Nico Rosberg has claimed his first victory in almost four months today after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.
The German driver enjoyed a titanic battle with Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton at the front of the field, with the gap rarely growing beyond one second in the final stages of the race as the Silver Arrows put on a show for the fans in Brazil.
A mistake for Hamilton meant that he trailed his teammate by seven seconds at one point, only for the Briton to reel Rosberg back in and come close to a sixth straight victory before falling short at the flag.
In third place, Felipe Massa completed the podium for Williams, claiming an emotional result at his home grand prix behind the two Mercedes drivers in a dry race at Interlagos.
Despite Bernie Ecclestone suggesting that pole position may not be the best place to be, Rosberg made a very clean getaway from the right-hand side of the grid to hold onto his lead at the start. Hamilton managed to keep ahead of the two Williams drivers as McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen jumped up to sixth place at the expense of Sebastian Vettel. After Sauber made a “technical change” on his car, Adrian Sutil was forced to start from the pit lane, joining at the back of the pack.
The high tire wear meant that early pit stops were in order for the drivers, with Felipe Massa the first of the leaders to pit, taking on new medium compound rubber from third place on lap six. In the sister Williams, Valtteri Bottas followed suit soon after, with race leader Rosberg coming in one lap after the Finn.
This gave Hamilton a chance to post a quick in-lap while Rosberg pitted, but he marginally fell short of his teammate, coming out just behind Rosberg who in turn was stuck in traffic. Rosberg managed to use the traffic to drop Hamilton, though, retaking the lead when Nico Hulkenberg made his belated first stop and enjoying a 2.3 second lead over his teammate once he had moved back up into second place.
As the track temperature continued to rise, tire degradation became a real problem for all of the teams, forcing the drivers to carefully manage their Pirellis and keep their pit wall informed of any issues that may have cropped up. All of the front-runners developed blisters on their front tires, but they still managed to keep up a good pace in light of the problems.
On lap 25, the second round of stops began with Massa once again being the first front-runner to take on a fresh set of tires, but the Brazilian was forced to sit in his box for five seconds due to a stop/go penalty for speeding in the pits earlier in the race.
With his front tires crying enough, Rosberg pitted for a second time, allowing Hamilton to take the lead. The Briton posted the fastest lap of the race, and looked set to remain in the lead after stopping due to his impressive pace, only for an uncharacteristic spin at turn four to deal his hopes of winning the race a serious blow. Once Hamilton had stopped, he trailed Rosberg by seven seconds at the front of the field, facing a big recovery drive to win a sixth straight race.
A slow stop for Valtteri Bottas meant that he dropped out of contention for the podium, while Kimi Raikkonen also saw his hopes of a top three finish go up in smoke when a front jack failure for Ferrari in the pits caused him to drop down the order after an impressive first half of the race. It was a worse situation for Daniel Ricciardo, though, with the Red Bull driver retiring from the race on lap 42 due to a brake problem, ending his 15-race streak of points.
At the front though, Hamilton did not ease the pressure on Rosberg, carving into the gap lap by lap to reduce the margin to just 2.3 seconds by the time of their third and final pit stops. Once again, it was Rosberg who blinked first, diving into the pits on lap 51, giving Hamilton a short window to try and cut the gap to his teammate. The Briton took to the pits just one lap later, and although he was unable to retain the lead, he was within one second of Rosberg at the front of the field.
The chase between the Silver Arrows saw them exchange fastest sector times, with the gap rarely going beyond a few tenths of a second. With ten laps remaining, Rosberg still led, but was having to negotiate the traffic ahead whilst keeping an eye on his mirrors that were full of his teammate.
Both drivers began to struggle with tire wear, leaving them looking for what little grip remained whilst fighting for position. Hamilton continued to be quicker in the first sector, with Rosberg then recovering the time in the final two thirds of the circuit to ensure that he stayed ahead as the laps continued to tick down.
In the end, Hamilton simply couldn’t find a way past his teammate, with Rosberg soaking up all of the pressure to win the race and claim his first victory since the German Grand Prix in July. At the flag, the difference was just 1.4 seconds, but it was enough for Rosberg.
Felipe Massa completed the podium in a rather lonely third, having easily beaten McLaren’s Jenson Button. The British driver will still be pleased with the result, though, having finished ahead of world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Kimi Raikkonen eventually crossed the line in seventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas.
As a result, just 17 points will separate Hamilton and Rosberg heading to the final round in Abu Dhabi, and with the momentum from this race win, Rosberg will feel far more optimistic about his championship chances than he did before today’s grand prix.