Nico Rosberg sealed his place as runner-up in this year’s Formula One world championship on Sunday when he won the Brazilian Grand Prix ahead of his Mercedes teammate and newly-crowned three-time champion Lewis Hamilton.
It was the 30-year-old German’s second consecutive triumph following his Mexican Grand Prix win after his unforced error at the United States Grand Prix gifted Hamilton victory and his third title in Texas last month.
Starting from his fifth consecutive pole position, Rosberg made a flawless start and controlled the race from the front, relinquishing the lead only when he pitted three times, while Hamilton chased and challenged in vain. The 30-year-old Englishman, who arrived in Brazil 24 hours later than scheduled after what he described as “a difficult week” of illness and a road accident, finished second ahead of third-placed four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
Rosberg repeated his Brazilian win of 2014 with a near-textbook drive that gave Hamilton little chance to make his superior race speed count before he settled for second and came home 7.7 seconds behind his teammate. Kimi Raikkonen came home fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Danil Kvyat of Red Bull and local hero Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean finished ninth for Lotus ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who maintained his stunning maiden season form by finishing 10th for Toro Rosso.
It was Rosberg’s fifth win of 2015 and the 13th of his career. He made a flawless start from his fifth straight pole and, when Hamilton attempted to sling-shot out of his slipstream into the first corner and through the Senna ‘S’ curves, gave him no encouragement and little room to manoeuvre. Hamilton had no choice but to slip into second place and follow the leader as the race began without major incident.
On another warm, dry day at Interlagos, with a track temperature of 47 degrees Celsius, and where a tactical race designed around tyre strategy was in prospect, Rosberg was clearly baring his teeth.
It was a different story at the back of the field where Carlos Sainz, having suffered a car failure with his Toro Rosso on the formation lap, which forced him to start from the pit lane, failed to complete a lap and retired.
Rosberg held his lead with some aplomb through the opening laps until he pitted on lap 14, gifting Hamilton his ‘hammer time’ at the front of the field. The Briton followed him in and despite an excellent stop was unable to re-join ahead of the German.
The two Ferraris followed the Mercedes pair in grid order with Bottas fifth and Maldonado sixth, but the gap between Rosberg and the world champion was the main focus of attention as Hamilton closed the gap in pursuit of his first win on Brazilian soil in nine attempts.
The two were more than seven seconds clear of Vettel and 18 ahead of Raikkonen, with Bottas a further 12 seconds adrift.
Mercedes’ mastery was total, but the race was neutralised by their drivers’ respect for corporate needs and aversion to needless risk.
Rosberg made a second stop after 33 laps, Hamilton after 34, the champion’s race compromised by his teammate’s tactical decision, which forced him to re-join behind the Ferrari of Raikkonen, who had pitted only once.
Rebuffed, Hamilton dropped back to 2.5 seconds behind Rosberg, before clocking a fastest lap in 1:15.304, a reminder of his superior pace, if not track position, before the leader pitted again after 48 laps.
After a lap in front, Hamilton re-joined second again, trimming the gap to 1.2 seconds with 18 laps to go, but it was a signal of intent that he was unable to translate into a passing move as he eased off in the closing laps to follow Rosberg to the flag.