start in the back in my first year or two.”
Massa Ends On A High Note
Felipe Massa ended his last race on home soil in style winding back the years to withstand a strong challenge from fellow elder-statesman Fernando Alonso.
Alonso began the race in sixth after a sensational qualifying performance but a safety car gave Massa the chance to use his superior Mercedes engine power to overtake the McLaren on the re-start. After that, Alonso sat behind the 36-year old Brazilian for most of the race, frustrated by his lack of straight-line speed. Massa just managed to hold off a late attack and hailed the race as good as a win.
“I did everything in a perfect way from the beginning to the end, fighting with a guy that I was fighting a lot in my career,” explained an emotional Massa.
“It was such a big pleasure to arrive in front of him and to finish the race with my head up – I think that’s the important thing.”