RENCKEN: Brazilian GP wrapped
There were an awful lot of conspiracy theories floating about the Interlagos paddock. For example, Sebastian Vettel’s transmission had not been wonky; instead the team ordered the reigning double champion to "short shift" to elevate Mark Webber.
The other was that Felipe Massa had been switched to a two-stop strategy by Ferrari to jeopardise the races of Jenson Button and Webber, both of whom were in direct competition with the Scuderia’s lead driver Fernando Alonso for the runners-up slot.
For starters, as Red Bull team boss Christian Horner explained after the race, team orders were legitimised over a year ago, so Red Bull had no need to adopt elaborate means to facilitate Webber’s easy overtake on Vettel going into Turn 1 on Lap 29. A simple "Seb, let Mark through" would have sufficed, while simultaneously marking Red Bull as honest players.
As for Massa’s situation, the simple fact was that the hometown hero suffered a slow puncture during qualifying, destroying a set of soft tyres. Thus he was faced with a choice: two-stop soft/medium or three-stop soft/medium/medium strategies. Given the enormously long (uphill) pits lane the former was a no-brainer.
FERRARI NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Of course Ferrari was not pleased at Alonso’s relegation to an eventual fourth in the championship, but that’s racing – and team boss Stefano Domenicali gracefully accepted Ferrari’s defeat, which had its roots in the woefully underperforming Ferrari F150 rather than any shenanigans on the part of Horner’s outfit.
Alonso had in any event been the architect of his own downfall by qualifying fifth when he badly needed pole position to make up the ten point deficit on Button and although the 2005/6 champion drove one of his trademark relentless races, the bottom line is that, in 2011, Ferrari simply was not good enough.
McLaren started the year on the back foot, and while the team improved MP4-26A immeasurably to the degree that it proved able to compete against the sublime RB7, the bottom line is that too many points were squandered early on for Button (and team mate Lewis Hamilton) to stand any chance of repeating their respective 2009 and 2008 championship successes.
All this left Red Bull totally unchallenged throughout, and never was this more evident than at the tight but flowing track situated in a downmarket Sao Paulo suburb. The result was engineered during qualifying when Red Bull locked out the front row, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that SebVet did not top the times until Q3, and consummated with ease on Sunday.
During the practice sessions and qualifying, Vettel failed to set a fastest time before going out in the closing seconds of the final session to seal a record 15th pole (in a single season). It was like watching a jigsaw puzzle master at work.
'YOU TAKE IT ANY WAY IT COMES'
However, Webber set himself up for victory by parking his blue car next to its sister, thus being in a position to slot in behind Vettel at the start of the 71-lap race. When the latter hit trouble, Mark was ideally placed to pick up the pieces.
Sure, his seventh career win was hardly a classic – that accolade belongs to his 2010 British Grand Prix victory – but, so what?
Webber said: “In motorsport you take it any way it comes.”
Notwithstanding the transmission problem – believed to have been caused by an oil leak similar to the malady which forced Hamilton’s McLaren into retirement – Vettel continued his remarkable run of finishes. Yes, he blew out in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, but in the balance of (18) races he scored just one non-podium finish - in his home race, at that.
More impressive was the manner in which he adapted to ‘short-shifting’, using higher gears than normal through corners to minimise loads on his transmission. All in, it reminded of the sort of drives Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher delivered in times of difficulty.
Button finished 10 seconds adrift of the second blue car to lift his tally to 270 points - sufficient to secure second in the championship – but only after he used DRS to pass Alonso with ten laps remaining. Thus Alonso ended the season on 257, the duo sandwiching Webber (258), who started the race as an outsider in the championship stakes.
MASSA, HAMILTON TRUCE?
Fifth went to Massa, whose long afternoon was typical of the challenging season he has (not) enjoyed. A bright point in Massa was when Hamilton came up to him after the race to proffer peace, a gesture which typifies 2011 F1. Would Senna have made peace with Alain Prost while both were active? Hardly…
Force India’s Adrian Sutil, driving for his career after apparently being told ahead of the race that he was being dropped for 2012, put in a feisty race to sixth. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was next up ahead of Sutil’s team-mate Paul di Resta, with Sauber’s Kamui Kobyashi and Vitaly Petrov (Renault) taking the final points-paying places.
All in the race, which promised so much, was hardly scintillating, and the locals must have had a sense of foreboding, for unlike previous years, there were noticeable gaps in the stands. The predicted wet weather, too, stayed away, and somehow a dry Brazilian Grand Prix is just not cricket.
Still, Webber proved a deserving winner in the 19th and final race of a long, arduous season. F1 will regroup in early February with its customary launchfest during the first testing week in Spain.
Final championship point order:
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 392
2. Jenson Button McLaren 270
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 258
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 257
5. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 227
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 118
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 89
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 76
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 42
10. Vitaly Petrov Renaul 37
11. Nick Heidfeld Renault 34
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 30
13. Paul di Resta Force India 27
14. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 26
15. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 15
16. Sergio Perez Sauber 14
17. Rubens Barrichello Williams 4
18. Bruno Senna Renault 2
19. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1
20. Pedro de la Rosa Sauber 0
21. Jarno Trulli Lotus 0
22. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 0
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT 0
24. Jerome d'Ambrosio Virgin 0
25. Timo Glock Virgin 0
26. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 0
27. Daniel Ricciardo HRT 0
28. Karun Chandhok Lotus 0