Sunday looks not nearly as bright and sunshiny as Saturday. A dark, gloomy cloud has blocked the sun rays from shining on São Paulo. The weather forecast predicts nothing less than a rainfall within 15 to 25 minutes within the race. The air temperature is a chilly 18 degrees, the track temperature 23.
Going into the race, let us all remind ourselves that Pastor Maldonado is on pole position, edging out Sebastian Vettel in qualifying, who looks strong to take his third consecutive crown. The Mclaren’s share the second row ahead of Mark Webber. The Ferrari’s only managed 11th and 13th in qualifying after struggling horrendously with one lap pace. Seemingly, it will take a miracle for Fernando Alonso to win the championship from this position.
On the formation lap, the fact that the Lotus struggles to heat up its tyres quickly becomes quite obvious. Romain Grosjean embarrassingly spins when trying to hard on getting his rear tyres up to temperatures. When attempting to spin his car back into pointing in the correct way, he nearly takes a piece off Alonso’s front wing. Controversially, he is permitted to rejoin his previous starting position 9th. This has once again, in a rather fearful way reminded the Ferrari driver to be cautious around inexperienced youngsters.
The start; 5 lights out and away we go! Predictably, Sebastian Vettel takes a cautious approach in turn 1. Despite getting off the line a tad better than Pastor Maldonado, an aggressive chop by the Venezuelan immediately forces the German to lift off the throttle in the run to the Senna S. This allows Lewis Hamilton to pass him and up into second place. Meantime, behind Fernando Alonso has already disposed of Hulkenburg and Grosjean, and sets off after the Mercedes’.
Simultaneously, disaster strikes Kimi Raikkonen! Subsequently, making only the slightest bit of contact with Mark Webber’s front wing ensuing going two wide into the turn 4, it damaged his right rear tyre enough to cause a puncture. He is forced back into the pits and change tyres. This unfortunate stint has caused him to fall behind almost an entire lap behind the leaders.
Unsurprisingly, it has been the song all year that even when showing promise in qualifying, the WO3 is just not build for Sundays. By lap 2, even before the DRS is enabled Alonso already has taken care of both Rosberg and Schumacher, whose last race of his career is, by the looks of things, going to be quite a bit less memorable than his first retirement six years ago. It becomes quite painful to watch for not only Schumacher fans, but Formula 1 fans in general as the legend and 7-times world champion struggles to keep his severely unbalanced Mercedes pointing in the right direction. Both him and Rosberg and being swamped by the midfield pack.
Up at front everything is generic thus far. Maldonado leads Hamilton by only 2 seconds. Lewis has kept the Williams in his sight and would love nothing less than a final victory to celebrate his last race for Mclaren. Vettel is a further 5 seconds behind the pair. Jenson Button, in fourth, is in a massive wheel to wheel tussle with Mark Webber. The two men switch position several times. Webber lunges an attack on Button out of nowhere into the Senna S. However, Jenson plays it smart and with his superior top speed and DRS, repasses Mark back on the run down to turn 4. Fernando Alonso, who is currently sitting behind this pair, is progressively becoming more frustrated as he is losing touch with Vettel, but concurrently cannot afford to take any risks, especially not with Webber.
Unalike Monaco, for once the weather forecast has not fooled us with constant fake threats. On lap 11, the first drips of rain hit the camera lens and are viewable from the F1 fans perspective. At first, the threat of rain seems rather minor, but after a few minutes, the rain is starting to get heavier. The lap times done by the leaders have dropped by several seconds, cars are sliding all over the place. Webber out-brakes himself on the way into Juncao and spins, barely keeping it out of the wall, but he has lost places to Alonso and Grosjean.
Clearly, slick tyres are no longer the ones to be on. On lap 15, Williams and Mclaren flinch first, calling in Maldonado ahead of Hamilton. However, thanks to the Mclaren crew and their “you blink and you miss it” quick pit stops, manage to get Lewis ahead of Maldonado. Alonso and Vettel pit on the same lap, Vettel preceding ahead of Alonso. Button opted to stay out for another lap, but unlike many of his other strategic decisions that proved to be the wrong one for him. Even in a time frame as quickly as his outlap, the conditions worsen and the rain gets even heavier. Jenson loses some 20 seconds on that outlap and finds himself in the midfield pack once pitted.
Now, on lap 17 as the race proceeds, Lewis Hamilton leads 2.3 second ahead of Pastor Maldonado. Sebastian Vettel is a further 2.1 seconds behind, Fernando Alonso is found trailing the race leader by some 10 seconds. The rest of the midfield pack, including Grosjean, Webber and Button are trailing the leaders by over 25 seconds now. Kimi Raikkonen, whose pace has been tremendous despite his puncture on lap 1 is now quickly catching the midfield tussle. The wheel to wheel action going on between the Sauber’s, Toro Rosso’s, Force India’s, Mercedes’, Lotus’; Senna, Webber and Button is very entertaining and action-pack. On lap 20, these 13 cars are separated by only a mere 11 seconds.
Apparently, it becomes obvious that the low downforce and top speed favoring car setup on Williams of Pastor Maldonado was not meant for these treacherous conditions. He is visually struggling with the back end of that FW34. Vettel slips past the pole sitter on the run into the Senna S, and Alonso makes an identical move 2 laps later. They are now second and third respectively, Hamilton still leads this race though.
Casually, the Williams falls back from the front runners and joins the colossal midfield battle. Maldonado’s aggressive approach in the early days of the rain only seem to have gotten the worst of him, as he is now losing grip in his rear tyres. Eventually, Williams have no choice but to pit both cars again for fresh tyres; as both Senna and Maldonado have destroyed their current set. This leaves them at the back of a train of cars. The pole sitter, despite being strong in qualifying and the dry, is fading away in the race trim and that Williams is obviously not setup for conditions like these, but rather for the dry.
The gap between Vettel and Hamilton is only a few seconds, and their sector times are virtually identical. However, Alonso, who was struggling to get heat into the tyres early on during the rain, at last has heated his intermediates up to temperatures. Alonso’s pace is a class of the field, as he closes up to the back of Vettel; while Vettel knows that there is no real need to fight Alonso, but making Fernando’s life more difficult and not easily giving up the place will only be beneficial for him. Several laps go by, time after time Alonso has a look on the inside of the Red Bull but thinks again. On lap 32 however, this was not the case. Alonso, who had a great exit out of Juncao pulled his nose alongside the RB8 and made the crucial pass, with him being as late on the brakes as one can get. Alonso is now up to second place, Hamilton still leads with Vettel on the final spot of the podium though, so by the looks of things, the championship is still Vettel’s to lose.
Readily the track dries up. There is now a clear dry racing line visible on the tarmac. FIA make the accommodation to enable the Drag Reduction System. The DRS zone appears quite risky, as the wing itself may open even before Curva da Sol is complete. Despite the zone being identical to last years, this caused some controversy before the race whether if such a risky DRS zone should enable the drivers to use this tool even when the circuit is moist.
Unfortunately for Vettel, his radio has not been working this race. Instead, he has been forced to communicate with his team via the pit board.
Nonetheless, with his rear tyres completely destroyed and no grip left in them whatsoever, on lap 39 Michael Schumacher is the first to pit for slicks, happily willing to exchange his grained intermediates for brand new primes. Despite Michael’s pace being very good early on the wet stint, steadily his lap times dropped as the Mercedes was eating those rear tyres faster than a fat man eating burgers. The front runners keep a keen eye on Schumacher’s sector times. After going purple in the final sector of his outlap; eyebrows raise immediately among the top teams.
Hamilton’s tyres have been torn to shreds. Alonso’s last lap was a full 2 seconds faster than Lewis’s. Fernando’s last chance to overtake Lewis one lap before they will switch the tyres to slicks again. On the run down to Juncao, Alonso makes a brave dive down the inside of the Mclaren driver. Hamilton attempts to take a wide line and lots of kerb on the exit, to try and to the cutback, but his tyres are wrecked and he does not have the traction to do so.
All three men, line astern, enter the Interlagos pit lane for likely the last time of the season. While Alonso and Hamilton were tussling, Vettel managed to close the gap to the leaders completely and is now right behind them.
Catastrophically, it has all gone wrong for Red Bull in the pits. When Vettel pits, his left rear wheel did not go on properly. The lollipop man released Vettel from his pit box before the rear mechanic could react. Unaware of his loose left rear tyre, and his radio communication being cut, Vettel drives a shabby Red Bull with only three wheels actually being attached to the car itself out of the pitlane. An unscrewed RB8 exits the pitlane, and before Vettel can react, on the exit of Curva de Sol his wheel pops off and his car collides with the wall.
However, for Ferrari all things did not go to plan either. After Alonso passed Hamilton only a corner before the pitlane, Lewis managed to retake the position around the outside of turn 4 when exiting the longest pitlane on the F1 calendar. Hence, Alonso is now back down to second place again. Nonetheless, there are nothing less but temporary short-term celebrations in the Ferrari. Now their man lies second, and only needs 14 points or more to become champion, in other words, a third place.
After the crash, Sebastian himself and his health are fine, but nothing but bitter disappointment haunts the Red Bull garage as they have thrown away a seemingly easy championship. However, if there is one positive thing coming out of this for Red Bull, is that Vettel’s crash has caused a Safety Car. This has made the Ferrari garage somewhat nervous. Mark Webber, who was a distant third before this incident, will now be right behind Alonso. In fourth place, benefiting from the early pitstop for slicks, is Michael Schumacher.
To be continued…