Practice Session, FP1/FP2/FP3:
It is always good to go racing in Interlagos, Brazil; another circuit which has seen so many eras of Formula 1. The weather in Brazil is the talking point every year, it was forecasted as rain all through the weekend, but the practice session ended under dry conditions. Mercedes and in particular Rosberg led the whole pack including his team-mate Hamilton. It was again a mixed bag behind Mercedes, but Williams and Red Bull looked closest to the champions. There was a certain lack of grip once drivers went off the racing line because of the new asphalt. Although, the teams got ample dry running, but the question remained on Sunday’s weather.
For Sahara Force India, it was a mixed running all through. While Hulkenberg had a trouble free-run all through the sessions; the other side of the garage had tough times on Friday. SFI’s reserve Juncadella drove in FP1 for Perez but, unfortunately, he met with a crash, damaging the car front end as well the rear. The damage was so much that the team had to change parts, which meant Perez missed running in FP2. Hulkenberg had double work to do in FP2; Perez completed his long runs in FP3. The race pace looked good for SFI as they have been, but McLaren, looked good too.
After the dry run in the practice sessions, the weather in qualifying remained dry as well. The clouds only threatened to rain, but it never came. Rosberg was absolutely flying and rightly qualified on pole; with this pole, he won the inaugural Pole Position trophy. Hamilton was to start at P2 while home-hero Massa qualified a good P3. It seemed both Red Bull and Ferrari compromised on qualifying pace after only qualifying P6/P9 and P8/P10 respectively. Gutierrez enjoyed his P11 finish while Kvyat chose not to run in Q2, considering his carry over engine penalty.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the SFI drivers to qualify into Q3. For Perez, it was straight forward difficult ask, firstly because of his lack of a practice run and secondly because of his penalty. He finished P17 but started at the back of the grid. On the other side, Hulkenberg enjoyed another smooth run but could only manage P12 in the end; in his fast lap, he had several lock-ups which compromised few tenths. But as they have always been a race-oriented car, fighting for points was not a difficult ask.
The weather again played a game with the fans, the teams and the media; the predicted showers never really arrived all weekend. It didn’t look like it was to rain in the race as well, which meant tyres became a decisive point to finish in points for several drivers. It has become a norm, that we see very few incidents at the start of the race; one way it is good because it keeps everyone safe. Rosberg immediately got away safely from Hamilton, while Massa lined-up behind. Vettel lost places to Alonso and Magnussen and Raikkonen lost a place to Gutierrez. Hulkenberg remained P12 while Perez gained three places to go up to P15; Hulkenberg was on a different strategy as he started on mediums.
The pit stops started as early as in lap 5, one could only imagine the state of the tyres. Rosberg maintained the gap to Hamilton throughout the mid stages; a slight spin before the second stop might have costed Hamilton the lead at that stage. The tyre strategy threw open various opportunities, while Massa continued to run strongly for podium, it became a fight between Button and Vettel for P4. Vettel after having lost places in his first stint got back ahead of Alonso, Magnussen and even two-stopper Raikkonen in his final stint. Ricciardo meanwhile suffered his second DNF of the season and Bottas went to the back of the point scoring position due to slow pit stops.
At one point of the race, Hulkenberg was leading the race; he led the race for five laps due to stretching on his first stint. After having a smooth run all through the weekend, he was having a better run in the race too. The different race strategy also worked in his favour; though he admitted he was having a lonely battle. Meanwhile, for Perez, it was difficult stints; his first two stints were not overly great which kept him running around P15 and P16 all the time. All around him were on the similar strategy and their pace matched evenly as well, this made it much more difficult.
The pressure was never-ending for Rosberg in the last 10 to 12 laps as both the Mercedes drivers’ traded fast laps between each other. In the end Rosberg managed to keep Hamilton at bay to win the Grand Prix, limiting the Briton’s lead to only 17 points as they both go into Abu Dhabi chasing the title. Massa finished third, much to the delight of his home fans while Button and Vettel finished P4 and P5 after a gritty drive. Another battle was between Alonso and Raikkonen, a battle which we wanted to see all season long. Hulkenberg finished a good P8 moving ahead of Magnussen; if only he had a lap or two, he could have moved ahead of the Ferrari’s. Perez only managed P15 in the end; it was tough for him to miss out during Friday which did affect his Sunday’s drive.
And so the championship heads to the season finale in Abu Dhabi, both Rosberg and Hamilton could win the title, but the upper hand is with Hamilton. The other battles see Vettel moving ahead of Alonso and Bottas, but they are closely packed in the fight for P4. In the constructors’ battle, we have Ferrari still chasing Williams, while SFI chase McLaren and with double points in the play, there is an opportunity for anyone to get ahead. It will be all to play for in Abu Dhabi. See you after Abu Dhabi, one last time with a weekend report in 2014.
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