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Right down to the wire

FORMULA ONE: Brazil rarely fails to provide exciting racing, and on Nov 13, the famed Interlagos circuit didn’t disappoint.


Michael Lamonato

Monday 14 November 2016, 12:00PM


Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix ahead of title rival and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP
Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix ahead of title rival and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP

The heady combination of a soaked circuit, a finely poised championship stoush, and a retiring local hero made for an unmissable spectacle that would have fans forgiven for thinking the race was the season finale rather than the penultimate round.

Lewis Hamilton, starting the weekend 19 points adrift of title rival teammate Nico Rosberg, shaded the second Mercedes car from practice to qualifying, the Briton knowing that anything other than a win would almost certainly put paid to his bid for a fourth championship.

But when precipitous tension preceded literal precipitation the Brazilian Grand Prix swung wildly to the advantage of Hamilton’s sublime wet-weather skills.

Contrasting with Rosberg’s affinity for Mercedes’s 2015 car in the dry has been the German’s inability to maximise his machine in wet conditions, and the heavy rain, sufficiently intense to require two half-hour suspensions, threatened to put him not only out of victory contention but out of the race altogether.

While Hamilton cruised effortlessly in the lead – “I was just chilling up front … it was a very easy race generally,” he said on the podium – Rosberg struggled to generate traction out of the circuit’s waterlogged corners, and he almost lost his car completely charging around the circuit’s treacherous turn 13-14-15 ascent to the start-finish straight.

“For sure it was very difficult conditions out there, and I can live with second today for sure,” Rosberg said relievedly after his white-knuckle afternoon that left him with 12 points to defend at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The championship tussle continued apace, but Max Verstappen, who completed the podium, threatened to write his own twist on the narrative.

On a weekend Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had warned Verstappen’s father, Jos, that his son’s eager antics threatened to adulterate the straight fight between the two championship protagonists, teenager Max had no hesitation steaming around the outside of Rosberg at turn three and chomping at Hamilton’s lead after a mid-distance safety car.

A second career win looked on the cards, but Verstappen’s chances were undone when he gambled on an early switch to the intermediate tyre in an attempt to outfox Hamilton.

As the rain began intensifying the Dutchman quickly realised his tyres were inadequate for the conditions. A costly additional stop dropped him to P16 – but that was where his race really started.

With 17 laps remaining the Dutchman unleashed on his barely-used tyres, sparing not his teammate, not the hard-fighting Sebastian Vettel, and not the rules of physics, according Wolff, on his quest to recover his lost podium.

It was a drive likened to some of Senna’s best races, the Brazilian icon synonymous with daring feats of wet-weather racing.

But while F1 basked in the glow of Verstappen’s ascending star it simultaneously bade emotional farewell to one of its dearest racers, and retiring Williams driver Felipe Massa made no effort to hide his tears after crashing out of his final home grand prix.

In a bittersweet twist, the crash, which prompted a safety car, gave him the unusual opportunity to walk alongside the circuit, complete with a Brazilian flag, and soak up the adoration of his fans.

Mechanics in the pit lane gave him an impromptu guard of honour on his way to embracing his wife and son in a heartbreakingly human mid-race moment.

The Brazilian Grand Prix rarely fails to deliver, and 2016 proved no exception.

 

 

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