Vettel may not have led from lights to the flag, but he didn’t waste time in establishing himself back in P1.
The four-time World Champion secured his record-breaking ninth successive victory when he beat Mark Webber to the chequered flag at the Interlagos circuit on Sunday afternoon.
There was momentary panic in the Red Bull garage when a collision between Vallteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton looked like bringing out the Safety Car and in the hasty pit-stop that followed, Vettel’s front right tyre went missing. But the problems were soon smoothed over and the team recorded another emotional 1-2.
Webber brought his car home in second place for his 42nd and final podium.
Fernando Alonso completed the podium in third place as he just didn’t have the pace needed to challenge the Bulls. Last year’s Brazilian GP winner Jenson Button had a great afternoon, fighting from 14th to fourth. However, his P4 meant that for the first time since 1980 McLaren failed to claim a single podium result in a season.
Everyone was staring at the overcast sky as the cars lined up on the grid in dry conditions, a 19C ambient and the track at 25C. For the first time in the race weekend the track wasn’t damp. Instead of going straight to the grid cars took the opportunity for their first dry running of the weekend and ran a couple of laps though the pits to check that everything was okay on the slick tyres. There was a 60% chance of rain and the most likely time of arrival was at 3.00pm local time, two-thirds of the way into the race.
As the cars went off on their parade lap it was only Button and Gutierrez who had opted to go for the hard tyres, the rest of the grid with a free choice after a wet qualifying, went for mediums.
Grid: 1.Vettel, 2.Rosberg, 3.Alonso, 4.Webber, 5.Hamilton, 6.Grosjean, 7.Ricciardo, 8.Vergne, 9.Massa, 10.Hulkenberg, 11.Kovalainen, 12.DiResta, 13.Bottas, 14.Button, 15.Sutil, 16.Maldonado, 17.Gutierrez, 18.Pic, 19.Perez, 20.van der Garde, 21.Bianchi, 22.Chilton
As the lights went out, Sebastian Vettel was slightly slow away and very wary of an attack from Fernando Alonso behind him. He left the door wide open for Nico Rosberg who swept through on the inside to take the lead. Lewis Hamilton got a much better start than Webber and Alonso and was up into P3, but spent the rest of the first lap checking in his mirrors to block the Ferrari – which got past him on the start/finish straight.
Behind them Felipe Massa got a brilliant start from P9 and was up alongside Webber going through the Senna Esses but at the last second decided not to push his luck too much further and dropped behind the Red Bull going towards Turn 3.
It was a clean getaway at the front, but as the cars streamed around, Vettel was not going to sit back in P2 and was right behind Rosberg through Juncao at the bottom of the hill and ahead of him by the time the cars crossed the timing beam.
Positions at the end of Lap 1: 1.Vettel, 2.Rosberg, 3.Alonso, 4.Hamilton, 5.Webber, 6.Massa, 7.Hulkenberg, 8.Grosjean, 9.Ricciardo, 10.Bottas, 11.Button, 12.Guierrez, 13.Sutil, 14.Vergne
Jenson Button had got a great start from P14 on the grid and was up to P10 by the second lap. Both Toro Rossos had gone into reverse after a strong qualifying performance and Heikki Kovalainen had tumbled from P11 to P18.
Mark Webber was already on the move and made a strong pass on Lewis Hamilton running through Turns 4 and 5 to get himself into P3.
By Lap 3 we’d lost Romain Grosjean in a cloud of oil smoke, the Renault engine in the back having given up the ghost on its final outing. Nico Rosberg looked to be having problems in defending P2 after Alonso eased himself by on Lap 4 with Mark Webber closing in. Out front, Vettel was creating a usual Vettel-sized gap, 3.7 seconds on Lap 4, 4.9 seconds on Lap 5, 5.6 seconds on Lap 6.
Mark Webber was up into P3 past Rosberg at the start of Lap 7 using the DRS on the main straight. Further back it looked like a good McLaren day with Button past Ricciardo for P8 on Lap 8 and Perez jousting with Gutierrez and Sutil. Both South Americans got past the Force India car and Perez added a friendly kiss of the tyres on the way through. Perez would soon be past the Sauber too.
By Lap 9 it was clear that Nico Rosberg was holding Hamilton up and with Felipe Massa closing on them both, Mercedes gave Nico some polite advice to speed up or move over.
On Lap 11 Mark Webber was right behind Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton moved past Rosberg into P4. At the end of Lap 12 Webber was able to make it a Red Bull; 1-2 with his team-mate already eight seconds further down the road.
Sergio Perez was matching team-mate Button’s moves forward and squeezed his way past Valtteri Bottas for P10 on Lap 13, while Button dispensed with Hulkenberg to take P7 on Lap 14.
Nico Rosberg’s problems hadn’t ended with Lewis Hamilton and in the crucial fight for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, the positions of the two Ferraris and the two Mercedes started off with the advantage with the German team. Now, with Alonso in front of Hamilton, and Massa making a very late braking move to take P5 off Rosberg on Lap 15, it was advantage Ferrari. But it wasn’t a big enough advantage just yet.
On Lap 17 we were told that there would be no rain in the next 30 minutes and the positions were: 1.Vettel, 2.Webber, 3.Alonso, 4.Hamilton, 5.Massa, 6.Rosberg, 7.Button, 8.Hulkenberg, 9.Perez, 10.Bottas, 11.Sutil, 12.DiResta, 13.Gutierrez.
Sutil and Bottas pitted a lap later and because of Williams’ caution in securing their wheels Sutil gained a place at Bottas’s expense. A lap later and it was Massa and Perez in, then a lap later Button (despite running on hard tyres) Hulkenberg and DiResta, and on Lap 21, Alonso and Hamilton.
Massa’s early stop had unleashed a lot of speed and when Hamilton came back on track he was now behind the Ferrari driver. Button, was similarly quick on his new tyre and down the main straight he was three abreast with Ricciardo and Maldonado. On the same lap he got past Gutierrez on the outside of Turn 10. Hairy stuff. The upshot if it all was that when Nico Rosberg went to pit on Lap 22 he found himself behind Jenson Button. A further loss of points in the teams’ battle.Webber pitted slowly on Lap 23 and Vettel on Lap 24. While Mark was being turned round slowly by his pitcrew, Fernando Alonso was using the undercut and set a Fastest Lap of 1:16.966 so when Webber rejoined the track he was back in P3 again.
With everyone stopped once the positions on Lap 25 were now: 1.Vettel, 2.Alonso, 3.Webber, 4.Massa, 5.Hamilton, 6.Button, 7.Rosberg, 8.Perez, 9.Ricciardo, 10.Hulkenberg, 11.Sutil, 12.DiResta, 13.Kovalainen.
If the race had finished in that order it would be Ferrari 30 points, Mercedes 16 points and Mercedes would beat Ferrari by a single point. In fact having won GPs, had they tied, Mercedes would have still come out on top, but it was very very close.
Mark Webber then made the situation easier for his former (Sportscar) team by demoting Fernando to P3 on Lap 26. Out front, Vettel had a lead of 10.9 seconds.
Both Hamilton and Massa seemed to be having KERS issues, as Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley radioed through to his man about KERS, “I think he (Hamilton) has a problem too.”
Before the race, in the drivers’ briefing, the drivers had been shown a picture of the pitlane exit and told specifically not to cut it at a certain point where the line doubles up and then widens out into chevrons. Massa was deemed to have run with four wheels across it and was under investigation.
This was all happening just as Lewis Hamilton was shaping up to overtake him and on Lap 32 they both had to stand on the brakes in Turn 1 to avoid a collision. When Massa was given his drive-through penalty for cutting the line, Mercedes were able to tell Lewis he could back off.
Massa came in at the end of Lap 34 and rejoined in P8, the team battle was firmly with Mercedes now, though Sergio Perez in P7 was closing on Nico Rosberg in P6. Massa’s removal had bumped Buitton up to P5, but he was ten seconds behind Hamilton.
Three o’clock had come and gone with no rain but on Lap 43 Nico Hulkenberg reported that it was raining although it was only a few drops that fell. Down below the circuit it looked like a mist was rolling in, but lap times were still good.
At the end of Lap 43 Button and Massa came in for their second stops, followed a lap later by Nico Rosberg and Sergio Perez. At the front something interesting was happening – Adrian Sutil unlapped himself by passing Vettel on the main straight. Vettel still had a 12.4 second gap over Webber, though. On Lap 47 Vettel also allowed Daniel Ricciardo to unlap himself but there were no signs of high anxiety on the Red Bull pitwall.
That would happen a lap later after Lewis Hamilton emerged after his pit-stop and the lapped Valtteri Bottas inextricably tried to challenge the Mercedes around the outside into Lake Descent. Hamilton obviously didn’t see him as a threat moved across to take his line for the corner and the two cars banged wheels. Bottas was out on the spot and Hamilton limped back to the pits with a puncture.
Fearing there would be a Safety Car the Red Bull team ordered Vettel straight in, on the exact same lap that Webber was due to come in. Had the Safety Car collected Vettel then he would have had to make his pit-stop behind it with the field closed up. It would have lost him the race.
In the confusion of the sudden stop, his right front tyre was slow coming out and Mark Webber had to wait for his turn behind him in pitlane. Alonso was able to make his pit-stop without any delay and as all three cars came back on track – with no sign of a safety car – the gaps at the front had diminished.
On Lap 49 Vettel had a lead of six seconds with Mark Webber less than a second in front of Alonso now.
Positions on Lap 50: 1.Vettel, 2.Webber, 3.Alonso, 4.Button, 5.Rosberg, 6.Perez, 7.Massa, 8.Hamilton, 9.Hulkenberg, 10.Sutil, 11.Ricciardo, 12.Kovalainen, 13.DiResta
Stewards were investigating the Bottas vs Hamilton collision and surprisingly gave Hamilton a drive-through on Lap 52 for causing a collision. He served it immediately and dropped from P8 to P11.
Despite the threat of rain in the closing 18 laps – Vettel’s engineer Rocky told him: “There’s some rain, it’s very localized, so we need your help on this”. It never arrived. Hamilton’s drive-through had promoted Nico Hulkenberg to P8 and in the remaining laps the order from first through to Hulkenberg didn’t change with Perez getting close to Rosberg but never attempting a move.
Hamilton was able to get in front of Sutil when he pitted, to take P10 and then passed Ricciardo for P9 on Lap 58. Nico Hulkenberg was too far down the road to be caught.
The drama in the last laps of the race was provided by Pastor Maldonado who opened the door wide for Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso and then chopped in front of it. When the two cars collided in the Senna Esses, the Williams was spun across the track. The stewards would investigate it after the race.
Finally Max Chilton was on his way to completing all 19 races in a season, something never done before by a rookie. On Lap 68 he was in the pits and reporting a bad vibration on his Marussia. They changed the tyres and sent him on his way to complete the race two laps down. Not only a new record for Marussia, but a confirmed 10th place after a lack of rain and casualties meant that Bianchi’s 13th place in Malaysia was good enough to take P10 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Vettel crossed the line to equal Michael Schumacher’s 13 race wins in one season record and Ascari’s 9 consecutive wins in a row. Webber took his helmet off after he crossed the line in P2 to listen to the fans on his final tour to parc ferme. Alonso was eight seconds back in P3.
It may have been McLaren’s worst season since 1980 but they had ended on a high note with P4 and P6. Though two of those places were thanks to incidents befalling Massa and Hamilton it was still impressive from P14 and P19 on the grid.
Mercedes finished P2 in the Constructors’ Championship setting the bar high for next year when Ross Brawn has departed the team. It had been an exciting finale to the 2013 season with some unusual problems from the record-breaking Red Bull pitcrew, but ones they had ultimately overcome.
Mark Webber, V8 engines and Cosowrth won’t be back next year, but the racing can only be closer.
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:32:36.300
02 Mark Webber Red Bull +10.4
03 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +18.9
04 Jenson Button McLaren +37.3
05 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +39.0
06 Sergio Perez McLaren +44.0
07 Felipe Massa Ferrari +49.1
08 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber +64.2
09 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +72.9
10 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +1 lap
11 Paul di Resta Force India +1 lap
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1 lap
13 Adrian Sutil Force India +1 lap
14 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus +1 lap
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +1 lap
16 Pastor Maldonado Williams +1 lap
17 Jules Bianchi Marussia +2 laps
18 Giedo van der Garde Caterham +2 laps
19 Max Chilton Marussia +2 laps
R Charles Pic Caterham +13 laps
R Valtteri Bottas Williams +26 laps
R Romain Grosjean Lotus +69 laps
Gallery: Race Day In Brazil