Nico Rosberg took a second consecutive Brazilian Grand Prix win with a controlled drive from pole position, beating Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to the flag by 7.7 seconds. Sebastian Vettel took a relatively lonely third place, finishing 6.4s behind Hamilton and more than 30 seconds in front of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Last year Rosberg had put in a flawless performance to keep his title hopes alive until the final race of the season and while there was only pride and second place to battle for this year in Interlagos, Rosberg was again similarly inspired as he comfortably held off Hamilton at the start and then controlled matters for the following 71 laps.
With Rosberg making a good getaway when the lights went out to hold of Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen maintained their starting positions of third and fourth.
Behind them, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas made an excellent start from seventh to slot into fifth ahead of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who had dropped back from fifth on the grid. Felipe Massa was eighth ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Force India and Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen.
Further back, Carlos Sainz was in trouble. The Spaniard had been set to start from 10th place but on his way to the grid he suffered a mechanical issue and had to start from the pit lane. However, within seconds of him taking to the track he was pulling over to stop between Turns Four and Five, his all-too-brief race run.
Ricciardo was the first to shed his starting soft tyres, the Australian making a very early stop on lap four to take on medium tyres.
Hulkenberg was the next in and he used his stop well, utilising his laps on fresh tyres to make up time and when Kvyat pitted on lap 10, the German flashed past the Russian as the Red Bull made its way to the pit lane exit.
Leader Rosberg pitted on lap 13, with Vettel following his compatriot to the pit lane. Rosberg’s stop was slow though, 4.4s. Hamilton took his turn on the following lap. The Briton also took on medium tyres in a 3.6s stop.
The eight tenths of a second bonus wasn’t enough to get Hamilton past his team-mate. However, as the pair crossed the line on the following lap the champion was just 0.9s behind his team-mate and within DRS range.
Behind them, the order after the first round of stops saw Vettel in third place, 4.3s behind Hamilton, with Raikkonen fourth ahead of Bottas. Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado had climbed to sixth but the Venezuelan had started on medium tyres and had yet to make his first stop. Hulkenberg was now seventh ahead of Kvyat and Massa, while Perez was now 10th. Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen was now in P11 ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Ricciardo who had climbed to P13 from P19 on the grid.
Maldonado was soon losing ground on his ageing medium tyres and by lap 23 he had been passed by Hulkenberg, Kvyat and Massa and was down in P9 and losing almost a second a lap to 10th-placed Perez. It was too much of a deficit and on lap 25 the Venezuelan duly pitted, taking on more mediums. He rejoined in P17.
At the front, Rosberg was under pressure. Hamilton closed to 0.6s behind the German in the laps after their stops but the German kept his cool and responded, breaking DRS on lap 25 and pushing the gap out to 1.1s. It widened further, to 1.6s, as Hamilton temporarily backed out of the fight to possibly save tyres in the hope of stretching the stint longer than Rosberg to have fresher tyres for another assault in the closing stages.
Ricciardo made his second stop, from P12, for another set of mediums, on lap 28. He was followed a lap later by Sebastian Vettel, who took on the soft tyre in a bid to put pressure on the Mercedes.
Rosberg then made his second stop for more mediums on lap 33 and as he did so Hamilton’s race engineer was swiftly on the radio, calmly telling the champion that is was now ‘hammer time’.
The Briton had a lap to do it but when he emerged after his stop Raikkonen, who had yet to make his second visit to the pit lane, was powering past and into his way. Hamilton took no prisoners, however, and swept past the Finn on the pit straight at the end of the lap to take second. He was now 3.1s behind Rosberg.
Vettel was setting fastest laps on his soft tyres, up to a second quicker than the Mercedes, but as the tyres quickly degraded his pace faded and his times against his rivals began to even out, with the Mercedes on fresher mediums.
After the second stops Rosberg led on lap 45 by 3.2s over Hamilton with Vettel a further six seconds back. Raikkonen was fourth, though the Finn had yet to make his second stop. He was almost 10 seconds adrift of Vettel and losing chunks of time but with almost 44 seconds in hand over fifth-placed Bottas, Raikkonen could afford to keep nursing his aged medium tyres in the hope of needing just two stops. Hulkenberg was now sixth but being pressured by Kvyat. Massa was now eighth ahead of Grosjean and Verstappen
The Finn finally stopped on lap 46, taking on another set of mediums, with which he hoped to reach the end of the race. He was soon followed by Vettel on lap 48, the German shedding his soft tyres for mediums for his final stint.
Rosberg made his third and final stop on lap 48 taking on medium tyres and Hamilton made his final stop on lap 49, the champion also bolting on the medium compound. His swift response to Rosberg’s stopped seemed to indicate that any plan to go long in the stint had been abandoned.
Hamilton attempted to again put pressure on Rosberg but in doing so he suffered a huge lock-up on lap 56. He quickly reported that he felt he had damaged the floor. His times didn’t reflect it but the gap to Rosberg now began to stabilise by the time the leaders were 120 laps from home, the Briton was 2.7s in arrears to his team-mate.
Vettel, meanwhile, was a lonely third, 12.3s behind Hamilton and 23.7s ahead of fourth-placed team-mate Raikkonen. The Finn too was isolated on track, with the Finn sitting 24 seconds ahead of compatriot Bottas. Hulkenberg was a steady sixth, 1.2s ahead of Kvyat, while Massa was eighth ahead of the Lotus cars of Grosjean and Maldonado.
Two-stopping Maldonado, was under pressure from Verstappen, however, and after harrying the Venezuelan for several laps the Dutch teenager closed on the Lotus in the middle sector of lap 67 and despite the Lotus’ Mercedes power, Verstappen was able to pass under DRS down the inside into Turn One of the following tour and take P10.
And that was how the order remained as three laps later Rosberg crossed the line to take his 13th career victory, 7.7s ahead of Hamilton, with Vettel third. Rosberg’s wins mean he takes an unassailable second position in the Drivers’ Championship, with the German now 31 points ahead of Vettel.