Lewis Hamilton denied he has lost his competitive edge since winning his third world championship after again finishing second best to his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, this time at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton has twice been comfortably beaten by Rosberg since he secured the title with victory in Austin at the end of last month. Rosberg won even more emphatically than he had done in the previous race in Mexico. Starting from pole – his fifth in a row – he controlled the race throughout and finished 7.70sec ahead of Hamilton. It was his fifth win of the season, the 13th of his career and it secured second place in the drivers’ championship.
Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, said: “Maybe Lewis has lost the need. Right now Nico is better.” But Hamilton countered: “I came here with the same fire and desire to win this race as I’ve had all year. I just didn’t do the job in qualifying.”
Hamilton was desperate to win for the first time at Interlagos and showed as much when he vainly pleaded with his team to change their strategy to give him a better chance. The diligent Rosberg has found a little extra pace from somewhere and pole was an important advantage on this most challenging of circuits. To go with that there has been an extra aggression and confidence about Rosberg in recent weeks. It is a pity, for the sake of the championship, the German did not show those qualities earlier.
Before the race there was some controversy when the FIA chose not to honour the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris with a one-minute silence. Instead the drivers gathered at the front of the grid to pay their respects to road traffic victims. However the Frenchman Romain Grosjean and the rest of the drivers draped the French flag on their truck during the pre-race tour of the circuit.
Back on the grid Hamilton went for his team-mate as soon as the lights went out. He tried to take him on the outside at turn one but Rosberg slammed the door. Rosberg was the first to pit, though it was spoiled by hitting traffic in the pit lane. When Hamilton came in he re-emerged a little further behind, 1.7sec. Hamilton cut that down to half a second by lap 18 but the dirty air took its toll. “My tyres are not going to last,” he complained over the radio.
He then pleaded to be put on a different strategy. “I had good pace, you just can’t overtake here. I killed my tyres and it is a shame because it is such a great track but you can’t get close enough to race. It would be good if you could do a bit of overtaking here. I am here to race and when you both have to do the same order then, if there are other strategies, let’s take a risk. I just couldn’t get close enough, so it was relatively boring following in a tow.” He also conceded: “Nico has been doing fantastically well.”
It certainly would have made for a better show had Mercedes allowed their drivers to make their own calls but the team was determined to make it another one-two result – their 11th of the season. They also wanted to see Rosberg secure second place in the championship.
Before the race Hamilton dismissed the director of motorsport Toto Wolff’s claim he was “absolutely aware” the team wanted Rosberg to finish runner–up. Beyond that Mercedes are reluctant to split their strategies for fear of upsetting the losing driver. It is a very sensitive issue. At least Rosberg’s resurgence has raised hopes of a more competitive season in 2016.
“It was a great weekend for me here, of course everything is relative because of what happened in Paris,” the German said. “It was a good challenge from Lewis but I was able to control the pace. We saw Lewis dropping off a lot with degradation and that confirmed it was important to take care of the tyres. I am pushing now and I was pushing earlier in the season. I don’t have an explanation for why now but I just want to keep on going.”
The stars of Brazil 2015 were neither Rosberg nor Hamilton. They were Max Verstappen and Nico Hülkenberg. Verstappen pulled off so many eye-catching moves the only surprise was he came ninth. But in finishing among the points for the sixth race in a row he beat Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso record of 2008. Hülkenberg, surprisingly, has been second best to his team-mate Sergio Pérez for most of the season. He is something of a specialist in Brazil and his sixth place helped Force India secure fifth place in the constructors’ championship. Williams also confirmed third spot behind Ferrari. Felipe Massa, who finished eighth, was later excluded from the race for a tyre breach.
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