Tuesday 16 January 2018

'Everything is to play for' - Rosberg closes gap on Hamilton with Brazilian victory

Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany celebrates as he steps out of his car after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo
Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany celebrates as he steps out of his car after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg leads the pack during the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix at the Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo

Ian Parke

Nico Rosberg ended Lewis Hamilton's five-race winning streak to take the chequered flag at the Brazilian Grand Prix and set up a double-points showdown in the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg completed his utter dominance of the weekend at Interlagos with a vital victory to close the gap to Hamilton to 17 points, with the Briton having to settle for the runner-up spot.

Even with the controversial double-points system in place for the first time in Formula One history, Hamilton knows even if Rosberg wins again in Abu Dhabi he only needs to finish second to claim his second world title.

It was Mercedes' 11th one-two of the season, setting a new F1 record, whilst the Brackley-based team have now equalled the haul for number of wins in a single campaign of 15.

It was a tremendous performance from Rosberg as he was quickest in all three practice sessions and topped the timesheet after each of the three qualifying runs, ultimately taking his 10th pole position this year.

It was, however, a mistake from Hamilton that aided Rosberg's cause as the former appeared on course to take the lead at the end of lap 28, only to take a minor spin.

Over the closing 20 laps there was consistently less than a second that separated the duo as Rosberg came under intense pressure from Hamilton, but managed to keep him at bay.

Come the flag, with Hamilton easing off on the final lap, 1.4secs was the gap between them, with Williams' Felipe Massa 41 seconds adrift in third, with McLaren's Jenson Button fourth.

It all now comes to a head at the Yas Marina circuit where Mercedes will be praying the fight is clean and their cars stay reliable, as was the case around all 71 laps at one of the sport's most-famous circuits.

Assessing his performance, Rosberg said: "I've been very happy the whole weekend, all weekend I've been feeling comfortable in the car.

"I was able to attack and control the gap to Lewis during the race, so that worked out great."

Hamilton conceded it was his mistake that cost him a sixth straight victory as he said: "It was an amazing race, I had a great time.

"But I made a big mistake in the mid-part race, but other than that the team did their usual great job and Nico drove well."

Looking ahead to Abu Dhabi, Hamilton added: "I'm going to drive pretty much the same. It's everything to play for."

In the build-up to the event a number of drivers had complained about Pirelli's tyre choice, with Massa chief amongst them.

The Italian tyre manufacturer initially announced the hard and medium compounds, but Massa bemoaned the fact that in light of a complete track resurfacing recently it was too conservative.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery insisted his company were on top of the situation, and it was not too long before they confirmed a change with a switch to medium and soft rubber.

What was unexpected was the heat of a warm spring Brazilian day with track temperatures topping 50 degrees centigrade, leading to a number of blisters appearing on the tyres of numerous cars.

Hamilton and Rosberg were amongst the number, ensuring it was a race about tyre management for all concerned, but it still resulted in a frenetic multiple pit-stop event.

The first of those arrived after just a handful of laps such was the severe degradation on the soft rubber.

With the call on strategy as race leader, after a clean getaway from pole position ahead of Hamilton, Rosberg was in after seven laps.

Following in a lap later, Hamilton came up shy of the undercut as he came out narrowly behind his team-mate.

Approaching the second stop, and with Hamilton cutting Rosberg's lead from 2.4secs to just one second over a handful of laps, it appeared as if a second shot at the undercut would pay off.

With Rosberg in after 26 laps, Hamilton then pumped in comfortably the fastest lap of the race on 27, only to overcook it on 28.

In a heart-stopping moment the 29-year-old spun off track at turn four, but with momentum was able to keep going and return to the circuit.

It cost Hamilton the lead, and instead of being out in front and controlling the race he dropped to 7.4secs adrift at the end of lap 29.

Hamilton, in a bid to atone for his error, then began the slow haul of reeling in Rosberg, to such an extent that 20 laps later the gap was down to two seconds.

Come lap 50 and Rosberg was in for his third and final set of fresh rubber, with Hamilton following suit a lap later, leaving a 20-lap battle to the flag.

But despite the continual 0.5secs-0.7secs gap between, Hamilton was not once able to get a shot at a pass.

As for home hero Massa, his race was an eventful one as he was hit with a five-second stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane en route to making his first stop.

With the punishment served at the second stop, come his third Massa entered the McLaren pit box directly in front of Williams, leading to him being waved through by the former team's mechanics.

Neither incident cost him his fifth podium in Brazil though, with Button also performing superbly to underline he deserves to stay at McLaren for next year.

Outgoing four-times champion Sebastian Vettel was fifth, whilst for team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, after a run of 15 points-scoring races - including three victories - the Australian retired for only the second time this season with a suspension failure.

Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were sixth and seventh, followed by Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India, McLaren's Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas in his Williams.

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