On November 12, 2017 the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace stood true to its name unfurling a nail-biting drama and boy, quite some pace in an enticing 71-lap contest here in the heart of Brazil.
With Ferrari aiming a shot at the podium, Lewis beginning from the very back of the grid having endured a rather forgetful Saturday, it was his teammate Valtteri Bottas who grabbed his maiden pole at Brazil.
But pole-sitter Bottas’ hopes for a top-shot finish at Sau Paulo were short-lived as soon as the five red lights went off. Within seconds of the start, the Finn’s Mercedes would come under relentless attack from Sebastian Vettel (then P2), who dived into the inside of the Mercedes before turn 1 to take an early advantage of the race.
From there on until the final lap, it was always going to be Sebastian Vettel’s race to lose.
With Valtteri Bottas reduced to playing catch-up to Vettel’s Ferrari, fans saw some dramatic, wheel-to-wheel action unfold between the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, the now four-time world champion.
Ever since Hamilton, driving in arguably the best engine component all race-weekend, zoomed past the Red Bull of Verstappen during lap 61, who had to settle for a P5, the contest at Brazil would be about a Kimi versus Lewis fight to the checkered flag.
The final ten laps at Brazil would produce a gutsy show of some skill and daring between two of F1’s most enigmatic drivers putting fans to the edge of their seats- or possibly beyond it- as Raikkonen used all his experience in keeping Hamilton’s merciless assault at bay.
In beginning his Sau Paulo challenge quite well, holding off Verstappen and Ricciardo in the initial laps, Kimi Raikkonen did well to extract the very best from those supersofts in what eventually panned out as a one-stop strategy like race leaders, Vettel and Bottas.
Amidst scorching heat and track temperatures that went as high as 58 degrees on the tarmac, Brazil would prove to be a litmus test for drivers in their craft for tyre-management. In that regard, Verstappen, whose tyres wore out sooner than he would’ve liked came under mighty assault from Hamilton, who could be fended off only at a couple of corners as the Mercedes driver produced a blitzkrieg to pass the Dutchman, in reducing the gap to third-place Raikkonen by under 2 seconds in the thrilling final stages.
Back in the grid, after a first lap collision between the Haas of Romain Grosjean and the Force India of Esteban Ocon brought the safety car into play, Ricciardo did mightily well in fighting back from the very back of the grid, having spun out wide off the kerbs in the starting stages.
Ricciardo, who settled for a tightly-contested P6, did well to provide some supremely smooth overtaking manoeuvres as did Felipe Massa as he raced past Fernando Alonso in the closing stages at Brazil to set the record straight on what’s been a pop-culture stick out in the realm of F1.
It would no longer be ‘Alonso is faster than you Felipe’.
In securing a P7, also his best race finish from the last 15 races, nonetheless, a thrilling way to bow out amidst home fans, Massa held onto the Brazilian flag and exulted with great emotion on the team radio.
As did Sebastian Vettel, who, in doing the celebratory donuts, sporting a smile as broad as we’ve ever seen echoed the contentment in winning his third grand prix at Brazil.
But clearly the driver of the day, Hamilton, P4, played the part of a charging lion, uncaged to mow down opponents with great thrill and enthusiasm as he polished off the back markers with ease ever since setting sights on the tail of Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
It would, of course, be a sight Hamilton would only see the rear of as the ‘Iceman’ drove a cool and calculated race in the heat of Brazil to secure a hat trick of third-place finishes starting from the USA.
With just one grand prix to go in what has been a tumultuous grand fest of racing, fans cannot wait in great anticipation for the five red lights go off at Abu Dhabi, the deciding duel of the 2017 season.