Last year it was the Williams duo that lined up behind Mercedes, this year it's Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel plays the stalking horse, securing third in his Ferrari ahead of teammate Kimi Räikkönen in fourth. Williams driver Valtteri Bottas actually qualified in fourth, but he had to serve a three-spot grid penalty for passing under red flags in Free Practice 2, so he started sixth. That promoted Sahara Force India driver Nico Hülkenberg up to fifth. Daniil Kvyat was the quickest representative from Infiniti Red Bull Racing, getting into seventh even with a Renault power unit that's weak on some of the key stretches at the Interlagos track. Felipe Massa had the second Williams in eighth, in front of the second Red Bull driven by Daniel Ricciardo in ninth. Toro Rosso hasn't confirmed its drivers for next year but Max Verstappen keeps making it hard to look elsewhere, taking 10th.
Rosberg is working nearly the same trick he pulled last year: drive like a second driver for most of the year, drive like a world champion for the last quarter of a season. He pulled away at the start and covered Hamilton just enough on the run to the first corner to keep Hamilton on the outside. By the end of Turn 1 the German had the lead and didn't give it up for the rest of the race outside of pit stops. Without overwhelming pace to pass and unable to follow closely, Hamilton could do nothing except ask his team for a different strategy to go for the win. When Mercedes told him "No," trying to protect Rosberg's second place in the championship ahead of Vettel, that was the race. Just like last year, Rosberg and Hamilton finished one-two.
Vettel, Räikkönen, Bottas, Hülkenberg, and Kvyat drove lonely races to finish in positions three through seven. After being penalized back to seventh, Bottas was back into fifth after the first turn of the race, so the order of the top seven after the first turn was the order of the first seven at the finish, too. Kvyat at least stayed close to Hülkenberg for much of the race but couldn't do anything with it. The only passing among this group came during pit stops.
The rest of the top 11 didn't change from the running order after Lap 47 of the 71-lap race. We say "top 11" because although Felipe Massa crossed the line in eighth, the FIA disqualified the Brazilian because one of his tires was 27 degrees over the permitted maximum temperature before the start of the race. Pirelli said it measured the right rear tire at 137 degrees Celsius, the legal limit is 110 degrees. Williams plans to appeal the decision.
The interim order, then, put Grosjean in eighth for Lotus, Verstappen in ninth for Toro Rosso, and Pastor Maldonado in the second Lotus in 10th. Verstappen, as usual, was good for a couple of outstanding passes on the outside of Turn 1, including one on Sergio Perez on Lap 32 that lasted through to Turn 3 and towed Grosjean along past Perez as well. Maldonado got his 10th place to stick even after a five-second penalty incurred for clouting Sauber's Marcus Ericsson when trying to pass the Swede down the inside of Turn 1 on Lap 35.
The win locks up second place in the driver's championship for Rosberg with Vettel untouchable in third place. Bottas and Räikkönen will duke it out for fourth place in the final race in Abu Dhabi, Bottas leading his fellow Finn by one point. On the manufacturer's side, Force India locked up fifth place ahead of Lotus, but Lotus still has to worry about Toro Rosso – the two are separated by nine points. Carlos Sainz's race ended after Turn 3 in Brazil when his troublesome Renault power unit gave up. Lotus – or Renault or whoever the team ends up being next year – could really use the prize money for sixth place, so if Toro Rosso can get both its cars going in a clean race in the desert, we expect quite the fight. The final race is in Abu Dhabi in two weeks, we'll see you then.