The 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix could have handed us a new World Champion, but it didn’t. However, it offered us a confirmation we didn’t necessarily need — that Max Verstappen is World Champion material. In our view, 2016 could well be remembered for Verstappen taking the world of Formula 1 by storm than for the mostly lopsided Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry. But for those interested, Hamilton drove a controlled and relatively drama-free race to win his ninth race of the season, his first-ever win at Interlagos, to take the title fight to Abu Dhabi.
For a change, the FIA needs to be applauded for their conduct of the race. There were repeated rain showers that induced multiple safety car and red flag periods. However, on almost every instance, the FIA reacted well to ensure that a possible title-deciding race was contested in a safe manner and for the entire distance. The threat of a shorter race loomed for nearly three out of the scheduled four hours of racing time and had the race run less than 75% distance (or 53 laps), half points would have been awarded to the drivers making it even more difficult for Hamilton to defend his title. Eventually, in typical Formula 1 precision style, the 71-lap race ended at the dot of the fourth hour.
The wet weather conditions proved a few things. First, Formula 1 drivers are the absolute best in the world and are wired to push the laws of physics to every possible degree they can, come rain or shine. We lost Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson to aquaplaning, but full marks to the racers for driving to the absolute limit in challenging visibility conditions. Second, the Pirelli extreme weather tyres aren’t meant for extreme wet conditions. But we guess, the same can be said for Pirelli’s dry tyres too. Maybe the tyre manufacturers need to re-think their compounds altogether. Also, the FIA should allow for car setup changes between qualifying and the race, should the race be deemed as a 'wet' one. Currently, such changes are banned under Parc Ferme regulations, but if relaxed, teams and drivers will most certainly alter suspension setup, ride height and even wing angles.
The third and most distinct point that the rain proved in Interlagos was Verstappen's ingenuity. While the FIA has banned ‘The Verstappen’ overtaking move, the young Red Bull prodigy took an absolutely different racing line at the exit of the iconic ‘Senna S’ sequence of corners prompting us to put ‘The Verstappen’ label to this racing line too. Strangely enough, not many other drivers managed to or could take this line, which eventually allowed Verstappen to overtake Rosberg for P2. So much for Mercedes’ Toto Wolff not wanting Max Verstappen to interfere in his drivers’ championship.
Wets or intermediates? In the quest to be on the best tyre at the right time, many teams and drivers made erroneous calls and switched to intermediates when the extreme wet tyre was the obvious choice. Red Bull Racing’s desire to attempt something different (the switch to intermediates) to pressurize Mercedes (and Hamilton) backfired when rain intensified prompting extra stops for both their drivers. While it cost Verstappen a possible shot at victory, it offered Formula 1 fans a glimpse of his wet weather racing talent. He rejoined the pack in 14th place and pulled off a series of breathtaking overtakes to claim the final step of the podium. For the self-confessed Play Station-er, Verstappen drove as though the damage mode for Red Bull Racing car was ‘OFF’!
And by the way, it would be blasphemy to not mention Verstappen’s 'save' during P2 in the early part of the race. We’ve seen the replays where the driver aquaplaned, wobbled, locked all tyres and miraculously managed to avoid the barriers to continue the race. What made the save even more spectacular is that he still managed to keep second place ahead of Rosberg. The best end to the 2016 season would be a straight battle between Hamilton and Verstappen and we’re hoping Abu Dhabi has that on offer for us in some way. And we don’t really care if it alters someone else's championship hopes.
Rosberg, the championship leader, came to win the race in Brazil but could only manage second place. In every previous season as teammates, he had beaten Hamilton at this race. However, the 2016 edition didn’t see a repeat of history as Hamilton comprehensively out-paced and beat his championship rival. Full marks to Hamilton for yet another dominant and error-free display, but full marks to Rosberg too, for holding things together in a race in which he could have actually finished third. At Abu Dhabi, Rosberg now needs to finish on the podium (if Hamilton wins) to clinch his maiden title, In this instance, a plan to finish to win a title than to win a race seems riskier and scarier. Remember Hamilton, circa 2008? The Rosberg that landed in Singapore is the Rosberg that needs to show up in Abu Dhabi if he wants to control his own fate for his maiden title.
Lastly, this race was Felipe Massa’s last home race and while he ended it in the barriers, all of Formula 1 should be thanked for the heartwarming farewell offered to the former Ferrari driver. In fact, in what we think is a first, other Formula 1 teams (Mercedes and Ferrari) dropped their tools mid-race to congratulate Massa on his memorable career. However, Force India’s fourth (Perez) and seventh (Hulkenberg) finish helped them score their highest career points ever (163) and further cement fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Williams.
And in a dramatic turn of events, thanks to the weather, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr finished a lucky ninth place that allowed Sauber leapfrog Manor (to 10th) in the Constructors’ Championship. A move that will benefit the Swiss-based team by approximate $10 million. But, with the World Champion yet to be decided, we believe there’s more drama expected in Abu Dhabi. Will it be Hamilton, or will it be Rosberg? We can’t wait to know.