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Brazil 2016 was a race of lasts in many ways. Felipe Massa – complete with a bespoke livery – and Jenson Button might never race again. Massa was trying to get his son on the drivers' parade with him. And of course, with Rosberg needing to put just 6 more points over Hamilton to take the crown with a race to spare, the Brazilian Grand Prix could be the last ever F1 race when Nico Rosberg is not a World Champion.
It was also the first weekend where there were only 4 seats not confirmed for 2017 as Renault retained Palmer's services alongside Hulkenberg, Williams replaced Massa with Stroll, Ocon slotted into the open Force India seat and Magnussen was given Gutierrez' seat at Haas.
An hydraulic problem for Vettel caused a little anxiety in Ferrari prior to the first qualifying session as a little drizzle loomed half an hour before Q1 went green. With 10 minutes to go the floor was no longer attached the the number 5 car. Vettel was out with about 10 minutes remaining, sliding into 5th behind his teammate.
Manor sat ahead of Sauber, Wehrlein and Ocon 18th and 19th with Nasr leading Ericsson behind them. Magnussen was last, over a second slower than teammate Palmer, while Button led the quintet just outside the Q2 cutoff. Magnussen managed to jump the Manors and Saubers, but he couldn't oust his former McLaren teammate from the 17th slot. The only other bottom 6 change was Ericsson jumping Nasr for 21st. Palmer was 16th, Alonso 11th as the pair showed what their cars were theoretically capable of. Palmer and Ocon were put under investigation after qualifying for impeding in turn 4.
Despite their inability to make the soft tyres last, both Mercedes cars set their Q2 times on the yellow-walled tyres.
Bottas, Gutierrez, Massa, Kvyat, Sainz and Palmer fell in Q2 as Grosjean and Alonso offered up a surprise Q3 entry.
Hamilton narrowly beat Rosberg, ahead of Raikkonen, Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Perez and Alonso. This gives Rosberg the most front row starts of anyone in a single season, Hamilton equals his best number of poles in a year and Mercedes break the poles in a season record for a team.
Esteban Ocon received a grid penalty which demoted him to last on the grid for blocking Jolyon Palmer during Q1.
Grosjean retired with about 28 minutes to go until lights out, his car pointing the wrong way in the barrier on the long run towards the pit straight. A sad waste of a great qualifying session. The race was delayed by 10 minutes and a Safety Car start was confirmed as a result. The positive of this was that the back straight would have a chance to dry a little, but on the other hand, the first full-throttle point on the circuit would be that same river-covered section.
A few drivers were calling for racing conditions, and the Safety Car was pulled in at the end of lap 7. Rosberg and Hamilton weren't ready for it, with Lewis struggling with a leaking helmet and Rosberg worried about the rivers that caught Grosjean, but they had been outvoted.
Hamilton led comfortably from a conservative Rosberg. Alonso jumped Perez while Verstappen nailed Raikkonen. Magnussen, however, came in immediately for intermediates. Button made the same move a lap later. Alonso and both Williams drivers came in on lap 9, as did Palmer, Ericsson and Kvyat.
Vettel spun on lap 10 and, strangely, pitted for inters immediately afterwards. The left rear tyre went on very slowly, however.
Massa and Gutierrez were put under investigation for overtaking too early after the Safety Car was pulled in.
Ericsson binned it and parked in the pit entrance. Verstappen narrowly avoided the Sauber, then the pit entry was closed and Ricciardo pitted. It did look like Ricciardo broke the order, but Verstappen did not. Both Red Bull cars were now on intermediate tyres.
Magnussen, running on inters, reported that not only was the track too wet for his tyres, but too wet for racing at all.
As the pit entry was opened again, Ricciardo went under investigation for illegally entering and Magnussen took a new set of tyres – more inters, strangely.
The Safety Car left the track on lap 19 but Raikkonen binned the Ferrari on the line and brought the Safety Car straight back out, but Race Control put out the red flag instead.
The race order at this point was Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Perez, Sainz, Nasr, Ricciardo, Ocon, Wehrlein, Alonso, Bottas, Magnussen, Button, Vettel, Massa, Gutierrez, Kvyat and Palmer. The Renault, however, never rejoined the race due to damage in contact with Kvyat.
Massa was given a 5-second penalty for passing Gutierrez behind the Safety Car. Incredibly from this writer's perspective, that was all Ricciardo had to deal with as well.
Hulkenberg pitted on lap 22 after the restart, taking fresh wet tyres after a right-rear puncture.
The race was red flagged on lap 28, despite drivers talking about the track being ready to race.
Lap 31 was the last neutral lap after the second red flag, again a few drivers reporting the track was ready to race. Verstappen promptly took Rosberg's position. A lap later Ricciardo had jumped both Nasr and Sainz. Further back Vettel was 11th and Alonso 9th. Massa was last after pitting for inters. Button made the same change a couple of laps later.
A massive swapper for Verstappen ended with an incredible save and even more incredibly, no position loss. Hamilton's cushion, however, was now far bigger.
Ricciardo stopped on lap 40, serving his penalty and then taking intermediate tyres. Magnussen took the same tyres a lap later, before Alonso was overtaken by Vettel, the McLaren going off track in a desperate bid not to lose out. Verstappen pitted at the end of the 43rd lap, taking inters as his teammate set the fastest lap with the same package. Vettel scythed past Nasr, while Button reported to McLaren he was on the wrong tyres. Button was indeed called in for wets.
Massa crashed at the start of the pit entrance, closing the pit lane again and ending his final home Grand Prix somewhat ignominiously. By now both Mercedes cars had endured a half spin and were struggling to hold things together.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 52 to take wets, Wehrlein following suit. Verstappen did the same a couple of laps later, leaving both Red Bull cars out of the points.
Lap 56 went green, but Alonso spun on the restart and fell to last, behind Button as Verstappen jumped 3 places to 13th.
Verstappen continued to progress, dispatching Bottas, Ricciardo and Ocon, all with relative ease. Nasr, now 7th after a pass from Hulkenberg for 6th, was losing ground to both Verstappen and, crucially, Ocon's Manor.
Gutierrez retired the only Haas in the race, with the specific circumstances unknown.
Verstappen took 3rd from Perez with 4 wheels on the kerbs. Comparisons were being drawn in some places between Senna in Monaco and Verstappen in Brazil.
Hamilton won from Rosberg, Verstappen, Perez, Vettel, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Nasr and Alonso. Bottas led the non-scorers from Ocon, Kvyat, Magnussen, Wehrlein and Button. The list of retirees was Gutierrez, Massa, Palmer, Raikkonen and Ericsson, with Grosjean having to come to terms with an embarrassing mistake.
In championship terms, there are only really 3 important things to note: Sauber are now one point up on Manor; Williams are now 48 points behind Force India – guaranteeing the Silverstone squad 4th overall, as Ferrari lost any hope of 2nd – and the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg was down to just 12 points.
Roll on Abu Dhabi!