Vettel’s Brazilian Masterclass
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Just a couple of weeks after young Red Bull charger Max Verstappen absolutely dominated the Mexican Grand Prix and Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton tied up this year’s Drivers’ championship the Formula 1 circus regrouped at the iconic Interlagos circuit in sprawling São Paulo last weekend for this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes team may have already completed another whitewash of the main silverware for a fourth year running after clinching the Constructors’ crown again in Texas last month, but the Brazilian race weekend was still an exciting affair from which Ferrari’s quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel emerged on top after putting on a masterclass.
The longtime venue for the Brazilian Grand Prix is officially known as the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, named after the famous F1 driver who was tragically killed in a plane crash back in 1977, but it is usually just referred to by its former name Interlagos, meaning “between lakes” and relating to its location between two large artificial lakes.
In contrast to the glitz and glamour of Formula 1, sadly poverty and crime feature significantly in the area near the circuit, as evidenced by attacks at gunpoint on the Friday evening of vehicles containing staff from the Mercedes and Williams teams plus the governing body of the sport, the FIA. Some items were stolen, but fortunately no-one was hurt. Such events have happened in previous years too and team personnel have always been advised to remove their passes and change out of teamwear to make them less identifiable when travelling to and from the circuit from their hotels.
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In the opening free practice session the Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas Mercedes duo traded fastest laps, with the best of the rest, Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, over half a second adrift. Later on Friday Hamilton and Bottas again headed the timings and in Saturday’s final practice session it was Valtteri who just outpaced Lewis, with the top four drivers covered by just 0.058s.
The last four races at Interlagos have all been won from pole position and so the qualifying session was more important than ever. There was high drama at the very beginning when Hamilton made a mistake on his first flying lap and crashed his out of control Mercedes into the barriers on the outside of Turn 6.
His car was damaged, but fortunately Lewis suffered only damaged pride, if accepting that he would have to start the following day’s race from the back of the grid after failing to set a time. With his team subsequently opting to make additional technical changes and replace his engine and other power unit components, this meant Hamilton would start from the pit lane rather than the grid.
As the qualifying session recommenced and headed towards its conclusion Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel looked set to claim pole position, but Bottas snatched it from him late on, with Räikkönen and Verstappen the best of the rest.
Come race day the grandstands filled with so many highly excited Brazilian fans rooting for their local hero Felipe Massa, who was about to start his final home race before retiring at the end of this season. He had retired from Formula 1 at the end of last year before returning to the Williams team after Bottas moved to Mercedes, but this time round it seems that the likeable Massa’s retirement, from F1 at least, is for good.
It often rains on Grand Prix day at Interlagos, but as the start approached the weather was dry, bright and sunny and when the red lights went out polesitter Bottas made a strong start but Vettel made an even better one and slipped past the Finn into the lead at Turn 1.
Midfield contact exiting Turn 3 between Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo brought out the Safety Car and left only Danny Ric still in the race. The other Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Force India’s highly promising youngster Esteban Ocon then came together later on the opening lap, forcing Ocon’s retirement and earning Grosjean a 10 second penalty for causing an avoidable collision.
When the Safety Car returned to the pit lane and the race resumed Vettel led from Bottas, Räikkönen and Verstappen, with Hamilton having already climbed from last to 12th position. Out front Seb continued to have the better of Valtteri, whilst Lewis made fine use of the new engine in the back of his Mercedes to pick his way past slower opposition and claim fifth place on lap 21 of 71.
Bottas was the first of the leading group to pit, on lap 28, and Ferrari responded immediately by bringing the leading Vettel in just one tour later, the German rejoining the track just ahead of his rival before edging clear again.
Kimi remained in third position after his only stop of the race and temporarily this left Lewis out front as he had yet to make his pitstop. When he did, on lap 43, the British driver dropped to fifth place, but the race was still not over for him.
Hamilton set about closing on Verstappen and relieved him of fourth position on the 59th tour, but this was as far as he was to climb as Räikkönen resisted pressure from this year’s World Champion in the closing stages to hold on to the final podium position.
Ahead of them Vettel was never threatened by Bottas as he took his third victory at Interlagos and his 47th career win. Massa deserves a special mention after a fine drive to finish seventh and bidding an emotional farewell to his home fans.
So, after the most thrilling Formula 1 season for many years there is just one Grand Prix remaining, in Abu Dhabi in a fortnight’s time, and I very much hope you will join me there.
2017 Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix Results
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1hr31m26.260s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +2.762s
3 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +4.600s
4 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +5.468s
5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +32.940s
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +48.691s
7 Felipe Massa (Williams) +1m8.882s
8 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +1m9.363s
9 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1m9.500s
10 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
11 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
12 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
13 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
14 Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) Lapped
15 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
16 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
17 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Retired
18 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Retired
19 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Retired
20 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Retired
2017 Formula 1 Drivers' Championship (after 19 rounds of 20)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 345
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 302
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 280
2017 Formula 1 Constructors' Championship (after 19 rounds of 20)
1 Mercedes 625
2 Ferrari 495
3 Red Bull 358
Vettel’s Brazilian Masterclass, 13th November 2017, 7:36 AM