Sunday 9 November 2014

Brazilian GP Report: All apologies...

Well Nico it appears that many of us owe you an apology.

We all knew the statistics heading into today's race, of the ratio in 2014 of your poles to wins. Indeed we didn't let many opportunities to mention them pass. Moreover someone pointed out that of all the times that you'd started on pole with your team mate and title foe Lewis Hamilton alongside this campaign you'd triumphed but once. At Monaco...

Nico Rosberg - against many expectations - triumphed in the
Brazilian Grand Prix
Photo: Octane Photography
We didn't think you had it in you. Well, you did.

OK, you did have a conspicuous dollop of luck along the way. But you needed no more than that, looking fast and precise throughout, even in the breakneck final stint when Lewis with the smell of blood in his nostrils stalked you from behind. Even as the lap times dipped down to scarcely credible levels. You looked utterly in command.

You could argue too that you made your luck, what with the pressure you were exerting with your pace possibly drawing the crucial error from your rival.

But whatever was the case in a weekend when you simply had to deliver, and deliver against just about all expectations and previous, you did. And how you did it, topping every single session of the weekend. Including, today, the important one.

The curious mathematics offered by the double points that follows in the final round meant that today's result in a strange way won't change a great deal in terms of what is needed, certainly within the likely scenarios. But in terms of the feeling, the mood, it changes rather a lot.

As you've probably worked out by now, today the apparent whipping boy of the title battle, the guy we assumed beaten in advance, struck back. Vultures were circling the corpse. But the corpse twitched. Nico Rosberg indeed took the honours in today's Brazilian Grand Prix. Humble pie has been duly consumed.

And as for that dollop of luck mentioned? Well, having circulated with Nico not far ahead of Lewis, at the time of the second stops Nico peeled in first as is usually the leading car's wont. But the curious situation with the tyres today meant that the undercut wasn't quite as fruitful as usual. Lewis entered the fabled 'Hammer Time', and smashed the fastest lap at that point. But he proceeded into another tour and spun at the Descida do Lago. Subsequent analysis indicated that Lewis was all set to take the lead without the error. In more than one sense, it was pivotal.

Lewis then rather sheepishly made his own stop, but Nico's advantage was in the eight second range after it all. Lewis ate into to it so to be with Nico by the end, but Nico was beyond challenge.

A spin contributed to Lewis having to settle for second
Photo: Octane Photography
And for the victor afterwards, that the pressure was off for probably the first time all weekend was reflected in his words:

'It's been a great weekend definitely, after the set back that I had in Austin...I really worked to try and understand what I need to do better and I'm happy about that, that I was able to step up my game here in Brazil. Not only qualifying on pole but also in the race making sure Lewis never comes within striking distance.

'That was the mistake in did in Austin, I let Lewis come too close, today I managed to always keep the gap so that worked out really well, so I'm really really happy about that.

'Today I was sitting up in my car!...I had to improve, I had to raise my game...I managed to do that today.

'My team mate knows how to drive a car quite well! That's the big issue in all this that level is extremely high that he's on all the time. So I need to be on it 100% to beat him and that worked out today.'

Looking ahead to the title crunch in a fortnight his views were similar: 'Of course it's not in my own hands anymore in Abu Dhabi, he (Lewis) needs to finish not higher than third so I need a bit of help from somebody...

'(I'll be) fully motivated, full attack, just optimistic, believing in it because that's the best approach for me and it worked this weekend. That's how I'm going to go into Abu Dhabi.'

Lewis meanwhile while chastened remained posiitve: 'I feel OK, naturally you would feel disappointed having made a mistake, and that's what I did.'

But he added that at the crucial point at which he spun he was a bit surprised to have to push for two laps after Nico pitted: 'The protocol has been for some time when he (the engineer) says to push that means I'm coming in that lap, so I maximise which I did and then I wasn't coming in so that took me a little bit by surprise, and the rear tyres were dead at the end of that one lap that I did.

Felipe Massa was a popular addition to the podium
Photo: Octane Photography
'But it's not a big issue, we lost some points today.'

Looking ahead to the decider he echoed his team mate: 'I'm not going to do anything differently, I was quickest today. I'll be pushing as hard as I can in Abu Dhabi.'

Thus we indeed go onto the Yas Marina venue in two weeks, for the final round and title decider with its double points as mentioned, and with matters feeling rather different. Lewis still holds most of the aces, given he only needs to cruise home behind Nico to indeed end up with the honours. And in a strange way (and something to be thankful for) double points isn't too likely to matter in who is to be champion, despite its profile. Certainly it won't if we work on what seems a fairly safe assumption that the Mercs will either finish P1, P2 or not score at all (again the rest were miles behind today).

But then again today's fare once again demonstrated the pitfalls of getting too far ahead of ourselves.

As for the rest, they were again way back as mentioned. But just about all were pleased with who completed the podium. It was home hero Felipe Massa, who despite a couple of adventures along the way - picking up a penalty for pit lane speeding as well as later managed to enter the McLaren pit box rather than his own - he cruised in third with a bit to spare.

The locals as you might imagine were pleased with this outcome, and the fevered atmosphere at the podium underlined not for the first time that Interlagos is a wonderful venue. His team mate Valtteri Bottas though experienced a curious sink down the order with loose seat belts. In the end he scraped the final point in P10.

Jenson Button finished in a fine fourth
Photo: Octane Photography
Home fourth was one Jenson Button, who has spent the weekend stopping one syllable short of admitting that he's out of McLaren, and F1 most likely, next season. Losing out in a battle with the Fernando Alonso juggernaut we can understand, but Jenson won't have been the only one to notice that his young team mate was once again, when it matters on a Sunday, left far behind. Kevin Magnussen finished ninth.

Sebastian Vettel continued his good form of qualifying with a fifth-place finish not far behind Jenson. His boss Christian Horner reckoned that - without a Merc motor - that's as good as it was going to get. Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile didn't finish due to an apparent suspension failure, but other results ensure that his third place in the drivers' table now is secure.

Then there were the two Ferraris, Kimi Raikkonen rolling the dice on strategy with a two-stopper to seek to finally finish ahead of Alonso. He didn't quite manage it as Alonso on fresher tyres passed with a couple of laps left after a spirited dice.

It was just about equalled by the spirited dice over first place. Which didn't have the frolics but trumped it in longevity and tension. Toto Wolff may not be everyone's cup of tea right now when it comes to framing the sport's future - what with him resisting engine unfreezes as well as the five-constructor F1 concept refusing to go away. But in terms of the present we should be immensely grateful for him allowing Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to fight it out in the same equipment as nature intended for the sport's ultimate prize. It's no exaggeration to say that not since the days of Senna and Prost have we been so treated. And it's going to the very end. Put your hands together.

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