Sebastian Vettel took his fifth Formula 1 victory of 2017 at the Brazilian Grand Prix, finishing ahead of polesitter Valtteri Bottas having taken the lead on the opening corner.
Vettel produced a well-managed race to put second in the World Drivers’ Championship almost out of Bottas’ reach, the German now holding a 22-point advantage over his rival.
The race was boosted by a pair of thrilling recovery drives from Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, with Hamilton working his way from a pit lane start to fourth, battling with Kimi Raikkonen for third in the dying stages of the race. Hamilton had crashed in qualifying, but made up for it with a thrilling race on Sunday.
Ricciardo, who had to take another engine penalty, managed to come home behind his team mate in 6th place after starting 14th on the grid.
Race won at the start
Off the line, Vettel dived down the inside of Bottas at the first corner, emerging from the Senna S in control of the race. Although the Ferrari driver tried to build a gap, Bottas hit back with a number of quick laps to close the gap to within two seconds.
“The start, initially I had a very good launch and thought ‘I’ve got this’ then I was maybe a bit too greedy with the throttle, spinning up the wheel a little bit and losing a bit of the momentum on Valtteri,” said Vettel.
“But then I looked over and saw that he was still struggling and then I sort of gained a little bit again on the second phase, which was just enough to give me momentum to hang in there into the first corner. Yeah, I knew I had to go for it.”
Bottas and Mercedes then tried to wrestle back control of the race by pitting before Vettel at the end of lap 27 for soft tyres, attempting to snatch the undercut – and the lead. It was a long shot, as the undercut margin was very small here this weekend with these tyres. A car needed to be within 0.7s as it peeled off to the pitlane to make it work
Ferrari knew this and brought Vettel in on the following lap to cover the move and he returned to the track marginally ahead of Bottas. Although the Mercedes driver attempted to take advantage of Vettel’s cold soft tyres, the German held on and ultimately maintained a gap of over two seconds to put victory beyond Bottas’ reach.
An incident-packed first lap triggered the safety car almost immediately; for a collision between Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, which pitched Daniel Ricciardo into a spin. Vandoorne and Magnussen retired on the spot, but Ricciardo was able to keep going.
Moments later, a collision that spelled the end of Esteban Ocon’s 27-GP finishing streak (in fact his first retirement since 2014). The Force India driver was collected by an oversteering Romain Grosjean at Ferradura corner – Grosjean receiving a 10-second time penalty and points on his licence for his part in the incident.
Hamilton on the attack with fresh engine
Having started from the pitlane with a new spec power unit that he could run at an aggressive regime for more of the race than his rivals, Hamilton took advantage of the early incidents in front to line up in 14th as the safety car hit the track, before making short work of the field in front to ease into the top five within the first 20 laps.
Rising to the lead of the race after the cars in front of him pitted, Hamilton stayed out until lap 43 before switching to a set of super-soft tyres to drop back down to fifth, 11.5s behind Max Verstappen. Hamilton was clocked at 347km/h with DRS and tow along the straight into Turn 1, at times up to 25km/h faster than the cars he was passing.
Vettel returned to the lead, boasting a steady 2.6s advantage over Bottas. Hamilton, meanwhile, ignited his bid for a podium by rapidly catching Verstappen, breezing past the Red Bull on lap 60 before going after Raikkonen.
Attempting to launch an attack on the Finn at the start of lap 67, Hamilton snatched the brakes and locked up – Raikkonen proving characteristically unflappable in his defence of third place – and had to be content with fourth position. “I wasn’t worried,” remarked Raikkonen after the race.
Verstappen finished fifth, setting a blistering new lap record in the process – a 1m11.044s after stopping for fresh tyres. This beat Juan Pablo Montoya’s Interlagos lap record from 2004 by over 0.4s.
From 14th on the grid, Ricciardo managed to carve his way into sixth position, while Felipe Massa won out in a thrilling fight for seventh with Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez in the latter stages of the race.
It was an emotional home race for Massa, who spent the majority of the race duelling with former Ferrari team-mate Alonso, joining countryman Rubens Barrichello on the podium after the race to address the Brazilian crowd.
Nico Hulkenberg beat Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. for the final point, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly who recorded his best finish in F1 with 12th.
Marcus Ericsson beat Sauber team-mate Pascal Wehrlein to 13th, as Sauber pushed back the announcement of their drivers for next season to at least Abu Dhabi.
After his collision with Ocon, Romain Grosjean kept running in 15th, ahead of Stroll who suffered from a delaminating tyre after a heavy late lock-up.
Result – Brazilian GP 2017, Interlagos, 71 Laps