Seldom does a motor race live up to the hype that precedes it. Brazil 2016 had an enormous buzz around it, with the threat of rain at the Interlagos track tantalising to say the least.
However, unlike many various damp squibs over the past few years, this race truly did deliver on its promise of drama, intrigue and excitement, and will surely go down as one of the very best in the last few years.
It was a race that had just about everything, in truth, with treacherous conditions catching out many drivers all over the place, mythic performances, and one of the most touching things you’ll ever see in a sporting event.
Points mean prizes
Felipe Nasr, and indeed Sauber F1 Team, have not scored a point since the 2015 USA Grand Prix, but finally did so, some 23 races later, grabbing two points at the penultimate round of the season.
— Sauber F1 Team (@SauberF1Team) November 13, 2016
It couldn’t be more crucial. With Manor taking a point for tenth place in Austria courtesy of Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber looked set to finish dead-last in the constructors’ championship for the first time in their history. A point-less season in 2014 hurt the team, and since them they have been in the doldrums, missing test sessions and barely developing last year’s car as a result.
The team have opted to take 2016-spec engines last year, but with new investors and now a couple of points in the bag, this perennial minnow of F1 may finally have a bit more security.
The big talking point for the championship is of course that it goes down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, after an absolutely flawless race from Lewis Hamilton. But is it too little too late for Lewis Hamilton?
The Brit is now 12 points behind Rosberg, meaning he needs a win and his German colleague to come fourth or worse at Yas Marina. That’s quite a lot of help needed from factors beyond his control.
The win in Brazil was his 52nd, putting him one clear of Alain Prost as the second-most of all time, although there’s still a way to go to touch Schumacher’s monolithic total of 91. Hamilton made two rather odd pieces of history in Brazil, becoming the first driver since Prost in Germany 1993 – coincidentally his 51st and final win – to win a race without making a pit stop.
The other is a record unlikely to be broken, as he was the first driver to use two different helmets on his way to victory. His rather snazzy yellow helmet inspired by Ayrton Senna was apparently a bit leaky, with liquid coming in during the rain, so he opted for his now-trademark white lid instead, with which he took the flag.
Red light spells danger
It was Billy Ocean who famously sang those words back in 1977, and his name is quite fitting considering the amount of water drenching the asphalt at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on Sunday.
However, red lights spelt danger in a different way during the race at Interlagos, with several crashes and spins, as well as poor visibility in the rain, culminating in two red flag periods.
Even seasoned pros Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who have three wins between them in Brazil, crashed out in the tricky conditions, along with less-experienced drivers Marcus Ericsson, Jolyon Palmer, and the unfortunate Romain Grosjean, who is sort of in-between the two levels of experience.
Though we never like to see anyone crash out, it showed that Murray Walker really did hit the nail on the head. One minute, you’re in third place, the next, you’re slamming into a pit wall, or as he put it: “Anything happens in Grand Prix racing, and it usually does!”
Felipe’s finale farewell*
*Well, his final home farewell, anyway.
I don’t imagine anything that happens at the final round of the F1 Season in Abu Dhabi will make quite as fitting a send-off as the standing ovation Felipe Massa received in the pit lane in Interlagos during Sunday’s race.
Probably breaking several hundred different protocol (but who cares), the home hero walked from his recently-crashed Williams to the pit lane, with a Brazilian flag draped over his shoulders and tears in his eyes.
As described in this piece about Felipe’s moment in the rain, “it was one of the purest human moments in recent F1 history.” And what is sport without human emotion?
When I studied Sport Journalism at university, my lecturers told my class from day one that “sport is, first and foremost, about people”. The equipment they use is part of the show, and the feats they achieve is what will be recorded in the history books – but it’s the way they make us feel that is the most important point.
On Sunday, that was bloody emotional.
Obviously, nobody but Max was going to receive our Top Dog award, and the official F1 version of that (which they clearly nicked and called Driver of the Day, but we’re not petty and can live with it) also went to the Dutchman, rightly so this time. (Hint hint USA, how does one win Driver of the Day when they’ve retired from the race?)
Anyway, as the rhetoric from the race made no shortage of saying, Max’s drive was the stuff of legend. I’m never a fan of comparing anything to Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher – nobody is the new anybody. Well, Verstappen is the new Verstappen, because the old one retired, but that’s not what I mean.
Max Verstappen drove like Max Verstappen in Brazil. He’s a maverick – maybe he shares that distinction with Senna, but that doesn’t make them one and the same.
Onboard shots with the teen said it all. He frequently drove off the racing line through inches of water, where aquaplaning was surely only millimetres away, and despite that scary catch, at the final corner, that wasn’t an issue.
I truly lost it when Verstappen went round the outside of Rosberg at the Senna S, I could not believe what I was seeing. It excited me mostly because the prospect of Rosberg finishing lower than second would make the championship closer between Rosberg and Hamilton, and a more even fight is exactly what every neutral fan, myself included, wants to see in the UAE.
As a finale, Abu Dhabi will provide the championship showdown, but Brazil is going to be one hell of a tough act to follow.