It looks like Nico Rosberg has found his winning form albeit the fact that Lewis Hamilton has long since clinched the World Championship. Rosberg has been victorious in the two races following Hamilton’s title-clinching win at Austin three weeks ago. The win ensured Rosberg as vice-champion for the second year in a row behind Hamilton, finally quelling the threat of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for second place in the drivers’ championship.
The pace of the top three finishers Rosberg, Hamilton, and Vettel was supreme. In the end, the leader had lapped every car up to the fifth place finisher Valtteri Bottas, leaving only the top four finishing on the lead lap. Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth, followed in order by Bottas, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniil Kvyat, and hometown hero Felipe Massa in eighth, although he is as of yet disqualified because one tire’s temperature on his car at the beginning of the race has been found to exceed the maximum. Williams are currently in the process of appealing the decision.
The race was almost tidy with only one retirement—that of Carlos Sainz’s in the first lap due to an engine failure. In an otherwise clean race, the lone incident came courtesy of Pastor Maldonado’s clattering into Marcus Ericsson at Turn 1 in the middle of the race. Fortunately, it resulted in no damage to both cars although Maldonado’s clumsy overtaking attempt was duly penalized with a five-second time penalty added to a subsequent pit-stop.
The only place-swap within the top eight from the start to the end of the race was Bottas leapfrogging Kvyat and Hulkenberg to move up by two places, otherwise the order was completely unchanged. A little down the field though, there was some battling for the final points-paying positions. Most of the overtaking was DRS-assisted down the main and back straights. Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen rounded out the top ten, finishing ninth and tenth respectively but given Massa’s disqualification, should it stand, would promote both drivers up by one place and tenth rewarded to Grosjean’s teammate Maldonado.
The most spectacular move of the race came from Toro Rosso’s Verstappen on Force India’s Sergio Perez as they battled tightly and side-by-side around Turns 1 and 2. Fox Sports Asia analyst Alex Yoong noted that both drivers were careful to avoid a crash even if there was slight contact between the rear tires of both cars but the move was otherwise clean, with Verstappen praising Perez for being fair. I think the move showed Perez’s true maturity over the years and Verstappen’s unbelievable precociousness as a racer—a true prodigy indeed at only 18 years of age. The teenager had more work later in the race, pulling off a similar maneuver on Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and passing Maldonado to get into the top ten with few laps remaining.
At the front end of the grid, the battle between the two Silver Arrows proved to be intriguing, as Hamilton maintained constant pressure on Rosberg, who effectively led the entire race. At one point after the first round of pit-stops, the leader appeared to have missed the apex braking into Turn 1, drawing Hamilton closer. However, Rosberg kept his composure and made no mistakes the entire race. Hamilton was left frustrated for not being able to properly challenge for the race lead, complaining that it was “impossible to follow [Rosberg]” around the track—highlighting the problem I talked about in my review of the Mexican Grand Prix about cars struggling to follow other cars. Because of this, Hamilton requested to split strategies with his teammate but Mercedes race engineers insisted on keeping their two drivers on identical strategies for the remainder of the race.
After the final round of pit stops for the leading Mercedes duo, Rosberg was faced with heavy traffic from back-markers. Undeterred, he carefully weaved his way through, strategically passing the slower cars before Turn 1, effectively keeping them ahead of Hamilton through Turn 2 and the long Turn 3. Hamilton, in his haste to catch the leader, locked his front-right tire while lapping Grosjean. The champion was unable to further decrease the gap to his teammate, leading to Rosberg’s triumphant victory for the second race in a row, and the second straight Brazilian Grand Prix.
It’s also interesting that Ferrari split their strategies not only between their drivers, but also with Mercedes. While a two-stop strategy was employed for Raikkonen, Vettel had a three-stop strategy and opted for Softs in the later stints, opposite to the Mediums used by the Rosberg and Hamilton. Vettel’s pace kept him close to the leaders, probably due to his opting for the softer, quicker tires. Nonetheless, Vettel’s gap relative to the leaders was notably smaller than what would have been near the beginning of the season, showing Ferrari’s steady improvement.
Heading into the season finale at Abu Dhabi in two weeks’ time, I think Hamilton’s threats against his throne are beginning to surface. Ferrari, led by Vettel, is charging ever closer and the champion’s teammate has not only dominated the previous two races, but has also claimed pole position in the last five. One could only wonder if Rosberg had successfully converted the initial three poles into race wins. If only Hamilton didn’t run him off the track at the start in Japan. If only Rosberg didn’t have his throttle problem in Russia. If only there wasn’t a “gust of wind” that caught Rosberg off guard in Austin that led to his late-race, win-costing mistake.
Rosberg heads into Abu Dhabi with head held high, eager to prove that he can match his championship-winning teammate’s pace. Equivalently, Ferrari is also eager to prove that hopefully by next season, they can match the pace of the constructors’ champions and encroach on the battle at the front end of the field.
Force India clinches fifth in Constructors’ Championship
As a team who spent most of the preseason tests running their 2014-spec chassis, Force India has pulled off quite a comeback to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship, the highest they have achieved in their history as an F1 team. This was a team whose initial car struggled to find acceptable results in the first few rounds but constant improvements developed the car and with the advent of their B-spec VJM08 in the middle of the campaign, Perez delivered consistent performances while Hulkenberg provided strong points-scoring results in races where he didn’t retire. If not for Hulkenberg’s retirements, I think they probably would have been closer to fourth-placed Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.
As the season panned out, Force India established themselves as a consistent team that can score points and effectively develop their car despite being one of the lower budget teams. Of course, their development has been buoyed by their talented driver lineup. Perez and Hulkenberg are retained for next season but the Force India name may actually be rebranded as Aston Martin Racing. However, the talks between the team and Aston Martin first reported in the Mexican GP has yet to be followed up although it is said that team owner Vijay Mallya has expressed his openness to the rebranding of his team, saying that the Force India name “has done its job.” The reasoning behind the potential rebranding is the increased marketability brought about by the Aston Martin name and this could possibly bring in some money for the team, potentially expanding their budget. After a strong 2015 season about to be wrapped up, Force India (or whatever team name they might adopt) could continue improving from this year’s successes and make a sustained attack in 2016.
Photo credits: Nico Rosberg Official Facebook page