Formula 1 heads to the Brazilian Grand Prix for round 18 of 19 in the 2015 season with plenty still to play for, even if the Driver’s and Constructor’s titles have already been sealed. Nico Rosberg got back to winning ways in Mexico and Ferrari had an absolute shocker, so what can we expect at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace this weekend? Well, several drivers are still jostling for final positions in the championship with Vettel and Rosberg still battling for second, and Bottas, Massa and Raikkonen still all going for fourth with lots of points on offer in Brazil.
Headlines from Mexico
Rosberg re-finds winning touch after a barren five months without victory. Nico Rosberg took his fourth win of the season, but his first since Austria back in June, nine races ago. The German controlled qualifying, as he had done in the previous three races that he didn’t go on to win, but this time he was able to resist the advances of his team-mate into Turn 1, one of his major failings this season on the occasions that he has started on pole. Whilst there was not much action up-front as Rosberg held a comfortable two second lead over his team-mate for the majority of the race, the crowd provided their own excitement and entertainment. It was great to see the Mexican Grand Prix back on the calendar and they got a lot of things right, including the ingenious placement of the podium, directly in front of the main grand stand that gave a level of accessibility that F1 is usually so obviously missing- Rosberg said after the race that he had felt like a “rock star” up on the top step.
Hamilton questions team orders on pitting, but eventually concedes to their instructions. Despite being out-qualified, beaten off the line and stuck behind his team-mate for the most part of the race, Lewis Hamilton thought himself a little hard done by that he finished second. The reason being that on Lap 47, Mercedes brought in Nico Rosberg for an unscheduled stop where they fitted him with fresh tyres. This propelled Hamilton into the lead. On the following lap, Mercedes then called in Hamilton, explaining that there had been a switch of strategy as they had a gap large enough to allow their drivers to stop without losing any track position. However, Lewis felt that his tyres still had plenty of life left in them and with an 18 second lead now over his team-mate, he sniffed an unlikely victory. Despite originally ignoring their request and leaving his pit-crew out waiting, Hamilton did eventually come in. Parity was restored again up front, but Lewis couldn’t find a way past his team-mate in the remaining laps.
Ferrari fail to bring a car home in a Grand Prix for the first time in nine years. Ferrari had one of those weekends to forget as both their cars retired in a race for the first time since Australia 2006. This occasionally happens to a team, as can be highlighted in the second half of this year alone. Mercedes would like to have another go at Singapore given the chance, likewise Red Bull in Japan and Williams in America, and let’s not get started on McLaren. Vettel’s weekend was ruined when he got a puncture into Turn 1 on the first lap when he and Daniel Ricciardo came together. Despite having good race pace and making it back up to 12th, Vettel span off and went wide on Lap 17, was lapped by his championship contenders, then finally put it in the barriers for good on Lap 52, at which point he apologised to his team for having an uncharacteristically sloppy race. On the other side of the garage, Kimi Raikkonen started down the back of the grid having changed his engine, but had battled his way up to sixth place before a coming together with compatriot Valtteri Bottas ended his race on Lap 22.
Valtteri Bottas makes it onto the podium for only the third time this year. Vaterri Bottas qualified in sixth place for the Mexican Grand Prix, marginally ahead of his team-mate Felipe Massa. The Williams drivers had a very nervy first sector on Lap 1, as both did well to avoid each other and the ex-Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in a frantic mid-field battle. Bottas dropped down to seventh at one point, but ended up in fifth place after reacting quickest to Vettel dropping back, overtaking Massa in the process. The Finn pitted on Lap 9 which showed he was on a two-stop strategy, before colliding with Raikkonen on Lap 22 when the two drivers were battling it out for 6th place. Luckily for Bottas, he remained unscathed, before getting lucky with the timing of the safety car on Lap 52, effectively handing him a free stop. He showed his true talent though at the restart, getting the jump on Daniil Kvyat for third place and leapfrogged Kimi Raikkonen into fourth in the Championship in the process.
Kvyat beats Ricciardo again as Red Bull finish fourth and fifth. Daniil Kvyat was certainly regarded as the junior driver in the 2015 Red Bull partnership after Daniel Ricciardo won three Grand Prix in 2014. The start of the season seemed to underline this as Ricciardo beat his team-mate in the first five races, however, the Russian has come back stronger in the second half of the season, beating the Aussie now in six of the last nine races. This run of form has seen him overtake his team-mate by four points in the Driver’s standings and he now sits in seventh place on 88 points. In Mexico, Kvyat and Ricciardo were constantly sniffing around the final podium spot after Vettel’s early puncture, however it was the safety car that Vettel’s spin created that ruined their strategy as it gave Williams a free pit stop. Kvyat will be frustrated he threw away his third place after the restart, but in general it was another great drive by the youngster and a good Red Bull team performance.
So how’s 2016 lining up?
Those of you who are adverse to change will be happy as 2016 is lining up rather like 2015. Of the current top five teams in the Constructor’s Championship (Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull, Force India), the same driver line-ups for next year have already been confirmed, just as Sauber and McLaren have locked in their current drivers as well. There will also be very few regulatory changes, which will make it very difficult for any of the teams to make wholesale changes and could suggest another year of Mercedes dominance is ahead of us again.
Despite the fact that Lewis has utterly outclassed Nico this year, there has never been any talk of that partnership being broken in the near future and that kind of stability will only help their drivers thrive. Their closest competitors, Ferrari, shocked many when they confirmed that Raikkonen would be staying on at the Scuderia next year despite his underwhelming season. It always seemed slightly unfair on Valtteri Bottas that he was being connected with Ferrari for most of the season and yet he is contracted with Williams until the end of 2016.
Further down, there were a few lingering doubts over Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat towards the start of the season, but his form has turned around impressively and they too have decided to stick rather than twist. Of course, the major debate that arises with Red Bull Racing in 2016 is who will be their engine supplier? They have announced this week that they will definitely be lining up on the grid, which is fantastic to hear, but with whose power unit? One must suspect that they will stick with Renault having been shunned by Ferrari and Mercedes and Honda’s lack of performance this year.
Lotus surprisingly have let the talented young Frenchman Romain Grosjean go at the end of this year to new team Haas F1, where he will be partnered by ex-Sauber driver Esteban Gutiérrez who has been Ferrari’s reserve driver this season. This decision is even more shocking considering Lotus are willing to put their faith in the mercurial and unpredictable Pastor Maldonado who still fails to impress on more occasions than not, and rookie Brit, Jolyon Palmer who was their test driver this season.
Force India’s pairing of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg have suitably impressed this season and deserve another chance next year. However, the real news story surrounding this team is the apparent emergence of a new Aston Martin engine deal and Johnnie Walker branding that would see the team renamed Aston Martin Racing, whilst sporting a classic blue and gold livery in line with their new sponsor. If this partnership does come off then it could provide the kind of investment the team needs to make the next step up.
McLaren have confirmed their veteran partnership again for next season which has seen Kevin Magnussen, the team’s reserve driver, move on to pastures new and it will be an absolute travesty if the sport loses the young Dane completely. There was a lot of talk that he too would be joining the new Haas F1 team, but that has failed to happen and now only Manor Marussia and Toro Rosso have potential seats available.
Max Verstappen has been given the nod, but so far Carlos Sainz Jr has a nervous wait. The Spaniard has impressed immensely in his debut season though, so it would be quite a shock if he were to be disposed of. With Sauber hanging onto their young pairing of Ericsson and Nasr, who have both scored points in a very uncompetitive car this year, it looks likely that Magnussen will be left out in the cold unless he drops right to the back of the grid to Manor Marussia.
The Brazilian Grand Prix
The Autódromo José Carlos Pace (otherwise known as Interlagos) has been a constant fixture on the F1 calendar since 1990, although the Brazilian Grand Prix stretches all the way back to 1973. The only time the race has moved away from Sao Paulo is when it moved to Rio de Janeiro for several years in the late 70s and 80s, mainly due to the incongruous image of the slums on the doorstep of Sao Paulo’s racetrack. Nevertheless, after a $15m redevelopment, the race returned to the place that Brazil’s iconic driver Ayrton Senna called home.
The track is named after Brazilian driver Jose Carlos Pace who won his sole Grand Prix in Sao Paulo in 1975, before tragically dying in 1977. Other Brazilians to have won their home race include Emerson Fittipaldi (1973, 1974), Nelson Piquet (1983, 1986), Ayrton Senna (1990, 1993) and Felipe Massa (2006, 2008)- all coincidently winning twice. Massa and Nasr will be racing for Brazil this year, but it is very unlikely that Massa will add to his two previous wins and unfathomable to think that Felipe Nasr could win his first Grand Prix in his Sauber this weekend.
Other than Massa, of the current crop of racers, only Kimi Raikkonen (2007), Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2013), Jenson Button (2012) and Nico Rosberg (2014) have won around Interlagos. Two glaring holes in that list are Lewis Hamilton and Fernando who have 75 race victories between them, but have never managed to stand on the top step in Brazil. Alonso has tried 13 times so far, with a very respectable 8 podiums, whereas Hamilton’s record is even more dismal- he only has two podiums from eight attempts.
Interlagos is one of those tracks where the polesitter can never be confident that the job is done. From the 32 races held there so far, only 11 times has pole converted to a race win, a meagre ratio of just 34%. However, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg have won from pole in the last two years, so maybe that trend is breaking. Speaking of Nico Rosberg, if he was to secure pole on Saturday, it would be his fifth in a row and be a new personal record.
Based on current form, you would have thought that Nico Rosberg was the favourite for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Not only has he been the polesitter in the previous four Grand Prix’s, but he also won last year’s race. In contrast, Lewis Hamilton has a wretched record in Sao Paulo as highlighted above and Ferrari are coming off the back of a double retirement.
Lewis won the title in the U.S, and you couldn’t blame him if he’s taken his foot off the gas slightly since, as that focus and drive must surely be marginally reduced now that the Championship has been won. However, the Brit is a ferocious competitor and you could tell how much he hated being beaten by his team-mate in Mexico. However, Hamilton’s preparations have been far from ideal after partying too hard last week left him run-down, a little unwell and resulted in him crashing his Pagani Zonda in Monaco on Monday evening.
The three times World Champion took a few days off to recover and flew out to Brazil a day late, so let’s hope he wakes up by the weekend. Nico Rosberg should surely be looking at this weekend then as another opportunity to land a blow over his team-mate and a chance to secure second place in the 2015 championship.
Further down the field, Verstappen has finished in the top 10 in the last five races, a feat that no other driver can match, so it’s a pretty good bet that the flying Dutchman will keep that run going in Brazil. Verstappen is only two points ahead of Romain Grosjean and three ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in the championship, so he’ll be desperate to score some good points in the final two races of the season.
On the flipside, the Red Bulls have the opportunity to install their newly upgraded Renault engine which could give them a performance boost of a couple of tenths a second, but will demote their drivers down 10 places from qualifying. If they do go down that route then we could see two quick Red Bulls out of position on Sunday carving their way through the pack which could cause some excitement.