Lewis Hamilton sporting an Ayrton Senna tribute helmet
(Photo from: www.ukbuzz.wordpress.eurosport.com)
Lewis Hamilton ensured that the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship would go to the wire, as claimed a dominant victory in treacherous conditions which saw the race stopped twice and multiple incidents. With current championship leader Nico Rosberg finishing second it means that there are 12 points between the pair heading into the final race.
Hamilton controlled the weekend throughout and took his tenth pole of the season ahead of teammate Rosberg. Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen were on row two followed by Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Behind the top three teams, Romain Grosjean was the best of the rest in seventh with the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez behind as Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.
Qualifying was held in glorious sunshine however come Sunday and the conditions had changed dramatically as the blue skies had been replaced by clouds and heavy rain. The decision was made to start the race under the safety car, initially after a 10 minute delay. However Romain Grosjean was unable to take the start as he crashed out on his instillation lap heading round to the grid.
On lap 7 the race got under way and immediately there was a change for position as Verstappen dived up the inside of Räikkönen at turn 1 for third. The order continued to change as on lap 8 Räikkönen became the first front runner to pit for intermediate tyres as the track began to see the cross overtime achieved.
The following lap saw many more in for intermediates including both Williams’ drivers who made a double stop. A lap later and the action continued as Sebastian Vettel aquaplaned at turn 12 before pitting himself for intermediates. The spin cost Vettel a lot of time and he lost a lot of track position on his rivals. However all the time lost was made up as on lap 13 Marcus Ericsson became the first casualty of the race as he crashed at the final bend, eventually coming to a stop in the pitlane entrance. It caused some hairy moments for those trying to enter, including Max Verstappen, who had to swerve round the stricken Swede. The pitlane was closed and the safety car deployed to remove his car however Riccardo did not see the light signifying the pitlanes closure and encountered a 5 second penalty for changing tyres during this incident.
As the rain continued to fall the safety car came in on lap 20 however it was quickly redeployed as Kimi Räikkönen aquaplaned down the pit straight, crashing scarily in front of a spray blinded pack. Fortunately everyone avoided the Ferrari as the race was red flagged to wait for the weather to improve.
After a 35 minute delay the race got going again, albeit behind the safety car, however the race was red flagged once more on lap 29 as following a call from race director Charlie Whiting who was looking at reports of further heavy rain. There was a further 27 minute delay and another three laps behind the safety car but on lap 32 the green flags were out once more.
Similar to the first start of the race, Verstappen was on the move and executed a fantastic move around the outside of Nico Rosberg at turn 3 to move up to second and began his chase of Hamilton. However the Brit was never troubled and while pushing a little too hard on lap 39 Verstappen had a half spin at the final bend. Incredibly he was able to hold the car, avoiding the barriers and remarkably he kept hold of his second position.
Five laps later and he was in for inters once more, following Ricciardo’s strategy who had pitted a lap earlier. The Dutchman rejoined fifth, falling behind Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz, while behind the wet weather had caused some unconventional positions such as Felipe Nasr in sixth and Esteban Ocon in tenth.
Two laps late and Nico Rosberg also found himself half spinning in the same spot as Vettel which cost the German time to his teammate however on lap 48 there was heartbreak for local hero Felipe Massa who crashed in his final home Grand Prix. Similar to Ericsson, he aquaplaned and was unable to do anything about the accident, coming to a stop in a similar place to the Sauber.
The pits were closed to retrieve the Williams leaving Massa to walk up the pitlane to an emotional response from his adoring home fans. As Massa walked passed, pit crew from Mercedes and Ferrari were out to applaud the Brazilian before he returned to his pits in the company of his family, one of the finest moments in the recent history of the sport.
However the race must go on and after a safety car period, in which Verstappen and Riccardo pitted for wet tyres, the race resumed on lap 55, and in doing so, ensured full points could be awarded. Verstappen began his charge, overtaking countless opponents on his way to third, the final move of many on Sergio Perez on lap 70.
Though at the front no one could touch Hamilton, who took his ninth win of the season to equal Rosberg’s tally for 2016, who also completed another 1-2 for the team. Verstappen completed the podium places ahead of Perez, Vettel and Sainz, with the second Force India of Hulkenberg in seventh, Ricciardo in eighth and Felipe Nasr and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top 10.
It was one of the wettest races in the history of F1 as well as one of the longest however it was full of action from start to finish, with the race directors making important, and right, calls throughout. It all goes down to the final race and although Rosberg is the clear favourite, Hamilton will know it is never over until it is over.