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Winners and Losers - Brazil

14 Nov 2016

The clearest winners from Sunday’s Formula 1 Grande Premio do Brasil 2016 were those watching it - spectators were treated to action all the way, and some superb displays of wet-weather driving prowess. But who was truly smiling after the storms, and who left Sao Paulo with their spirits dampened?


The Winners

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton’s 52nd victory moved him ahead of Alain Prost in the all-time stakes, but more importantly to him it was his first at Interlagos, Ayrton Senna’s home track. And it also made another little bit of racing history, as he became the only man to win on 24 different tracks. Of those currently in use, the only one on which he has yet to win is Baku.

Yes, he is still 12 points behind Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg in the title chase and must win and have Rosberg finish fourth or lower in Abu Dhabi if he is to take a fourth title, but he was elated with the result, and the fact his title hopes are still on track.

"It was a very easy race," he said, perhaps overstressing that in an effort to out-psyche Rosberg. "Probably one of the easier ones. I didn't have any spins or moments, it was pretty straightforward. Silverstone 2008 was way harder than this.

"I’ve been dreaming of winning since here I was very, very young. These experiences feel surreal and won't kick in until later. After so many years of not winning this GP... It’s a hard one to win and today was one of the most difficult in terms of being wet and aquaplaning - but the easiest race I have had in 10 years."

The odds still favour Rosberg heavily, but Hamilton left Brazil with his tail up.

"I’m hunting and all I can do is what I am doing right now," he said. "The team has given me a good car and finally the reliability is really good. And Abu Dhabi is a good track for me. Let’s see."

Max Verstappen

He ran as high as second, following an excellent pass on Rosberg on the 32nd lap in Turn 1, but ultimately he finished behind the German, and race winner Hamilton. Yet Max Verstappen was definitely one of the winners after a typically feisty performance that yet again demonstrated his own world champion potential.

Had Red Bull not gambled on pitting him for intermediate tyres in the face of a weather forecast that predicted more rain, he would have kept that second position. But he was still beaming with delight afterwards, having scythed his way decisively through the pack in the closing stages to clinch another podium.

“We got some great overtakes so I am very happy, of course,” he said. “In the first one, on Kimi (Raikkonen), I was trying some different lines. I found a good one and I knew if Kimi didn't take that line, I had a good chance to overtake. I pulled out at the straight and went straight to the inside and passed him - and from then on I was relieved.

"Then with the red flag, when we restarted again, the track was worse than before. But I had good pace and a good fight with Nico (Rosberg) in Turn 3, tried to follow Lewis for a bit and had a massive moment, lucky to not crash the car. That raised my heartbeat a little!

"I got the call to box, we did a pit stop, then it started to rain again and the last sector was undriveable on inters. We had to pit again and I was 14th, started to pass people again, couldn't see where I was on the straight, but passed a lot of them.

“Maybe I could have been second. But to get back on the podium was a great result here."

Felipe Nasr

Felipe Nasr had not been a happy man in Interlagos. Earlier in the week he had seen Esteban Ocon nominated as Nico Hulkenberg’s replacement at Force India for 2017, a seat he believed would be his. At the same time, Renault kept Jolyon Palmer, as Kevin Magnussen prepared to go to Haas. All the good alternative seats were disappearing fast, leaving him with the option to stay at Sauber, or potentially go to Manor.

He needed a good result, and boy did he deliver one.

He was ninth at the end of the 10th lap, and thereafter he stayed in a potential point-scoring position for the rest of the race, driving the way he did on his successful debut in Australia for the team last year.

Towards the end he couldn’t keep the likes of Max Verstappen, Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso at bay, but he held on to finish ninth and win his team two critical points.

“Unbelievable,” said the Brazilian, amid whoops and hollers. “It’s like a victory!”

Indeed, it was. And it might just have secured his F1 future.

Sauber

Sauber desperately needed to score here, as they lay 11th in the constructors’ table, with no points, and with just two races left. When Felipe Nasr was as high as ninth after 10 laps, pulse rates quickened. And as the young Brazilian kept his C36 in contention for lap after lap, through all the various hiatuses, hopes increased.

By lap 42 he was up to sixth, but though he was subsequently passed by faster runners he clung on for ninth and the two crucial points that put the Swiss team ahead of closest rival Manor, and into the high-paying 10th position overall.

It was a rescue job that came almost literally at the 11th hour.

Esteban Ocon

In the end, he could not fend off Fernando Alonso or Valtteri Bottas, but to concede to a McLaren and a Williams is hardly a crime when you are driving a Manor.

The young Frenchman made a superb start, was running 10th at the end of the 10th lap, and stayed in the fight for points almost right to the end, while leaving vaunted team mate Pascal Wehrlein behind.

He barely put a wheel wrong despite the treacherous conditions, and showed just what he’s made of. Having signed him earlier in the week to replace Nico Hulkenberg for 2017, Force India must have been rubbing their hands with glee.

Fernando Alonso

It went almost unnoticed by the cameras given Max Verstappen's scintillating charge, but Alonso was also a man on the move in the closing stages.

For once it was an error of the Spaniard's own making that set up the fight back - blinded by the spray he spun at the final restart and dropped from seventh to 17th, three seconds behind McLaren team mate Jenson Button. But he wouldn't stay there for long.

Passes on Button, Kevin Magnussen, Esteban Gutierrez, Pascal Wehrlein, Valtteri Bottas, Daniil Kvyat and finally Esteban Ocon all followed - seven places gained in 14 laps, and Alonso was back into the points. Having been three seconds behind his team mate on lap 55, he was nearly 40s up the road as the chequered flag waved 16 laps later...

 

The Losers

Red Bull

What might have happened had Red Bull not gambled aggressively on pitting Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen for intermediate tyres on the 40th and 43rd laps, in the face of a weather forecast that suggested that heavy rain was on the way?

For a while both were lapping quickly on the green-banded tyres, but then the team brought them in for more wets as conditions deteriorated on the 52nd and 54th laps respectively. In total both men made five stops including the race halts - Mercedes in contrast made two. 

“Win, maybe not, but second was definitely possible,” Verstappen thought. "I think we were in quite a safe position in second but sometimes you have to gamble a little bit - that is what we tried today. We got some great overtakes so I am very happy, of course.”

Ferrari

First Kimi Raikkonen quickly lost his third place to Max Verstappen, as the first safety car pitted after lap seven. Then Sebastian Vettel spun from fifth place to 11th on the 10th lap.

Then Raikkonen spun on the pit straight and hit the wall, bringing out the safety car again on the 20th lap.

That left Vettel to claw his way back up the field. He eventually finished fifth, just nine-tenths off Sergio Perez, but it had taken him far too long to pass Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso, and he had been unable to resist Max Verstappen’s Red Bull on fresher rubber, as the Dutchman sped on to the final podium slot.

Yet again, it was another ‘what-might-have-been’ race for the Scuderia.

Sergio Perez and Force India

Sergio Perez gave another of his unobtrusive but excellent wet-weather performances and seemed set to take another valuable podium finish for Force India.

But in the closing stages his VJM09’s tyres were in no shape to compete with the fresher rubber on Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, and the Dutchman went ahead with just two laps remaining.

Team mate Nico Hulkenberg should also have been in contention for the podium. He was running fourth after the third safety car, having made a phenomenal avoidance of Kimi Raikkonen’s stricken Ferrari. But then he picked up a right rear puncture, and the resultant pit stop killed his chances of doing better than his eventual seventh.

Manor

The battle between Manor and Sauber was one of the features of the race. The Swiss team were desperate to score for the first time in 2016 and were ahead most of the time, which meant that if they scored two or more points they would pass Manor, who already had one point scored by Pascal Wehrlein for 10th place in Austria, for the lucrative 10th place overall in the world championship for constructors.

In the end, Felipe Nasr took ninth, and two points, for Sauber, as Manor’s Esteban Ocon was deprived of 10th place by Fernando Aolonso, on the 70th of the 71 laps.

It was a demotion that looks set to deprive Manor of prize money running into the millions.