By Brennan Stark, Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL– The final race of the Formula One season was held at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace racetrack in Interlagos, São Paulo, on November 27th. After a brief two-year gap during which the last race of the 2009 and 2010 seasons was held in Abu Dhabi, the Brazilian Grand Prix returned Sunday to its prestigious position of being the penultimate race of the season.
Australian Mark Webber took the checkered flag, his first of the year and second win at the Interlagos Circuit. Beginning in the 2nd place position, Webber pulled past his Red Bull teammate and 2011 World Champion Sebastian Vettel after thirty of the race’s 71 laps.
It was Webber’s first win since Hungary in August 2010, 26 races ago.
Vettel, a 24-year-old German phenomenon who had already won eleven races this season, began struggling with an overheating gearbox on the thirteenth lap.
“Very early I got the call that we had to manage the gearbox problem,” he said. “It sounded pretty severe. It started to get worse. My main priority was to finish the race.”
Already securing enough points to guarantee him the World Championship title four races prior at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, Vettel nevertheless fought back and maintained his second place position throughout the remainder.
Webber and Vettel’s placing left the Red Bull team with the top two positions. Team principal Christian Horner exclaimed, “To sign off the year with a 1-2 finish is a fantastic way to end the year.”
Red Bull had already earned the “constructor’s championship,” awarded to the team with the most winning racers for that season, with McLaren in 2nd and Ferrari earning 3rd.
Days before the race, Webber had been optimistic at his chances of emerging victorious at Interlagos, a rare non-oval track that he, and Red Bull F1 cars in general, have become particularly skilled at navigating.
“I would say that we are the “usual suspects,” he said confidently, although warned that Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and the entire McLaren team would certainly put up a fight.
Just as he predicted, Briton Jenson Button of McLaren and Alonso finished 3rd and 4th, respectively.
Brazilian fans who had hoped for local heroes to emerge victorious would go home disappointed. Thirty-year-old Felipe Massa, himself from São Paulo, came the closest with a respectable 5th place finish after beginning the race in 6th.
Bruno Senna, also from São Paulo, began in 9th but dropped eight positions to finish 17th. Battling seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, the paulista’s car clipped Schumacher’s tire and forced both drivers to make unscheduled pit stops. Senna also received a drive-through penalty for the incident.
Much attention had been paid to veteran Brazilian driver Rubens Barichello, whose race on Sunday may have marked the end of a long eighteen-year career. Starting slow from 12th place and finishing 14th, Barichello nevertheless waved to his fans on his deceleration lap.
In a pre-race interview, Webber expressed nothing but admiration for his long-time opponent. “All of us [F1 drivers] probably envy him for his energy and his inspiration. It is a little disappointing that we are not quite sure how we deal with him crossing the line – can we expect him to be back? But we are not quite sure. He has been through some tremendous highs and some tremendous lows throughout his career – so yes, he’s a very special person,” he stated.
If Barichello does decide to race another year, he will have another shot at hometown glory when São Paulo hosts the final race of next year’s Formula One season on November 25, 2012.