By Thomas Dodd
- Sebastian Vettel wins Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen
- World Champion Lewis Hamilton fights back to fourth after crashing in qualifying and starting from pitlane
- Felipe Massa finishes seventh in his final Brazilian Grand Prix before retirement.
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – 2017’s penultimate Grand Prix will be remembered for the spins, goodbyes and horrors that took place either side of Sunday’s 71-lap race. Here are five things we learned from Formula 1’s visit to Sao Paulo.
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Valtteri Bottas blew an opportunity
Winless since Austria in July, Valtteri Bottas put in a sensational lap late into Q3 to snatch pole from under the nose of Ferrari, and with teammate Lewis Hamilton starting from the pitlane the two-time Grand Prix winner had an excellent chance to put a real boost into what has been a quiet second half of the season.
The consistency has been there since the summer break but the Finn always appeared to be a few tenth behind the eight ball, whether it be to Hamilton or the Red Bulls. At Interlagos it was the Ferraris who took their chance, as Sebastian Vettel made the perfect getaway to beat Bottas into Turn One and control the race from there on in.
While his second place was never in danger from Kimi Raikkonen behind, Bottas only finished a handful of seconds clear of Hamilton, perhaps demonstrating that in the best car on the grid, this was one that got away.
Lewis Hamilton showed he’s human and a true champion
With the Championship done and dusted it didn’t quite have the connotations it could have done, but when Hamilton buried his Mercedes in the barriers during Q1 on Saturday it at least showed the newly-crowned champion was human, and capable of making a mistake like any of us mere mortals. The Brit accepted his error with a wry smile and simply set about bouncing back in a way only he knows how come Sunday afternoon.
He was helped by the first lap incidents and early safety car, but once racing again he went on a superb Sunday afternoon drive through the field and even led a few laps when Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen (the only men who finish ahead of him) pitted. It’d been a while since we’d seen such a charge from the Brit, and while he surely wouldn’t agree, most would probably watch it again week in week out.
Felipe Massa/Fernando Alonso best of the rest
Behind the Ferrari/Mercedes/Red Bull lockout of the top six the midfield was well and truly up for grabs, with Force India enduring one their poorer weekends of the season. It was fitting therefore, that Felipe Massa was able to bring his Williams home in seventh in front of his adoring crowd in his final Brazilian Grand Prix before retiring. An emotional Massa then appeared on the podium after the race along the pit straight to say one final goodbye.
His drive on Sunday was a microcosm of his career, wise and calm with a bit of nouce in there as well as he fended off a determined Fernando Alonso behind in the closing few laps. Genuinely one of the most likeable drivers in the paddock, the Brazilian will be sorely missed and has had a career that he can only look back on with pride.
Alonso meanwhile, who started sixth following a penalty for Daniel Ricciardo, again underlined his credentials as one of the best out and out drivers in Formula 1, and with just one race left with a Honda engine behind him, you can almost see smiling Spanish eyes once more.
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Esteban Ocon now knows what a retirement feels like
One of Formula One’s longest streaks on the grid came to an end on Sunday, as Force India’s Esteban Ocon officially retired from a Grand Prix for the first time in 27 races. After nine pointless but impressive outings with Manor at the end of last year, the Frenchman has thrived at Force India in 2017, keeping up with more experienced team mate Sergio Perez in the driver’s standings and scoring points in 18 of the 20 races so far even after the first lap collision with Romain Grosjean in Brazil (where he was totally blameless).
Some questioned why Ocon had been handed the drive at Force India over 2016 Manor stablemate Pascal Wehrlein, but the 21-year-old has been superb in 2017, and along with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz is already demonstrating that Formula 1 of the future is very safe hands.
There was definitely a flat atmosphere
Perhaps it was the lack of championship battle? Perhaps it was the robbery that had taken place on Friday night as some Mercedes team personnel attempted to leave the circuit? Either way this seemed to be a Grand Prix devoid of atmosphere (excluding Massa’s farewell party on the podium post-race).
The fans came out in force as ever but there seemed to be a dark cloud hanging over Interlagos all weekend – and not just like the ones that produced Friday’s rain. Even race winner Vettel seemed subdued at the end, as he thanked his team for a giving him a winning car. Ferrari’s muted celebration was most likely because this win was simply a reminder of what could have been, as they lick their wounds from a lost title fight that for so long looked like it would go to a deciding round with two drivers slugging it out to the bitter end.
Let’s hope the Formula 1 circus comes to Abu Dhabi in two weeks’ time intent on going out in style. There’s no World Championship showdown to ignite the senses this year, but that doesn’t mean things shouldn’t go out with a bang for 2017.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place between 24-26 November.
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