Mark Webber (Red Bull) took the lead on lap 30 and went on to win the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
2011 world champion Sebastian Vettel got away cleanly from pole position at Interlagos to lead the race away from the grid.
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) made a great start, passing Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) into Turn Two to take fourth place.
At the end of the first lap, Vettel was leading from Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault), Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes), Alonso, Hamilton and Felipe Massa (Ferrari).
Among the top drivers, Alonso, Button and Hamilton have never won at Interlagos.
The Interlagos lap is a short one, so 71 tours of it were required to complete the race. The air was at 25°C at the start of the race with the track surface at 46°C and rain expected.
Pirelli had brought the medium and soft compounds to Brazil and each driver would have to use both compounds in the course of the race. The top nine drivers on the grid were starting on the soft compound, since that is what they used during qualifying, and these were good for no more than 15 laps on full tanks.
Rubens Barrichello (Williams-Cosworth) is a doubtful starter for Williams next year and did his chances no good at all by dropping from 12th to 20th at the start, but moving back up to 17th by lap 5.
Vettel set a fastest lap of 1’17.784 as he opened up a lead of 2.9 sec over Webber, who had 3.6 sec in hand over Button. Alonso was less than a second behind the 2009 world champion with Hamilton 0.7 sec behind Alonso.
On lap 10, Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) got alongside Bruno Senna (Renault) at the end of the main straight and then turned in on the Brazilian causing yet another collision in a long history of contact with other drivers over the years. After the initial contact, Schumacher turned in again and once again there was contact between the cars, resulting in damage to the leading edge of Senna’s front wing and a left rear puncture for the German.
Schumacher pitted for a new set of tyres while Senna stayed out for a couple of laps before pitting too to attend to the damage. His wing was examined but left on as he took on a new set of tyres. Once again, Schumacher found himself coming under the attention of the stewards, but this time they found in his favour, giving Senna a drive-through penalty.
Meanwhile, Alonso got alongside Button coming out of Turn 4 and then simply drove around the outside of Button in Turn 5 – a very brace move.
Over the pit-to-car radio came news that Vettel’s normally reliable Red Bull had a gearbox problem.
Button pitted for another set of softs on lap 15, rejoining in sixth place. Alonso, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) all pitted together on the next lap. Race leader Vettel pitted on lap 17, releasing Webber into the lead by 0.8 sec.
On lap 19, Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) got past Sergio Perez (Sauber-Ferrari) into eighth place as Hamilton set a new fastest lap of 1’17.764.
Rosberg got past Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) into ninth as he recovered from his earlier pit stop, and Webber set a new fastest lap of 1’17.612.
Leading Positions on Lap 20
2 Webber +2.6
3 Alonso +7.3
4 Button +9.9
5 Hamilton +11.7
6 Massa +21.4
7 Sutil +25.4
8 Rosberg +30.3
9 Petrov +33.6
10 Di Resta +35.9
On lap 23, Timo Glock (Virgin-Cosworth) left his pit before the mechanics had finished tightening his wheels and he only made it to the end of the pit lane before his rear wheel came off, ending his race.
“Sebastian we have a serious gearbox problem,” said the German’s pit crew over the radio as second-placed Webber set another fastest lap of 1’17.030 and began to eat into Vettel’s three-second lead.
On lap 26, a piece of Senna’s front wing damaged earlier by Schumacher, flew off his car in the same corner as the original incident. Pastor Maldonado (Williams-Cosworth) took the opportunity to get past Senna into 18th place but then he went off into the barriers.
Vettel’s next radio message was even worse than before: “Short-shift every corner, every lap,” said his technician.
Webber had reduced the lead to just half a second on lap 29 and at the start of lap 30, Vettel let Webber past into the lead.
Leading Positions on Lap 30
2 Vet +1.2
3 Alonso +9.0
4 Hamilton +15.5
5 Button +16.7
6 Massa +27.9
7 Sutil +36.0
8 Rosberg +37.9
9 Di Resta +44.7
10 Kobayashi +51.6
On lap 31, Button pitted, taking on the medium compound, the first of the leading group to have made a second stop.
With a clear road ahead of him and tanks starting to empty, Webber set a new fastest lap of 1’16.959 as Hamilton made his second stop, but took on softs instead of hards as Button did and rejoining in sixth behind his team mate.
12th-placed Perez spun in Turn 9 but continued as computer models predicted rain in 10 minutes and humidity levels continued to rise while the barometer dropped.
Fifth-placed Button was hounding Massa, with Hamilton under two seconds behind.
Race leader Webber pitted again, and would have to make one more stop before the end of the race.
Button opened his DRS on lap 38 and sailed past Massa’s Ferrari down the back straight.
Vettel pitted on the same lap and his car battled to go into neutral for the pit stop.
Hamilton was now reeling in Massa. The two have collided five times this year and will have been hoping their magnetic attraction would not come into play again in the final race.
By lap 41, Hamilton had closed up on Massa and tried to get past at the end of the back straight, but Massa defended well. Hamilton also had a gearbox problem with a slow upshift and downshift. One lap later, and the gap between them was still only meters. Hamilton dived into the pits on lap 44, having lost seven seconds behind Massa. The 2008 world champion took on his final set of tyres (medium compound) and rejoined in eighth place.
Massa pitted next and he rejoined the race just metres ahead of Hamilton again and the battle was renewed, but only for one lap before Hamilton’s gearbox failed. He coasted off the track and into his first retirement of the year.
Meanwhile Vettel was told once again over the radio: “Short shift and save the car” as his gearbox also deteriorated.
Sutil cruised up alongside Rosberg at the end of the main straight but then misjudged his braking point, allowing Rosberg to retain his sixth place, but half a lap later Sutil got past again and made it stick.
Leading Positions on Lap 50
2 Vettel +5.5
3 Alonso +16.3
4 Button +22.4
5 Massa +51.2
6 Sutil +68.1
7 Rosberg +69.7
8 Di Resta +1 lap
9 Kobayashi +1 lap
10 Petrov +1 lap
Button made his final stop for fresh tyres (mediums) on lap 52, rejoining in fourth place again but 43.8 sec behind the leader. Alonso pitted a lap later, rejoining 5 sec ahead of Button.
On fresh rubber, Button set the fastest lap of the race – 1’15.989 – on lap 55 as he took aim at third-placed Alonso. The pair were running through traffic but the gap between them was being reduced.
Race leader Webber pitted on lap 58, releasing Vettel into the lead once again, but only for one lap before he too made his third and final stop.
Button caught Alonso and used his DRS on the back straight to close right up on the Ferrari.
Leading Positions on lap 60
2 Vettel +8.5
3 Alonso +22.1
4 Button +22.4
5 Massa +43.6
6 Sutil +59.8
7 Rosberg +69.9
8 Di Resta +1 lap
9 Kobayashi +1 lap
10 Petrov +1 lap
By lap 61, Button was right on Alonso’s tail at the end of the main straight. He held position through the Senna Esses and then the McLaren surged past the Ferrari into third place as up ahead, Vettel ran wide in Turn 5 and lost some time, dropping to 13 sec behind Webber.
With 11 laps to go, Button was 11 seconds behind Vettel and lapping 0.8 sec a lap quicker as he hunted down the wounded Red Bull.
Vitantonio Liuzzi retired his Hispania-Cosworth with five laps to go.
Despite the urgings of his pit crew, Vettel started to push hard again, setting a personal best on the third-last lap to peg the gap between himself and Button at eight seconds. Team mate Webber set a new fastest lap of 1’15.487 on lap 69 and improved that to 1’15.480 on the penultimate tour.
For the first time this season, Webber took the top step of the podium for his seventh grand prix victory, followed by Vettel and Button.
Over the last 51 races, only five drivers have finished on the podium – Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button and Alonso.
Before the race, seven times world champion Michael Schumacher had predicted that he would be able to challenge the Ferraris in Brazil, but he finished a lap behind them down in 15th place, eight places behind his team mate Nico Rosberg.
2011 Brazilian F1 Grand Prix Results
Pos Driver Nat Team Time
1 Mark Webber AUS Red Bull
2 Sebastian Vettel GER Red Bull +16.9
3 Jenson Button GBR McLaren +27.6
4 Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari +35.0
5 Felipe Massa BRA Ferrari +66.7
6 Adrian Sutil GER Force India +1 lap
7 Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes +1 lap
8 Paul di Resta GBR Force India +1 lap
9 Kamui Kobayashi JAP Sauber +1 lap
10 Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault +1 lap
11 Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso +1 lap
12 Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso +1 lap
13 Sergio Perez MEX Sauber +1 lap
14 Rubens Barrichello BRA Williams +1 lap
15 Michael Schumacher GER Mercedes +1 lap
16 Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus +2 laps
17 Bruno Senna BRA Renault +2 laps
18 Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus +2 laps
19 Jerome d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin +3 laps
20 Daniel Ricciardo AUS Hispania +3 laps
DNF Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren DNF
DNF Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams DNF
DNF Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA Hispania DNF
DNF Timo Glock GER Virgin DNF