Vettel rebounds as Massa takes final bow in Brazil

Thursday November 16 2017

Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel powers his car during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix, at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 12, 2017. PHOTO | EVARISTO SA |

Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel powers his car during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix, at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 12, 2017. PHOTO | EVARISTO SA |  AFP

By ALEX MWANGI
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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen may have set the fastest lap ever at the famed Interlagos Circuit in Brazil, but that was a mere consolation for a team that saw rivals Ferrari and Mercedes take the top four slots by the end of the race.

Red Bull were truly unable to come in between the red-silver-red-silver colour pattern in a race that had a variety of emotions for fans and drivers alike.

The contrast cannot be starker between the race that 2017 world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had in Brazil.

Vettel, second on the grid after qualifying, took advantage of the hesitant Mercedes of Valterri Bottas ahead of him to claim first position in the first corner just seconds into the race.

Behind him soon after, chaos reigned as first, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren Honda’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen came into contact taking out Vandoorne and Magnussen while Force India’s Esteban Ocon had his unblemished record of 27 consecutive race finishes come to an end as the Haas of Romain Grosjean took him out on that opening lap.

Mercedes’ Hamilton started the race from the pit lane following the crash during qualifying.

Williams’ Felippe Massa, in the last race of his career in his home country, gave fans something to cheer about when he went past McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso on the sixth lap into fifth position.

Hamilton maintained his progress through the field, overtaking the Torro Rosso of Pierre Gasly in the ninth lap for 10th position. In the next lap, Ricciardo executed his trademark move twice, diving from “miles” out to gain two positions up as he sought to recover from the first lap incident.

By the 15th lap, Hamilton was already up to seventh position. Bottas on the other hand was 2.2 seconds behind Vettel with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen lurking just 2.3 seconds behind his fellow Finn.

Two laps later, Hamilton caught up with Alonso but could only overtake the two-time world champion three laps afterwards. Hamilton, like Ricciardo had perfectly done several laps before him, used the inside into Turn One to express his superior speed to Alonso.

On the 27th lap, Bottas got into the pits, seeking to undercut the leading Ferrari.

Vettel went in for a fresh set of tyres in the following lap and just managed to maintain his lead after exiting the pit stops ahead of the charging Bottas. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen opted for a new set of tyres on the same lap as Vettel.

Raikkonen came in to the pits a lap after his teammate, Vettel. The action at the pits meant that close to the halfway point of the race, Hamilton had the lead, a position he is accustomed to but perhaps one he had not expected to inherit that early.

The second half of the race saw Hamilton lead’s reduced by Vettel, from 3.5 seconds on the 39th lap to 2.1 seconds on the 42nd lap.

Hamilton went in for his last pit-stop on the 43rd lap, opting for the super-soft tyre compound while the leaders were cruising, content with softs.

It gave him the ability to mount a charge to the finish, taking advantage of his fresh engine for the race in the process. It also meant that Verstappen could do nothing to prevent the Brit from sweeping past on the 59th lap.

Hamilton was now setting fastest laps. By the 61st lap, Raikkonen was just 3.8 seconds ahead of him.

The last 10 laps would thus be a battle of nerves between Raikkonen and Hamilton, and so it proved.

Hamilton’s lock-up into Turn One on the 67th lap put paid his ambitions to pass the Ferrari as Raikkonen was able to maintain the gap to deny the four-time world champion a podium position.

Verstappen on his part, was able to convince his team of the need to pit, using his fresh tyres to set the fastest time ever around the circuit.

Bottas remained so near yet so far behind Vettel, with the German sealing the win to end Ferrari’s decade-long drought of victory at Interlagos.

A three-way battle pitting Massa, Alonso and Force India’s Sergio Perez on the last lap saw Massa finish on top, taking seventh position which to him tasted like victory.