Rosberg closes title gap with victory in Brazil
Mercedes driver now 17 points behind team-mate Hamilton as season heads towards double-points finale. Massa third in home race.
Nico Rosberg kept his Formula One title hopes very much alive with a superbly controlled drive to Brazilian Grand Prix victory ahead of Lewis Hamilton to close the championship gap to his team-mate to 17 points as the season head towards its double points finale in two weeks’ time.
Felipe Massa took a hugely popular third place for Williams, while Jenson Button finished fourth ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel.
At the start, Rosberg held his advantage, making a good getaway to lead the field through the Senna S. Behind him, Hamilton slotted into second ahead of Massa and Bottas with Button fifth. Vettel lost out, however. After starting sixth, he was quickly put under pressure by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The Red Bull man ran wide at Turn Four and was passed by both. That dropped Vettel to eighth, just in front of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and 10th-placed Esteban Gutierrez, who had moved ahead of Kimi Raikkonen at the start.
Massa was the first of the frontrunners to shed his starting soft tyres on lap six and rejoined in P16. It was a troubled visit to pit lane, however, as he was immediately handed a five-second stop and go penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
His switch to medium tyres prompted a flurry of pit lane activity, with the bulk of the field pitting for the prime tyre.
The exceptions were Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil.
By the time all of the soft-tyre starters had pitted, the order on lap 11 saw Hulkenberg leading from Kvyat, with Rosberg third ahead of Hamilton. Grosjean was fifth ahead of Massa, who had yet to serve his penalty, while Bottas was seventh ahead of Sutil, Button and Magnussen.
Robserg resumed the lead of the race as the field completed lap 13. Having already dismissed Kvyat, he swept past Hulkenberg. With Hamilton stuck behind the Force India in third place, Rosberg was quickly able to carve out a two-second gap over his title rival. Hamilton eventually got past the Force India at the start of lap 16 but was now 2.4s down on Rosberg.
Hulkenberg was the first of the medium tyre starters to pit on lap 17 and two laps later Kvyat ventured into the pit lane. Sutil, still out on track on his mediums, was clearly struggling with his opening set. He was quickly passed by Alonso and Vettel to drop to 11th and then elected to pit. It wasn’t a smooth visit, with his crew struggling to replace his right rear tyre. He lost time and rejoined in last place, where would eventually finish. Grosjean was the last of the medium starters to pit, after a long 25-lap stint.
Vettel also chose to pit at the end of the same tour and that sparked the second round of stops. Rosberg pitted for more mediums on lap 27, with Hamilton assuming the lead. The Briton attempted to push, to make up time during Rosberg’s stop, but he lost control at Turn Four and spun off into the run-off area. He continued on but after his own stop his found himself more than seven seconds adrift of his team-mate.
Bottas, meanwhile, was in trouble in his pit stop. He appeared to have a problem with his belts and lost considerable time as his crew made adjustments. The delaye dropped him to 12th behind Ricciardo.
Raikkonen, too, had trouble in his second stop, which came late, on lap 36. His crew dropped the car off the jacks before the front right wheel had been properly attached and the car had to be lifted again to remedy the problem. Whatever good work Raikkonen had put in during his long second stint was immediately undone.
On track Vettel was marching forward. Having passed Alonso and Magnussen in his second stop, he quickly made his way past the out-of-sequence Kvyat to take P5 just after half distance.
It was a less successful outing for his team-mate however. On lap 39 Ricciardo slowed and radioed through that he had a brake issue. He pitted on lap 40 and retired.
Bottas’ woes continued too. He made a third pit stop on lap 43 but it was again a slow one as his team took time to make an adjustment to his front wing. He rejoined in 16th place.
At the front, Hamilton was pushing hard and on lap 46 he was just 1.9 seconds behind Rosberg, with Massa third, Button fourth and Vettel still in P5 ahead of Alonso.
Vettel was the first of the front runners to make a third stop, heading in for more mediums on lap 49. Rosberg was next in, on lap 51 for the same compound. He was quickly followed by Massa and Button on the same lap. Williams’ pit lane errors began to mount up as Massa pulled into the wrong box before having to trundle forward from the front of the McLaren garage to his team’s pit box.
Hamilton made his third stop on lap 52, bolting on a final set of medium tyres and quickly began to close in on Rosberg. On lap 53 he was 0.7 seconds behind the race leader and within DRS range. Rosberg responded with a race fastest lap but the Briton pushed hard to better that and close to 0.6.
Behind them Massa held third despite his pit lane issue, while Hulkenberg and Raikkonen were in fourth and fifth respectively, though question marks remained as to whether the Finn would try to race to the flag on his ageing medium tyres or have to pit again.
Hulkenberg made his final stop on lap 61 and dropped back to eighth. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was in trouble. His tyres began to fall away and though he tried to defend he was soon passed by both Button and Vettel.
The order then, with nine laps to go was Rosberg, six tenthsa of a second ahead of Hamilton, with Massa a further 31.7s behind. Button was now fourth ahead of Vettel, with Raikkonen clinging to sixth on his fading tyres. Alonso was 1.7s behind his team-mate, with Magnussen eighth ahead of Hulkenberg and Bottas.
After a fascinating five-lap duel, Alonso finally passed Raikkon on the pit straight on lap 68 to take P6.
Ahead, though, the order remained unchanged. Hamilton could find no way past the coolly, controlled Rosberg and after 71 laps the German took his fifth win of the season and his first since his home grand prix in July.
To the delight of the Sao Paulo crowd, Massa took the final podium place for his first trophy since the Italian and Prix. Button was fourth ahead of Vettel, with Alonso sixth. Raikkonen, in seventh, was the only driver to stick to a two-stop strategy and make it work and might have been further up the order had his second stop not gone wrong. Hulkenberg scored four points with eighth, while the final points positions were taken by Magnussen and Bottas.
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1h30m02.555s2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1.457s3. Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 41.031s4. Jenson Button McLaren/Mercedes 48.658s5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull/Renault 51.420s6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m01.906s7. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m03.730s8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m03.934s9. Kevin Magnussen McLaren/Mercedes 1m10.085s10 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso/Renault 1 Lap12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus/Renault 1 Lap13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso/Renault 1 Lap14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap15 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1 Lap16 Adrian Sutil Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap17 Romain Grosjean Lotus/Renault 8 Laps
DNF Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault Retirement
DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS:
1. Lewis Hamilton 3342. Nico Rosberg 3173. Daniel Ricciardo 2144. Sebastian Vettel 1595. Fernando Alonso 1576. Valtteri Bottas 1567. Jenson Button 1068. Felipe Massa 989. Nico Hulkenberg 8010 Kevin Magnussen 5511 Kimi Raikkonen 5312 Sergio Perez 4713 Jean-Eric Vergne 2214 Romain Grosjean 815 Daniil Kvyat 816 Pastor Maldonado 217 Jules Bianchi 218 Adrian Sutil 019 Marcus Ericsson 020 Esteban Gutierrez 021 Max Chilton 022 Kamui Kobayashi 0
CONSTRUCTORS' CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS:
1. Mercedes 6512. Red Bull/Renault 3733. Williams/Mercedes 2544. Ferrari 2105. McLaren/Mercedes 1616. Force India/Mercedes 1277. Toro Rosso/Renault 308. Lotus/Renault 109. Marussia/Ferrari 210 Sauber/Ferrari 011 Caterham/Renault 0