In a weekend dominated by rain and unpredictable weather, Sebastian Vettel proved to us again just why he is a four-time world champion. A dominant pole position in a delayed qualifying session yesterday paved the way for another dominant win — though it wasn’t without its dramas.
The dry tires were used for the very first time on the weekend as the cars lined up on the grid to begin the race. The uncertainty mounted in the minutes before the start as every driver and team grappled with making some sort of strategy which was no easy task without any data to go off of.
It was Nico Rosberg of Mercedes who got the jump at the start, taking the lead at the first corner. But the superiority of the Red Bull chassis allowed Vettel to just get into the lead by the end of the first lap. From then on, the young German pulled out almost a second per lap on the Mercedes, as Rosberg, and indeed Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso all struggled for grip in the dry, but slightly slippery conditions.
The battle for second was fascinating to watch as Rosberg, Webber, Alonso and Hamilton all took time and places away from each other in the opening laps. The day was cut short for Romain Grosjean, however, as an almighty engine failure at the end of the third lap spelled the end to what has been a year of immense growth from the Frenchman. Had his engine held up he surely would have been in the fight for the podium.
With the track staying dry but the weather uncertain, the race was all about being on the right tire at the right time and not stopping just as rain picks up. The first of the stops came around lap 15, although a majority of the runners extended their first stints into the mid-20s. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez of McLaren put on fantastic performances to run in the top-10 early on after starting 13th and 19th, respectively. The latter started on the hard tires and was able to push for the entire first stint while still maintaining his tire life. That would be there crucial point in defining his afternoon.
With Vettel enjoying a comfortable lead, the gaps between his pursuers began to increase. Hamilton and Felipe Massa, in his final drive for Ferrari, were enjoying an intense battle for fourth place, though in the battle Massa ran over the white lines denoting the pit lane entrance. The Brazilian was immediately hit with a drive through penalty to give Hamilton some breathing room.
By the time the second round of pit stops came around, the order was: Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Rosberg and Perez in the top six. On lap 47, however, as Valtteri Bottas attempted to unlap himself from Hamilton, the two came into contact with each other, tearing the rear left wheel off Bottas’ car and giving Hamilton a puncture. The stewards then gave Hamilton a drive through penalty for causing an avoidable collision.
Also on lap 47, the Red Bulls and Alonso came into the pits for their final stop. Since Vettel was in the lead he was in the pits first, but from the looks of it the team was not ready for him. They were lined up at the pit box with Webber’s tires, who they assumed was coming in alone. The team then had to go get Vettel’s tires which then delayed Webber’s stop. The Red Bulls still kept their lead, though it was reduced significantly.
With Hamilton’s drive through, Button was now up to fourth place, locked in a battle with Rosberg and Perez. This was the most ingest battle of the entire race and one that lasted to the final lap. In the meantime, Nico Hulkenberg was doing a fine job holding position in what was now eighth place after Hamilton’s penalty.
At the front, though, Vettel was in total control. The German crossed the finish line with a 10 second margin, taking a record ninth consecutive win in the process. Webber finished second in his last ever Formula One race with Alonso third. Button did keep fourth place to take home McLaren’s best finish of the season, with Rosberg and Perez rounding out the top-six. Massa, Hulkenberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo finished the top-10.
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