It was a bittersweet afternoon for F1 fans around the world as the 2013 season came to a close. On the one hand, the final race of the year was taking place at one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar – Interlagos in Brazil.
Over the years, the South American track has given us some thrilling races, including some nail-biting title deciders. It’s also a place famed for its unpredictable weather and with plenty of rain already having fallen during free practice and qualifying, there was every chance the heavens could open and play havoc with this afternoon’s proceedings.
On the other hand, it was a day of farewells. Farewell to the V8 engines, which will be replaced next year by the more energy efficient V6 turbos. Farewell to Mark Webber, who would be driving the final race of his F1 career in the mighty Red Bull. And possibly farewell to a whole host of other drivers who are yet to secure a drive for next year, including the likes of Di Resta, Hulkenberg and Perez.
Despite the changeable conditions in yesterday’s qualifying session, Vettel had managed to once again put his Red Bull on pole. But the last thing anyone wanted to see during the final race of the season was for Vettel to lead from start to finish as he pretty much had done in the previous eight races.
With a 60% chance of rain, it seemed like we could be in for a topsy-turvy race. And as the formation lap got underway, the menacing grey clouds were certainly looming large over the track at Interlagos.
The red lights went out, the cars screeched into the first corner – and it was Rosberg who had the best start off the line. He quickly took first place away from Vettel, while behind him his team mate Hamilton had a great start too, hauling himself up into third.
But sadly for the Mercedes, their car was set up for the wet-weather conditions, leaving them with straight-line speed issues ¬– and they just couldn’t maintain their fast pace.
Alonso had lost a place to Hamilton on the first lap, and was doggedly determined to take it back. Halfway through the second lap, Alonso made his move – and made it stick.
Like his team mate Rosberg, Hamilton was going backwards now. So by the end of the lap, Webber had snuck past too, leaving Hamilton back down in fifth place again.
Disaster struck for Grosjean on lap four, as his engine gave up the ghost, billowing out a plume of smoke behind him, and making conditions treacherous for those driving around behind him.
There were no recovery vehicles to take Grosjean back to the pits, so he was forced to jog back round the edge of the track. It was a disappointing end to the season for a driver who’d staged a brilliant comeback in the past few races, and even threatened to give Red Bull a run for their money.
But while Grosjean lamented a premature end to his race, Alonso was flying out on track. He quickly passed Rosberg for second place, and scampered off in search for Vettel. But try as he might, he just couldn’t make an inroad into the Red Bull’s lead.
Things went from bad to worse for Rosberg as Webber overtook him on lap seven – and by lap 10, his team mate Hamilton had also sidled past.
Someone else slicing their way through the field was Button, who’d had a pretty dismal qualifying yesterday. He’s started from a disappointing 14th – but on the hard tyre, he was flying. By lap nine, he’d made his way up to eighth place, and would soon take seventh from Hulkenberg, too.
The pit stops were triggered by Vergne, who boxed at the end of lap 10, and many of the mid-field followed suit. But with the possibility of rain looming large, the front runners wanted to stay out a bit longer and hedge their bets on the best tyres to change onto.
By lap 13, Webber was flying – and after a great battle between him and his pal Alonso, the Red Bull finally made his way past and into second place. It may be his final race in F1, but he wasn’t about to exit the sport quietly, that was for sure.
Meanwhile, the Mercedes situation wasn’t getting any better, and Rosberg soon found himself being passed by the Ferrari of Massa. But while Rosberg was clearly desperate to come in and get rid of his ailing tyres, the team were still concerned about the threat of rain, and didn’t want to throw away a pit stop if they’d need to box for inters soon.
But by lap 21, the teams couldn’t wait any longer for the rain, and both Alonso and Hamilton ducked into the pits for fresh rubber.
Someone who’d already pitted was Button – and with his new set of boots he was flying even faster than before. He swiftly started making his way through the field again with some masterful overtaking moves, climbing his way back up to fifth place.
Vettel pitted the following lap, but there was no such drama with his stop. It was a textbook tyre change for the World Champion, bringing him comfortably back out into the lead – and fuelling the theories that the team were deliberately making mistakes with Webber so their golden boy had no real competition.
Luckily for Webber, it was only a couple of laps before he took the place back from Alonso. It was yet another master class in driving from the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers, and a battle that would continue for several laps with Alonso desperately trying to take the position back.
By lap 30, Massa had Hamilton in his rear view mirrors – but that was the least of this worries. He was under investigation by the stewards for crossing the white line of the pit exit, and if found guilty of the crime, he could be awarded a drive-through penalty.
Just two laps later he was given the news that he had indeed been given a penalty. It was terrible news for the Ferrari driver, but welcome relief for Hamilton behind him, who was spared the trouble of having to overtake his rival on the track.
Massa’s radio message showed that he was clearly furious about his reprimand. And it was also a crucial moment for the constructors’ championship, as it would cost Ferrari second place as they lost out to Mercedes.
By the half way point, Vettel was leading by 12 points over Webber. And there was still no sign of the predicted rain…
But on lap 43, the news came that it had just started raining at turn one. It was only a little bit of drizzle, however, and not quite enough to warrant going on to the inters just yet.
There was drama on lap 47 when Bottas spun his Williams off the track, ripping his tyre off his car completely. It soon became clear that he’d had a coming together with Hamilton – Bottas had been trying to overtake him and unlap himself, and Hamilton just hadn’t seen him in his mirrors.
It resulted in the Williams spinning, and Hamilton getting a puncture. But that wasn’t to be the end of the matter…
The incident left Vettel worried that there could be a safety car, so he nipped into the pits for a fresh set of tyres. Trouble was, the team weren’t expecting him – in fact, they were actually waiting for Webber to come in, and had his tyres out and ready in the pit lane when Vettel drove in.
As Red Bull scrambled to get the right tyres, Webber cruised into the pit lane, and was forced to wait for the team to service Vettel before he could be given new tyres himself.
It hurt Vettel’s lead – which was cut from 12 seconds to a meagre five – and it also put Webber back into Alonso’s sights as well.
Just a few laps later, the incident between Bottas and Hamilton was investigated by the stewards – and Hamilton was duly handed a drive-through penalty for causing a collision.
He seemingly took his punishment more gracefully than Massa had, despite not thinking that it was his fault, and was instructed to take it ASAP in case the spitting rain came down any harder.
Indeed it was a busy afternoon for the stewards, who handed out yet another drive-through penalty to Van Der Garde for ignoring blue flags.
During lap 61, Pic went off the track with a broken right-rear suspension. Caterham had been in a battle with Marussia for 10th place in the constructors’ championship, so one of their drivers had to finish 13th or higher for that to happen.
But with Pic out and Van Der Garde having taken his drive-though, the afternoon had played straight into Marussia’s hands – and secured them the lucrative cash that came with the 10th place spot.
On lap 65, Vergne attempted to put a pass on Maldonado. But as the Williams closed the door on the Toro Rosso, the pair touched, sending Maldonado spinning across the track.
Thankfully it wasn’t serious for the Venezuelan, and he was able to carry on with the race – albeit a few seconds further back than he was before.
With five laps to go, Vettel was told that there would be more rain towards the end of the race. But it didn’t seem to worry four-times World Champ, who had a comfortable lead in his pocket and a ninth victory in a row in his sights.
Vettel crossed the line with his team mate just behind to pick up another Red Bull 1-2. But while Webber had failed to take the victory in his final ever race, he could at least take comfort from the fact that he’d snatched the coveted fastest lap away from his team mate.
Chilton finished the race in last place – but picked up the accolade of being the only rookie ever to finish every race in his debut season. By Sarah Ellis
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h32:36.300
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 10.452
3. Alonso Ferrari + 18.9
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 37.3
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 39.0
6. Perez McLaren-Mercedes + 44.0
7. Massa Ferrari + 49.1
8. Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari + 1:04.2
9. Hamilton Mercedes + 1:12.9
10. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
11. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
12. Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 1 lap
15. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 1 lap
17. Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
18. van der Garde Caterham-Renault + 2 laps
19. Chilton Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
RET Pic Caterham-Renault
RET Bottas Williams-Renault
RET Grosjean Lotus-Renault