And so we have one round left to decide who will take the 2010 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship crown. This has been such an outstanding season, and the penultimate chapter in Brazil was simply a prelude to what is going be a thrilling finish to the season.
Sebastian Vettel took the honours in Sao Paulo, keeping his relatively slim championship hopes alive by leading a Red Bull 1-2 ahead of Mark Webber, with championship leader Fernando Alonso finishing third for Ferrari.
And with the result – the team’s fourth of the season and eighth overall, taking them to fourth in the all-time rankings behind Ferrari, McLaren and Williams – Red Bull took its maiden Constructors’ Championship crown since its debut in 2005 after it bought out Jaguar Racing.
Vettel effectively took the win when he beat surprise pole-sitter Nico Hülkenberg off the line at the start, passing his compatriot up the inside into the ‘Senna Esses’ to assume a lead he wouldn’t surrender.
Webber would get by the Williams driver on the opening lap as well, and despite Hülkenberg’s brave defence of his position from the chasing pack of quicker cars, his slide down the order and out of the spotlight was, sadly, rather inevitable. However, eighth place and a first-time pole position is not a bad effort when you’re trying to hang on to your drive, and the result will also give Williams – set to lose a hatful of sponsors at the end of the year – plenty of good publicity in the process.
Hülkenberg would keep fourth-placed Alonso at bay for six laps, and then held off Lewis Hamilton for another eight until the McLaren driver pitted, which was enough to give the Red Bull pairing – with Vettel heading Webber by roughly two seconds – an assured 1-2 barring disaster.
With the front half of the grid starting on the softer-compound Bridgestones, it was a case of waiting to see who would blink first in the sequence of pit stops before they chose to respond.
Jenson Button was used very much as the guinea pig for McLaren in dictating strategy. Having made up two places from his eleventh-placed grid slot, he was dispatched by Michael Schumacher on lap 2, and then chose to head for the pits and a switch to the harder compound tyres on lap 12. In clear air, he set quick lap times and his pace was such that he managed to leapfrog both Mercedes’, Hülkenberg and Robert Kubica after they too pitted. A fifth-placed finish was a great effort for the defending champion, but his title defence aspirations were dead in the water in spite of his best efforts. Better luck in 2011, Jenson…
But out front, it was the Vettel-Webber show, only briefly interrupted the Vitantonio Liuzzi destroyed his Force India in a strange accident at the exit of Turn 2, where he speared straight on into the guard rail separating the track from pit lane.
The Safety Car was duly called, giving several members of the top-seven placings a free pit stop, and offer which was duly taken up by both McLarens and Nico Rosberg, who could pit and rejoin without losing a place, as those placed eighth and lower were a lap down and stuck behind the Safety Car.
With Vettel enjoying having a lapped Kubica stuck between himself and Webber at the restart, the German bolted away when the green flags were unfurled, and he sailed away to the chequered flag in a relatively untroubled race.
Alonso – who could have won the title if he’d won the race this weekend – chased Webber hard in the closing staged but settled for third place. The current points’ standings means the Spaniard simply has to finish second – irrespective of where Webber, Vettel or Hamilton finish – in Abu Dhabi in order to take the championship crown.
With Hamilton and Button finishing close behind in fourth and fifth, it was Nico Rosberg who staged a remarkable recovery drive (after qualifying 13th on Saturday) to finish sixth. His finishing position owed much to team-mate Michael Schumacher, who moved aside for his younger team-mate in the closing staged, having quickly figured out that Rosberg’s tyres posed a bigger threat to Button’s fifth place than the 41-year-old could muster himself. The result also sees Rosberg leapfrog Robert Kubica for sixth in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Kubica finished in ninth place behind Hülkenberg, with his race pace again deserting him after another strong showing in final practice, while Kamui Kobayashi had an entertaining run in the closing staged to finish in tenth and take the final point, with Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari being nabbed in the closing laps by the Japanese driver, who ran a long opening stint on the harder Bridgestone rubber.
Behind Alguersuari finished the likes of Adrian Sutil, Sébastien Buemi and Rubens Barrichello, who fell out of the top-ten courtesy of a mid-race puncture (trying to overtake Alguersuari) that saw him tumble down the order.
It evidently wasn’t a good weekend to be Brazilian, with Barrichello’s compatriot and hometown hero Felipe Massa having his race compromised when he had to return to the pits after his first tyre change when his front-right wheel-nut started to work itself loose.
And despite having been overshadowed by team-mate Jarno Trulli all weekend, Heikki Kovalainen finished up as the best of the rookie team drivers in eighteenth place and two laps adrift, closely followed by his Italian team-mate. Also finishing on the same lap were Timo Glock and Bruno Senna, with Senna’s HRT team-mate Christian Klien finishing last of all after starting the race five laps down when a fuel pressure issue kicked in before the race started.