F1 Brazilian Grand Prix Review

By Bob Constanduros

I did suggest that the Brazilian Grand Prix could be a bit of a wild card event and so it proved, once again, thanks to the weather. OK, the leading duo was pretty predictable with both drivers doing all they had to; in Lewis Hamilton’s case, his first win in Brazil and in Nico Rosberg’s case, keeping his championship chances on course with second place.


Nico, naturally, would like to win every race but ever since he took the championship lead with Lewis’s retirement at the Malaysian Grand Prix followed by his victory a week later in Japan, he has known that all he has to do is finish second to Lewis in every race which is exactly what he’s done.


He’s an intelligent individual who must know that he’s up against the fastest driver in the world today and therefore he has to beat him by other means. In this instance that’s consistency and minimising risk. (Curiously, consistency is both admired and derided; I particularly like this quote from Oscar Wilde: ‘consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.’) So he sits in the lead of the championship, 12 points ahead of his rival as we head to the final round of the series in Abu Dhabi.


Mercedes did all they had to and once again had the legs on their rivals, even if the gap had seemed to narrow. If anything, that was because Interlagos is a short lap with a short lap time, so all margins are compressed. But it was also an interesting weekend for other reasons.


We had all kinds of conditions. No one was expecting the very warm day we had on Friday, where the track temperature reached 52 degrees on our official FIA read-out – that often tends to be different to other sources. Nearly all drivers suffered with a lack of balance in these conditions.


But next day the conditions had cooled, so that qualifying was virtually dry. Actually, there was an annoying drizzle that made the track damp but not so wet as to be for either intermediate or full wet tyres, with the only prospect being to wear out a set of valuable intermediates. In fact qualifying was almost totally dry.


At least the weather seemed committed the next day: it was wet all day so there was no doubt as to the tyre wear with wets ultimately being the correct choice even if the track does tend to dry quickly. But being on the side of a hill, you can also get disrupting streams across the circuit which caused several incidents. These resulted in the race stoppages that we had and the ‘free’ tyre stops so that neither of the first two actually made a pit stop for a tyre change. Everyone was wondering when that last happened but we reckon it was in Australia, so not long ago


Even more mysterious, when did we have a driver starting with one helmet livery and finishing with another? Lewis Hamilton had had a special yellow ‘Senna tribute’ helmet prepared which he wore for the first part of the race but reported that it was leaking water, so when the race was stopped, he was able to change to his regular more white-based helmet with which he completed the race.


One of those incidents claimed Felipe Massa and what a wonderful send-off he received which surely shows the strength of the Formula One family. Everyone was looking forward to the drivers’ parade because they knew that the crowd reaction to Felipe would be phenomenal and true enough, his final home Grand Prix proved to be as memorable as expected.


Williams were remarkably competitive on the Friday, but then slipped out of the top ten on Saturday when their championship rivals Force India rebounded. They didn’t show too well in the race, going for the intermediates but the real story was when Felipe Massa crashed out. The race stoppage allowed him to walk back to his pit, cheered by the crowd and then everyone in the pit lane with all teams and mechanics coming out to applaud him – even if he had left a wrecked Williams at the pit lane entrance. As he said  ‘so much love.’ It was an intensively emotional moment for Felipe and a great demonstration of the loyalty and love of the Formula One family – even to the extent that his son was allowed in the pit lane which would normally be taboo.


And then we had the heroism of Max Verstappen, another driver to stop for intermediates which didn’t work as expected and then required another stop to change back to full wets. Max had already won over the crowd with a phenomenal ‘save’ when he lost control and was literally ninety degrees to the pit straight barrier, yet managed to lock the rears so that the front end came round and allowed him to continue. One incredible moment.


And then on those new wets he absolutely flew, finding places to overtake that no one else had even thought of. When I was later discussing it with Eje Elgh, ex-F2 driver, TV commentator and Marcus Ericsson’s manager, we both said ‘karting’ at the same time, because that’s where much of this performance came from, simply the way you find grip when you’re driving a kart. There are kart circuits where you are sent out on slicks on a wet track and where you have to find grip, where you learn that the outside of a corner is drier than the inside because it is banked and the moisture runs from the top to the bottom, so that the outside has more grip. That’s a basic karting lesson and  Max is young enough to remember that.


What a performance from the young Dutchman who continues to rewrite convention in F1. I’m sure there are those who watch Formula One these days just to see what he gets up to. Who can blame them? I think Sebastian Vettel may be among them.


The drivers really were heroic on Sunday, just maintaining control of those cars. OK, you could say that it wasn’t that wet and they are the best drivers in the world but the cars have a lot of power and not a lot of downforce, which is why they are so difficult to drive on those Pirelli tyres. And yet Lewis still had time to glance at the TV, not only noting Max’s save but also the fact that Red Bull had changed to intermediates and questioning whether he should do the same.


Ferrari continues to blunder on, although to be fair, they looked better in Brazil but their claim that they had new evidence to appeal against their penalty in Mexico was ridiculous. We came to the conclusion that there must be another agenda somewhere. However, FIA president Jean Todt doesn’t like the integrity of his stewards being questioned which may put him at odds with his former team. And the argument regarding ever changing stewards is not one that is valid; there is a small pool of very experienced stewards who change but it is a small number.


Sebastian Vettel put in a reasonable performance in spite of his spin which Fernando Alonso copied and then charged through the field brilliantly in the closing stages. A superb performance at the end from him, a good one too from Carlos Sainz who deserved better. And we all hoped that Sauber would at some stage score points and so it proved, even if it was at the expense of poor Manor who also showed so well for ultimately no reward.


All in all, then, a typical Brazilian Grand Prix, the wild card race that we expected. Sad to say, we had the usual threats that in spite of recently modernising their facilities, albeit belatedly, there are doubts as to whether we shall be going back. All I know is that Bernie Ecclestone values having a race in South America, it’s important for him to do so which is why we’ve gone back when the facilities have been poor. Now that they are much improved – although apparently all underground – why not?


It’s an intriguing country, Brazil, but it felt quite quiet this weekend. The traffic wasn’t as horrendous as usual; I was told that because of the economic situation, people aren’t using their cars as much. There still seemed a good if vocal crowd and good for FOM for showing the crowd’s displeasure at the stoppages. This was good, balanced, unbiased editorial although we didn’t see much of the incident when an umbrella landed on the circuit early in the weekend.


So the championship goes down the wire to Yas Island where Lewis will be cheering on Red Bull in the hope that they can get in between himself and Nico in the final classification and pinch some points off the German. But that’s not something you can bet on. It will be a tall order for Lewis; again, it’s Nico’s to lose.