Scottish Daily Mail
LEWIS TAKES A BACK SEAT
Frustrated Hamilton can’t make a fight of it
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.