Well, the end of the season has come around already. This, the nineteenth round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship, a season which has seen Mercedes retain their crown from 2014, and Lewis Hamilton repeating it as World Champion.
The gloves are off though for the final race of the season, with a resurging Nico Rosberg collecting his sixth pole position in a row, in fact it was Singapore over two months ago. Can Lewis get to the front once again? If he doesn’t get a good start than the recent statistics would say no…
Before the race, the penalties were handed out with Romain Grosjean sent to the back following a gearbox change from his stoppage in qualifying, Roberto Merhi starting from the pitlane following a change in setup and Will Stevens for a electronics change earlier in the weekend.
With the grid clearing and cars heading away onto the formation lap with Vettel, Ericsson, Grosjean, Stevens and Merhi starting from the pitlane on the soft tyre – the slower but more durable tyre from the back of the field. The top ten of course starting on the super soft tyres from the second qualifying session.
It was a fast formation lap from Rosberg with the field strung out, before slowing down at the end of the final sector. Rosberg was still left waiting a little on the grid. With the grid formed, the lights went red and then went out with Hamilton getting a poor start. He retained second, with a McLaren and Lotus tangling at the first corner. At the back of the field both Massa and Bottas lost places in a tight battle with Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Lotus. Vettel had also improved to 11th. Vettel hit Verstappen’s but it looked like it was wheel to wheel.
At the end of the first lap Hamilton was already a second and a half down on his team mate, while Fernando Alonso pitted following his tangle with Maldonado at the first corner. There was front wing damage for the McLaren driver. Bottas was battling with Kvyat for 9th, Verstappen behind and Vettel also improving. The order at the end of the second lap being Rosberg, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Sainz, Massa, Kvyat and Bottas.
Massa got past Sainz for 7th at the end of the first straight, with the Williams winning. Bottas and Kvyat were also battling behind. Vettel was also stuck behind Verstappen in 12th. Grosjean overtook Nasr for 14th, but the Sauber hit back, with Grosjean retaining the place at the end of the second straight.
Replays of the start showed that Alonso hit Maldonado, but he was also hit beforehand by Nasr – the stewards would investigate. At the end of lap 5 Kvyat came into the pits for Red Bull taking a set of the soft tyres. Ricciardo also got past Hulkenberg before the German got ahead using the DRS, and then retaking the place back. The Alonso/Maldonado incident gave Alonso a drive through penalty.
Vettel now up to 10th overtook Verstappen. Ricciardo pitted a lap later along with Massa, Perez, but it was a slow stop for the Williams driver – he did stay ahead of Kvyat though. It was interesting that Massa would cross the white line while in the pitlane. Sainz and Bottas were also close on the track in 5th and 6th after the pitstops ahead.
Sainz pitted on lap 7, along with Hulkenberg while Bottas stayed out in the Williams. It was a slow stop for Sainz, a six second stop for the Toro Rosso team. Hulkenberg came out just ahead of Felipe Massa in the Williams who had already pitted. Perez also got ahead of a yet to stop Sauber of Ericsson.
Bottas pitted on lap 8 in the Williams but had been running quickly. There was an accident between Bottas and Button in the pitlane, meaning that the Williams had to go out onto the circuit with broken front wing. There was damage to both cars, but Jenson was just entering his pit box. The advantage that the Williams might of got disappeared. Rosberg had increased his lead at the front to four seconds.
Third placed Raikkonen pitted on lap 10, with Rosberg also pitting from the lead. Vettel having not pitted was just behind Rosberg with Hamilton stopping a lap later in the second Mercedes. Perez tried to overtake Grosjean for fifth, with Grosjean also trying the contra-strategy. Ericsson also had a queue behind him with Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Massa and Kvyat.
With Hamiton pitting he came out behind Vettel, even with a 2.2 second stop. Bottas was also given a five second time penalty for an unsafe release. Ricciardo lunged on Ericsson and made the move stick, while Perez made a move on Grosjean with him getting ahead of the Lotus. Hulkenberg also got ahead of the Sauber.
At the front it was Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest lap of the race, indications from earlier on in the weekend showed that the Ferrari did have good pace. Massa got ahead of the next lap, along with Kvyat on fresher tyres.
On lap 14, and it looked like that Vettel was struggling on his soft tyres heading off the circuit by the hotel, and was quickly overtaken by Lewis Hamilton after his pitstop. Sainz and Verstappen had also caught Ericsson’s Sauber, with Verstappen also catching his team mate.
Ericsson stopped on lap 15, releasing Verstappen to catch his team mate once again. Kimi Raikkonen was also realeased by Vettel, with the leading Ferrari looking like he could challenge the Mercedes driver ahead. Perez had been falling back in the Force India, struggling with the tyres.
Nearly seven seconds behind his team mate, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 16, while Kimi Raikkonen was also fast in the Ferrari behind him. Verstappen overtook his team mate Sainz on lap 19, while Fernando Alonso pitted for the third time – one a drive through penalty.
There was a massive lock up by Verstappen into the second chicane in his pursuit of hunt Kvyat, while Daniel Ricciardo was hunting down Grosjean for 6th. Verstappen complained that there was a massive flat spot, pitting on the same lap for another set of the soft tyres.
At the front, and the gap between Rosberg and Hamilton had reduced to five seconds by lap 22. Verstappen, who had just stopped came out behind Ericsson, while Hamilton set another fastest lap of the race. Kimi Raikkonen had dropped behind Hamilton though at the same time, with that gap up to ten seconds.
Sebastian Vettel pitted at the end of lap 24, taking on another set of the soft tyres in the Ferrari, while Grosjean also pitted on the same strategy behind. It put Vettel out behind Ricciardo, while further back Verstappen was all over the back of Ericsson. Grosjean who had just pitted was overtaken by Button, with the Mercedes powered Lotus easily able to overtake down the second straight.
Nico Hulkenberg came in on lap 25 for the soft tyre, while at the front the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg was ever decreasing. Verstappen got ahead of the Sauber at the hairpin, staying ahead using the DRS, while Hamilton set another fastest lap of the race. Bottas was right on the back of the Sauber as well.
Kvyat pitted on lap 25 in the Red Bull, while Alonso said over the radio that he wanted to retire the car. Hulkenberg overtook Nasr for 11th place, with the McLaren just up the road. Ricciardo pitted from fifth place on lap 26, and released Vettel. Massa also pitted in the Williams triggering another set of pit stops.
Another lap went by and the gap to Nico at the front was down to just over a second, with Hamilton being told that the German was having trouble with front graining. Perez pitted on lap 27 from fourth, while Vettel set the fastest lap of the race. The Mexican came out ahead of Ricciardo, but the Austalian was a lot closer to Perez.
Bottas pitted on lap 29, with the Williams also having to serve a five second penalty following their unsafe release earlier in the race. It was a very slow and cautious stop from the Williams team. Perez was also going very quickly in the Force India, and the fastest of those who had already pitted. With the gap coming down at the front, it stabilised slightly around the one second mark, with Vettel continuing the fastest lap. Kimi was told that his pit stop would be soon.
Rosberg pitted on lap 31 from the lead in the Mercedes, Hamilton was very close to the German by that point. Hamilton had set the fastest first sector of the race, with Raikkonen between the two Mercedes driver. Raikkonen was told to stop on that same lap, with Lewis Hamilton stayiong out in the Mercedes. There was a problem with the right front on the Ferrari, over six seconds. He came out behind Alonso and his team mate.
After his pit stop, Rosberg was faster than Hamilton, closing the gap to under 20 seconds, which isn’t enough to get ahead. He was told over the radio that they would be trying to extend the stint. Rosberg in the meantime was setting a fastest lap, Hamilton losing a second. Further back, Verstappen gave the place back to Sainz from their earlier swap.
Nico was told that he needed to increase the pace and close the gap to Lewis, the Brit having little to reply given the much older tyres on his Mercedes. Raikkonen was told, that Vettel had been told to let him through, which he replied quickly. Hamilton was told over the radio that the ‘other car’ was on ‘prime at the moment’.
Further back, Grosjean had a queue behind him of Hulkenberg, Kvyat and Massa at the bottom end of the top ten. Vettel pitted on lap 40, he took on the super soft tyres on the Ferrari with a quick 2.4 second time. He came out behind Ricciardo. Good information for Mercedes, with Hamilton still yet to stop in the lead with Rosberg eroding the lead by a second a lap. On the same lap, Vettel and Ricciardo were battling.
Hamilton was discussing over the radio that he wanted not to stop again, although the team told him that wasn’t possible. Vettel got ahead of Ricciardo second time around on the straight. Mercedes pitted and put on another set of the soft tyres. Massa was still trying to get ahead of Kvyat for 9th. Vettel was still setting fastest laps, and Ericsson pitted at the end of the same lap. Vettel had closed the gap to Perez to three seconds.
With twelve laps of the race remaining it would give Hamilton one second a lap to chase Rosberg for the lead. Romain Grosjean pitted from his good position in the points, falling outside the top ten. Verstappen overtook Nasr at the hairpin for 13th, a difficult afternoon for the Toro Rosso driver.
Vettel had caught up Perez for fourth place, while Lewis Hamilton had took over setting the fastest laps of the race. Using the DRS, Vettel got ahead of the Force India on lap 45. Verstappen also made a move on Button, although went off the track when Button gave some stern defensive moves, the Toro Rosso came off better for 12th, with Rosberg coming on the back of the pair of them.
With Rosberg in traffic, the gap to Hamilton was reduced substantially. Seven seconds was the gap with seven laps remaining, but Lewis hadn’t been taking regular chunks out of that lead. Felipe massa also overtook Kvyat for 8th after Grosbeak’s pitstop. Having gone off the track, Verstappen was given a five second penalty for leaving the track and taking an advantage.
Fernando Alonso pitted from the back an took on the super soft tyre with five laps remaining in the McLaren, and didn’t retire it as suggested earlier. Sainz was closing in quickly on Kvyat who we know was struggling with his engine power, Grosjean was also fast behind the pair. Grosjean in 11th overtook Sainz for 10th at the end of the straight on lap 53, he made the same move on Kvyat for 9th on the next lap.
It was a win though for Nico Rosberg, with Lewis Hamilton finshing second – a new record with Kimi Raikkonen in third.