Hamilton leads Mercedes 1-2 as Verstappen shines

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Brazil, Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Interlagosbr

Following two race stoppages, countless crashes and equally as much safety car periods, Lewis Hamilton emerged first at the finish line of a very wet Brazilian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg joined him in the podium in second place while Max Verstappen mastered the conditions to climb back from 15th to 3rd in the final 15 laps.

Wet weather was predicted beforehand, and wet it was! Lots of rain wetted the track properly, but one hour ahead of the start, Race Director Charlie Whiting noted the race would go ahead from a standing start, contrary to the previous habit of starting behind the safety car in such conditions.

Romain Grosjean however influenced that decision, as he crashed his Haas on the installation lap. The Frenchman was set to start from 7th on the grid, but properly undid that before the lights went out. Soon after the incident, the race start was delayed by 10 minutes, and another few moments later, it was decided to start behind the safety car. The conditions also mandated everyone to start on full wets, even though in this case, this was clearly the only option.

As they got on with it, drivers seemed to agree the decision was the right one, with field leader Hamilton saying he could not even see the safety car lights. Ricciardo reported improving conditions on lap 4, and the SC eventually left the track at the end of lap 7.

Immediately, in turn 1, Verstappen took the fight on Raikkonen and went up into third place. Hamilton on the other hand had an absolutely perfect timing and veered off to leave Rosberg no change of passing him in the first lap.

At Renault, Magnussen immediately switched to intermediate tyres, followed by Button one lap later. Another lap later, Alonso, Bottas, Massa, Kvyat, Palmer and Ericsson also stopped to change to intermediates. When told, Rosberg said it was way too early, and at the same moment, Vettel spun off on the exit of the final corner. He recovered eventually, but decided to pit for intermediates as well. The German was back on track after his stop in 19th position.

On lap 15, Ericsson lost control of his car while speeding up onto the main straight, ending up in the barrier and losing his front left wheel. The Swedish Sauber driver was on inters, and ended up standing in the middle of the pitlane entry. The safety car was instated and the pitlane closed moments later, but Verstappen and Ricciardo dove in to change to intermediate tyres themselves. Verstappen was just in time, but Ricciardo was later penalised by 5s for entering the closed pitlane.

On lap 17, the pitlane was opened again, with Palmer pitting to switch back to full wets.

Another two laps later, the safety car got off the track again, unleashing the field with HAM ROS RAI VES HUL PER SAI NAS RIC and Ocon in the top 10. The restart proved troublesome again, with Raikkonen spinning on the main straight, coming to a halt facing the wrong way and against the pitwall. The incident kicked up another few pieces of debris on the track, and eventually triggered Charlie Whiting to red flag the race.

Just before that decision, Vettel was fuming over the team radio: "This is just stupid. First I want back to extremes, and secondly, we need to stop the race. How many more drivers to we want to crash like this? I just almost crashed into Kimi on the main straight, I just couldn't see anything".

Following a period of relaxation for the drivers as the cars were stood queued up in the pitlane, the race was restarted behind the safety car 1h 11m following the first start. During the stoppage, some suspension elements were changed on Nico Rosberg's car. Lewis Hamilton on the other hand switched back from his yellow Senna tribute helmet onto his usual white helmet. The Brit had been complaining of water leaking into his helmet during the first 21 laps of the race.

As cars returned to the track, Hulkenberg was quickly told one of his tyres was punctured, requiring him to pit again for a new set of full wets. This terrible luck dropped him down from 6th to 15th.

Another 20 minutes later, the race was again restarted, 1h and 51 minutes after the first start. Positions at the time were HAM ROS VES PER SAI NAS RIC OCO WEH ALO BOT MAG BUT VET HUL MAS GUT KVY. Following 2 laps after the safety car, the race was finally on again after Hamilton and Verstappen noted the situation was good enough to race.

At the start, Verstappen again made a ballsy move, this time by getting ahead of Rosberg through the outside of turn 3. Rosberg, who carefully held the inside line, was clearly surprised to see Verstappen fly past as they ended up on the exit of the corner.

One lap later, Ricciardo moved ahead of Nasr and Sainz to take 5th while Alonso passed Wehrlein for 9th.

On lap 35, Hamilton led Verstappen by one second while Rosberg already lost 2 seconds on the Dutchman. That lap was also the moment when Button stopped for intermediates. 2 laps later, as Hamilton increased his advantage to 1.7s, Verstappen nearly lost it in the final corner, at the exact same spot as Ericsson crashed. Verstappen did catch it, only just, and reported to his engineer "Yeah, my heartbeat went a bit higher there". He narrowly kept his position, but obviously lost contact with Hamilton.

On lap 41, Ricciardo pitted and changed to intermediates, after serving his 5s time penalty. He rejoined the track in 11th position, but recorded the fastest first lap so far, a tenth quicker than Hamilton on the same lap. That lap triggered Red Bull to pit Verstappen for a similar tyre change on lap 43.

Meanwhile, the battle for 6th was heating up, with Nasr backing up Alonso and Vettel behind him. The followers fought it out between them, with Vettel getting the upper hand as he pushed Alonso wide on the exit of the final corner. Two laps later, Vettel passed Nasr to take 6th. Hulkenberg and Ricciardo soon joined the queue behind the Brazilian.

Going against the trend, Button then pitted on lap 45 to go back to full wets, being clearly unhappy with the way his intermediate tyres worked.

On lap 48, it's the other Brazilian that drew the cameras on him as he crashed out of the race, a few 50m ahead of where Ericsson crashed. Massa came to a standstill with his Williams on the pitlane entry, again creating a safety car period and a closed pitlane.

For Massa, it seemed like a gift though, as he grabbed a Brazilian flag and slowly walked into and through the pitlane. Obviously, he was greeted by the crowd, but Massa really got moved when he passed the Mercedes pitbox, where numerous mechanics aligned and applauded the Brazilian.

As soon as the pitlane opened again, Ricciardo entered to change to full wets, followed by Verstappen on lap 54 to do the same. This put Ricciardo in 12th and Verstappen down in 16th when the safety car left the track on lap 55.

At the front, the restart went well, but Alonso was a little too eager on the throttle coming out of the final corner and spun off into the grass. Fortunately without damage, but his 8th position was gone. The Spaniard rejoined in 17th, but was easily allowed past Button as the latter continued to complain that his car "is just not working".

By lap 60, Verstappen moved up to 9th again, having passed Kvyat and Ricciardo one after the other. Alonso meanwhile moved back up into 12th.

Another tow laps later, Verstappen was up in 7th, passing Nasr and Ocon. Ricciardo followed suit one lap later to move up in 8th, and showing how well the Red Bull is working on the new full wet tyres.

Verstappen didn't leave it at that though, and made it an extremely special day, passing Hulkenberg, Vettel, Sainz and Perez as well to take a podium finish.

The top spots were however secure with Hamilton and Rosberg going to the finish unthreatened followed Verstappen's switch to intermediates and back onto the full wets.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTimePts
144Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG713:01:01.33525
26Nico RosbergMercedes AMG71+11.455s18
333Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing TAG Heuer71+21.481s15
411Sergio PerezForce India Mercedes71+25.346s12
55Sebastian VettelFerrari71+26.334s10
655Carlos SainzToro Rosso Ferrari71+29.160s8
727Nico HulkenbergForce India Mercedes71+29.827s6
83Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing TAG Heuer71+30.486s4
912Felipe NasrSauber Ferrari71+42.620s2
1014Fernando AlonsoMcLaren Honda71+44.432s1
1177Valtteri BottasWilliams Mercedes71+45.292s0
1231Esteban OconMRT Mercedes71+45.809s0
1326Daniil KvyatToro Rosso Ferrari71+51.192s0
1420Kevin MagnussenRenault71+51.555s0
1594Pascal WehrleinMRT Mercedes71+60.498s0
1622Jenson ButtonMcLaren Honda71+81.994s0
NC21Esteban GutierrezHaas Ferrari60DNF0
NC19Felipe MassaWilliams Mercedes46DNF0
NC30Jolyon PalmerRenault20DNF0
NC7Kimi RäikkönenFerrari19DNF0
NC9Marcus EricssonSauber Ferrari11DNF0
NC8Romain GrosjeanHaas Ferrari0DNS0