Scottish Daily Mail

LEWIS TAKES A BACK SEAT

Frus­trated Hamil­ton can’t make a fight of it

- JONATHAN McEVOY

THE mil­lion­aires of For­mula One, with black arm­bands and a minute’s si­lence, paid trib­ute to the vic­tims of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism as the pall of Paris reached across to Sao Paulo.

Ro­main Gros­jean, the only French­man among the 20 driv­ers, en­listed three peers to help hold the Tri­col­ore.

In the mid­dle of the line in the hu­mid heat of the grid be­fore the Brazil­ian Grand Prix stood Jean Todt, the FIA pres­i­dent, his hand on a ban­ner car­ry­ing a road safety slo­gan. Bernie Ec­cle­stone, the al­most all-pow­er­ful head of the sport, stood next to him.

Ec­cle­stone had wanted the long­planned si­lence for road-accident vic­tims to be dropped in light of the press­ing atroc­ity that had rocked the French Repub­lic.

Todt, who had made crass re­marks com­par­ing road accident fatal­ity fig­ures with the 132 who lost their lives in France, holds sway in this sphere.

So a new scheme was hatched. The bus that takes the driv­ers on their pa­rade around the cir­cuit 90 min­utes be­fore the start was draped in two French flags, each marked with a black rib­bon. Of­fi­cials and driv­ers wore black arm­bands. On the podium af­ter­wards Nico Ros­berg, who won the race, said: ‘Ev­ery­thing is rel­a­tive af­ter what hap­pened in Paris.’

But the game had to go on and with re­spects paid, even if com­pro­mised by Todt’s ob­sti­nacy, it did.

It was not much of a con­test, alas. Ros­berg’s sec­ond suc­ces­sive vic­tory came from pole po­si­tion. It guar­an­teed him sec­ond place in the World Cham­pi­onship, with only the race in Abu Dhabi a fort­night hence re­main­ing.

Lewis Hamil­ton, who started one place back, fin­ished one place back. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, who started third, fin­ished third.

This was hardly clas­sic Brazil. In the rain, this place spills over with ex­cite­ment. The fer­vour on the last day of a sea­son can be elec­tric here. Nei­ther ap­plied to yes­ter­day’s fare.

Ros­berg got away cleanly and de­fended his lead into the first cor­ner. For a few min­utes Hamil­ton was close on his tail.

It took five laps for the Ger­man to open up a sec­ond’s lead. But Hamil­ton had feared that it would be hard to chase the leader in the mid­dle part of the lap and so it proved. Yes, Hamil­ton some­times got within a sec­ond of Ros­berg, but then he fell back. They fol­lowed each other in on their pit stops. Dull.

Thwarted by the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties on the In­ter­la­gos track, Hamil­ton ap­pealed to his team for a dif­fer­ent strat­egy. It was not forth­com­ing. He said af­ter­wards: ‘It would be good if you could do a bit of over­tak­ing here. I just couldn’t get close enough to Nico, so it was rel­a­tively bor­ing fol­low­ing in a tow.

‘There was one time when I was all over him. I had the fastest lap so I had the pace. It would be great to do some­thing dif­fer­ent from just: “You are in lap 15, you are in lap 16”, but to have some op­tion to see how it plays out. To take the risk.

‘But the team do so many strate­gic sim­u­la­tions and they pick the best two.’

It would have been in­trigu­ing to see Hamil­ton move to a dif­fer­ent strat­egy, but it was a no-brainer for Mercedes to keep their driv­ers com­fort­ably first and sec­ond by the safest means, and that is what they did.

To have done oth­er­wise could also have caused an in­jus­tice, as Ros­berg said: ‘Would it be fair for the per­son who is sec­ond to win just be­cause of the luck of do­ing the much faster strat­egy?

‘It should be Lewis against me, and not the luck of the strat­egy that de­cides the re­sult.’ Mercedes at least got what they wanted: Ros­berg’s win be­ing enough to de­liver him sec­ond in the ta­ble.

It was not, how­ever, high on the list of Hamil­ton’s pri­or­i­ties judg­ing by his com­ments be­fore the race. Toto Wolff had said Hamil­ton was ‘ab­so­lutely aware’ that Mercedes wanted to en­sure Ros­berg fin­ished run­ner-up. Go­ing into the race, the Ger­man was 21 points ahead of Vet­tel, his only ri­val for the po­si­tion. But Hamil­ton was not so sure about Wolff’s out­look. ‘No one in the team has told me that, so in terms of “I know that”, that is not really the case,’ he said. ‘We are rac­ing as far as I am con­cerned.’

Quite right. If Ros­berg ended up sec­ond, great, but if not, so be it. In the event he won, with Fer­rari’s Vet­tel third in both the race and the ta­ble.

A word for one brave move by Max Ver­stap­pen on Ser­gio Perez. He did not flinch when the wheels of his Toro Rosso came within inches of Perez’s Force In­dia around the Senna Esses.

It paid off, as the 18-year-old showed again that his tal­ent may be young but runs deep.

Home favourite Felipe Massa, who fin­ished eighth, was later ex­cluded from the race af­ter a tyre breach. Ros­berg was vic­to­ri­ous by 7.7sec to claim his fifth win of the year, al­beit too late to im­pact on the des­tiny of the ti­tle. Why is he only now find­ing form? ‘I don’t have an ex­act ex­pla­na­tion,’ he said. ‘I was push­ing hard from the start of the sea­son.’

Per­haps he drives bet­ter when the pres­sure is off. Or, more likely, the ex­pla­na­tion lies not with him, but with Hamil­ton. He is cham­pion, his job done, and may not be quite the ri­val he was.

 ?? REUTERS ?? Sec­ond best: Hamilton (left) looks bored on the podium af­ter trail­ing in be­hind ri­val Ros­berg
REUTERS Sec­ond best: Hamilton (left) looks bored on the podium af­ter trail­ing in be­hind ri­val Ros­berg
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