Sebastian Vettel gave Ferrari a late-season boost by charging to his first Formula 1 win since the end of July in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, but it was former championship rival Lewis Hamilton who stole the show at Interlagos with a charge from the pit lane to P4.
Vettel was able to fight his way past Mercedes pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas early on and control proceedings to lead most of the way en route to his fifth win of the year, and his first since the Hungarian Grand Prix before the summer break.
Bottas had a quiet race en route to second, coming close to catching Vettel just once during the pit stops, while Kimi Raikkonen was able to hold on to the final podium position despite late pressure from the recovering Hamilton, who ultimately had to settle for P4 at the checkered flag.
Vettel made a clean start from P2 on the grid to lunge down the inside of Bottas at the first corner, but was unable to forge much of a lead on the opening lap after the safety car was deployed early following two on-track incidents.
A three-car clash at Turn 3 eliminated Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen on the spot, as well as forcing Daniel Ricciardo to pit for minor repairs, while Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon collided through Turn 6 when scrapping for position. Grosjean was able to continue, but Ocon was forced into the first retirement of his F1 career.
The carnage allowed Lewis Hamilton to rise up to P14, as well as giving Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa the chance to take fifth and sixth respectively ahead of the restart.
Vettel was able to ease clear of Bottas on the restart, moving out of DRS range before it was activated as Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen tried to stay in touch with the lead duo in third, sitting just over a second back from his Mercedes rival.
Hamilton continued to scythe through the field at the expense of the midfield runners, rising all the way up to seventh through the opening 15 laps to sit behind the battling Massa and Alonso in the race for P5. Ricciardo was doing his best to follow Hamilton’s lead, recovering from his early clash and prior grid penalty to sit inside the points for Red Bull.
Hopes of another close fight between Hamilton and Alonso as in Mexico two weeks ago were quickly dashed as the four-time champion made light work of his former teammate to take P6, before following that up with a pass on Massa one lap later. With the first round of pit stops approaching, Hamilton sat P5 and some 17 seconds off leader Vettel at the front.
Running on the soft tire, Hamilton began to gain time on the lead quartet as the super-soft runners began to struggle for pace, prompting Mercedes to pit Bottas at the end of Lap 28 in a bid to get the undercut on Vettel at the front.
Ferrari was forced to react immediately, bringing Vettel in one lap later, and found the German driver’s advantage had shrunk to just a few car lengths as he snaked out of the pit lane, albeit still in front.
Vettel was able to put his foot down and pull out over a second’s lead on Bottas, rising back up to P2 when Raikkonen and Verstappen both came in for their stops, with Hamilton leading on the soft tires he started on.
Despite his Pirellis being some 28 laps older than the tires Vettel was running on, Hamilton continued to stay on pace at the front of the pack, holding a lead of around three seconds before eventually diving into the pits on Lap 43 for a fresh set of super-softs.
Hamilton quickly began to push on fresh tires, lapping over a second a lap faster than the drivers ahead as they worked to manage their softs to get them to the end of the race. Mercedes informed Hamilton his target was a podium, with third-placed Raikkonen just 10 seconds up the road with over 20 laps to go.
Hamilton was soon able to latch onto the back of Verstappen in fourth as the Red Bull racer struggled with his tires, complaining they felt “like rocks”. The Dutchman was powerless to halt Hamilton’s advance, dropping to fifth on Lap 59.
Hamilton made use of the free air and quickly began to reel in the leading trio, leaving him just five seconds back from Vettel at the front with five laps remaining. Hamilton came close to picking off Raikkonen, only for his tires to begin to fade, causing him to slow.
At the front, Vettel managed to take the checkered flag 2.7 seconds clear of Bottas to record his fifth win of the year, as well as moving to within three points of clinching second place in the drivers’ championship for Ferrari.
Raikkonen crossed the line in third for Ferrari less than a second clear of Hamilton, who was left ruing a lock-up at Turn 1 that took life out of his tires late on. Nevertheless, the Mercedes driver’s charge from the pit lane to P4 was enough to secure him the Driver of the Day honor.
Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were left to settle for P5 and P6 respectively, with both making a second stop late on to take on a fresh set of super-softs after struggling for pace.
Felipe Massa took an emotional result as he finished his final home grand prix in F1 seventh for Williams, fending off Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez on the final lap after a close fight. Massa was greeted by cheers from a passionate home crowd at Interlagos after taking the checkered flag, holding a Brazilian flag aloft from his car on the warm-down lap.
Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the points for Renault, pulling the team a point closer to Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship after the Red Bull B-team had another tough race. Pierre Gasly took P12 behind Carlos Sainz Jr., while teammate Brendon Hartley retired with an issue.
Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein took P13 and P14 respectively, finishing ahead of Grosjean, who was penalized for his clash with Ocon early on, while Lance Stroll took 16th after a late tire issue on his car.
The 2017 F1 season concludes with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.