Brazilian Grand Prix: Thank You Mark

The Brazilian Grand Prix took place with Sebastian Vettel winning from pole, ahead of retiring teammate Mark Webber, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The result was Alonso’s best since Singapore, though all eyes were on Webber for his final race in Formula 1.

For the final time in 2013, 22 cars lined up on the grid. Most of the grid started on the medium compound tyres, with the exception of Button and Gutierrez, who started on the hard compound. Given that rack conditions were drastically different to qualifying, the early stage of the race was thrilling as teams weren’t sure of tyre wear, or optimal setup for the car. At lights out, both Red Bulls had a reasonable getaway, however Rosberg from P5 and Massa from P7 were quickest off the line. By the exit of the Senna Esses, Rosberg led from Vettel and Alonso, while Hamilton had squeezed out Webber for P4. Not giving up without a fight, both Red Bulls were hot on their respective Mercedes’ tails.

The F1 W04’s straight-line speed was no match for the RB9, and Vettel overtook Rosberg without DRS as they made their way down the pit straight at the end of lap 1. Vettel didn’t have to challenge for position again, though his race was not without incident. Vettel had to manage his tyres more so than usual as the RB9 was suffering severe degradation on his front right tyre, which is expected on an anti-clockwise track. Following Bottas’ retirement, the RB9 made a quick dive into the pits in anticipation of a safety car. The unscheduled stop caught the Red Bull mechanics off guard, and cost him a lot of time. In the final stint of the race, Vettel was losing pace, allowing back markers to un-lap themselves. Nevertheless, Vettel brought the victory home with his now obligatory donuts.

Closely following his teammate’s move on the opening lap, Webber was waiting for the opportune moment to make his move on Hamilton. This moment came as both drivers were entering the Senna Esses at the end of lap 2. In true Webber style, the RB9 lined up behind the F1 W04 down the pit straight, before pulling out to the right to take Hamilton on the outside of the corner. The RB9 then began to close in on Alonso for P2. On lap 13, the Red Bull took the Ferrari in a similar manner to his move on the Mercedes several laps prior. While the move didn’t look too contested by Alonso, Webber was yet again clean and in control. Webber’s final battle for position came several laps later, again with Fernando Alonso. Following a slow pit stop on lap 24 for the Red Bull, Webber came out just behind the Ferrari. Within two laps and on a fresh set of medium compound tyres, Webber once again had Alonso within his grasp, managing to retake his position in P2.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso did not go down without a fight to Webber, laying several challenges to the Red Bull as the two snaked their way through sector two. Unfortunately for Alonso, Webber managed to close the door on every attempt by the Spaniard. Alonso appeared true to his usual championship form, maintaining a frightening quick pace throughout the race, and never quite letting Webber out of his sight. It was very impressive for the Ferrari to hang on to the RB9s. Though never managing to make a move on Mark, Alonso came home in P3. Massa’s race pace was fantastic for his final drive for the Scuderia, despite a less than ideal qualifying. Starting from P9, at lights out the Brazilian cruised his way through the middle of the pack passed two Toro Rossos and a Lotus. Massa’s pace continued throughout the race, with the Brazilian standing a good chance to challenge for a podium position before a drive through penalty put an end to it. The stewards handed Massa the drive through for crossing the white line of the pit entry while overtaking Hamilton on lap 30. A furious Massa took the penalty several laps later while waving* at the stewards as he passed. He’d been running in P4, and came back out into the field P8. Despite putting up a brave fight, Massa could only regain one position, and finished the race P7.

McLaren had their best finish of the season following a stellar race by both Button and Perez. Button, starting P15 immediately made his way through the likes of Bottas, di Resta, Ricciardo, and Kovalainen and into the points by lap 5. One of his more impressive moves of the day came on lap 13 on Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg. The stars aligned for McLaren, as their pit strategy benefitted him against the rest of the field, while Button found the race pace that the McLaren seemed to have been missing all season to eventually finish P4. Perez gave off an impressive final show for McLaren, setting lap times that could only be beaten by the Red Bulls. On his first tyre stint, Perez made up ten positions to put himself inside the points. With steadying pace, Perez made up three more positions on a two-stop strategy to finish P7.

Qualifying P2, Rosberg managed to make the move he’d tried on Vettel during the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes had incredible pace off the line, and despite only leading the race for one lap, laid an excellent challenge to Vettel. Rosberg did appear at times to struggle for tyre degradation with the ever-approaching chance of rain. With the team holding off on their first round of pit stops, Rosberg’s pace suffered and he relinquished P4 to his teammate. Unable to maintain a competitive pace, Rosberg came in for his first pit a few laps later. Holding it together against several quicker cars, Rosberg eventually finished in a respectable P5. After a tricky qualifying, Hamilton got off to an impressive start to the race challenging Webber for P3. The F1 W04 appeared to have a possible issue with his KERs, despite this Hamilton was lapping well to maintain his position in the front of the field. Hamilton’s race unfortunately suffered severely following contact with Bottas resulting in a right rear tyre blow out and a drive through penalty for the Mercedes. Unable to recover from the penalty, Hamilton eventually finished an unlucky P9.

Hulkenberg’s rumoured final race for Sauber went reasonably without incident. The young German driver maintained a competitive pace, and defended his position where he could, notably, Hulkenberg lost out to Button during the early stages of the race. A well-timed two-stop strategy allowed Hulkenberg to still maintain a position in the points, eventually finishing P8. In his final drive of his rookie year, Gutierrez drove with a steady competitive pace driving defensively against Button. His most impressive move of the race came with a wheel-to-wheel moment with Williams driver, Valtteri Bottas, as the two battled for P14. Gutierrez won the challenge and moved up in the field, eventually finishing just outside the points in P12.

Toro Rosso appeared to have a difficult race, with Ricciardo struggling for pace in the early stages of the race. The Australian driver didn’t appear to put up much of a fight as Hamilton challenged him for P9 following the Toro Rosso’s first pit stop. Perhaps he knew the Mercedes with Hamilton behind the wheel would ultimately win out against an inferior Toro Rosso, or perhaps Hamilton is just that good of a driver. Either way, Ricciardo could have given more of a challenge to Hamilton, as the whole move appeared too easy and could be mistaken for a driver obeying blue flags. Picking up the last championship point, Ricciardo eventually finished P10. Team mate Vergne, had a very unfortunate race, immediately conceding several places and falling to the back of the field. To add salt to the wound of Vergne’s race, the Toro Rosso was stuck behind Maldonado and made contact with the Williams on lap 65. While Vergne emerged unscathed from the contact, it was too late for Vergne to make up positions in the field, and he eventually finished P15.

Force India’s race went largely without an issue, with both drivers finishing the final race. Di Resta appeared on form lapping with competitive pace, though not quite managing to finish within the points. Here’s hoping di Resta’s P11 is enough to secure him a race seat for next season. Sutil appears confident that he knows where he will be in 2014, though his confidence didn’t translate into race form, with the German finishing P13.

Kovalainen did the best he could for Lotus, and while the Finn put in an impressive effort throughout the race, his inexperience in the E21 could only yield him P14. Grosjean’s race was cut short as the Frenchman bid adieu to the V8 era of Formula 1 in style with a spectacular engine failure. With smoke billowing from the back of the E21, Grosjean pulled over to the side on lap 2, and quickly exited the track.

Maldonado’s last race for the Williams team was true to his usual form, albeit not a very good form. The Venezuelan had several sloppy incidences on track, finally spinning out after making contact with Vergne, and nearly collecting Button as he rejoined the race. Eventually finishing in P16, Maldonado was smart enough to not blame his team this time. Bottas’ last race of the season ended prematurely as the Williams made contact with Hamilton on lap 45. The Williams immediately lost his left rear tyre, resulting in a spectacular spin off track and his retirement from the race.

Marussia secured the all-important tenth place in the constructors championship following Bianchi’s P17 finish, and Chilton’s P19. Chilton finished every race in his rookie year, though the achievement may have meant more if he hadn’t finished in last place for every race. Van der Garde finished P18 for Caterham, though Pic’s retirement from the race following a broken rear suspension ultimately lost the team the constructors’ position.

The final race of the season marked the end of an era in Formula 1, and a rather more emotional end to the championship than years passed. It was an emotional race for Massa for his final race for the Scuderia, celebrating in style with donuts in front of his home crowd. Webber’s final drive couldn’t quite get him to the stop step of the podium, though he race was arguably one of his best of the season. The Brazilian Grand Prix also marks the final time the sound of V8 engines will ring out from the circuit, as well as Bosworth’s departure again from the sport. Drastic regulation changes for the 2014 season will attempt to knock Red Bull and Vettel off their extremely dominant position. Whether the V6 engines will give smaller teams a better chance is yet to be seen, though I suspect Renault power will continue to rule the grid. Until then, thou e boa note.

– Alex

* It was well more of an angry gesture, but we’ll keep it clean.

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:15.436 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

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