Sebastian Vettel bounced back from his championship disappointment in fine style on Sunday, winning a sunlit Brazilian Grand Prix for Ferrari.
Vettel took the lead at the start and, apart from a period after his pit stop, controlled an incident-packed race to finish 2.8 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes.
Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari, resisted late challenges to hang on to third ahead of newly crowned four-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who had started the race from the pit lane.
It was Vettel’s first win in eight outings since the Hungarian Grand Prix in July and his fifth of the season. It was also Ferrari’s first win in Brazil since 2008.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us, but it’s nice to get both cars on the podium here,” said Vettel.
“I had a good getaway and then I had wheelspin, so I thought I missed my chance, but I think Valtteri had the same so I surprised him.
“I wanted to pull out a gap and then control the race from there, and it worked out.”
Bottas admitted: “My goal was to win so it was very disappointing. We lost it in the start. After that it was very close.
“I tried to put some pressure on Sebastian, but it didn’t happen.”
Raikkonen said: “Lewis got close to me at the end, but it’s impossible to overtake here if you have close speed between the cars.”
Max Verstappen came home fifth ahead of his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo and local hero Felipe Massa, a rousing seventh for Williams in his final race before retirement.
The Brazilian emerged triumphant in his own private scrap to the line with Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda, who finished eighth.
“I feel so emotional today,” said Massa. “All you guys, thank you very much for everything that we passed together and for all the support and energy.”
Sergio Perez finished ninth for Force India and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Renault.
On a hot blue-skied day, with a track temperature of 60 degrees Celsius, Raikkonen had a pre-race concern about his communications signal. This was resolved before the lights went out and his Ferrari teammate took the lead, while Hamilton pulled out of pit lane.
Almost immediately, following a multiple collision at the first corner, the Safety Car was deployed. This incident saw Ricciardo spin on a kerb, hit the luckless Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren and, in turn, Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
The latter two were forced to retire as, in a separate incident, Romain Grosjean lost control of his Haas and slid into Esteban Ocon’s Force India, taking the pair of them off into a gravel trap.
It was the first retirement of Ocon’s career after 27 races and Grosjean was handed a 10-second penalty.
In the chaos that ensued, Hamilton took advantage and rose to 14th before the Safety Car pulled off and racing resumed.
The world champion, who clinched his fourth title two weeks ago in Mexico, made the most of his rebuilt car, powered by a new engine, following his crash in qualifying on Saturday.
While Vettel pulled clear by 1.9 seconds ahead of Bottas, it was Hamilton setting the fastest laps as he sliced through the field. After 21 of 71 laps, following an immaculate demonstration of speed and passing moves, he was up to fifth.
“The gap to Vettel is around 15 seconds,” Mercedes told Hamilton, on request, a clear signal of his optimism as he sought to make the best of soft tyres compared to the super-softs used by the leaders.
After 27 laps, Bottas pitted as Mercedes went for an ‘undercut’ only to be matched by Ferrari, who immediately called in Vettel.
Both Verstappen and Raikkonen also pitted, lifting Hamilton into the lead ahead of Vettel, who emerged from his pit stop narrowly ahead of Bottas.
By Lap 36, Hamilton was four seconds ahead of Vettel and 6.6 clear of third-placed Bottas – an amazing feat even if he still had to stop to change tyres – with Raikkonen, Verstappen and Ricciardo in pursuit.
As his old tyres deteriorated, Hamilton’s lead was trimmed to three seconds and then, on Lap 42, when rookie Brendon Hartley retired his Toro Rosso, to two.
Hamilton pitted from the lead after 43 laps, re-joining fifth on new super-softs, 19 seconds behind Vettel, who led again. He set about the chase and reeled off record fastest laps, trimming the gap to 16 seconds with a stunning 1:12.012 on Lap 47.
He lapped patiently to close on Verstappen, who was complaining about his tyres, and passed him for fourth on Lap 59 as they came out of the Senna ‘S’.
“Nothing you can do about that Max, just bring it home now,” Red Bull told the Dutchman as Hamilton shattered the lap record again in 1:11.932 and then again in 1:11.918.
With seven laps remaining, Vettel was told to manage his tyres but knew Hamilton was only eight seconds behind. Verstappen, after grumbling, pitted again and, with new rubber, cut the record to 1:11.044.
Hamilton’s surge slowed as he struggled in turbulent air behind third-placed Raikkonen and, with two laps to go, attacked again, but in vain.
“It was fun,” he said. “Just like my karting days when I started from the back. But I messed up yesterday and I know I was quick enough to win from pole to flag, but I made the job a lot harder.
“When I woke up this morning my goal was to do the team proud and score points. I tried, but ran out of tyres at the end.”