Daniel Ricciardo took the final podium place for Red Bull, with team mate Max Verstappen having retired mid-race with suspected transmission issues. Sebastian Vettel finished fourth for Ferrari, whose second car also failed to make the flag as Kimi Raikkonen was the victim of a botched pit stop.
Fernando Alonso was a fighting fifth for McLaren, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Force India’s Sergio Perez, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Haas’s Romain Grosjean completed the top ten.
This time Hamilton had no problems with his clutch at the start and headed Rosberg into Turn 1. The German had his hands full, however, and lost out to Ricciardo, who got the “friendly grip” he was looking for on his supersoft Pirelli tyres to jump one of the Mercedes which had started on the soft compound.
Behind them, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg had a bump in that first corner which hurt both their races; the German retired his damaged Force India at the end of the lap, while the Finn pitted with a puncture and struggled home an eventual 16th for Williams. It was a horrible opening lap for Force India, as Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat spun Perez in Turn 11, condemning the Mexican to an afternoon of fighting back. As he took eighth, the Russian was 12th once a 10-second penalty had been applied.
Ricciardo kept Hamilton honest in the early laps on his softer tyres, but stopped as early as the eighth lap for softs. Curiously Mercedes brought their drivers in on their softs on the 10th (Rosberg) and 11th (Hamilton) laps; Rosberg took mediums, playing the “long game” according to his crew, Hamilton took more softs.
That momentarily put Vettel’s supersoft-shod Ferrari into the lead as he ran the longest of all of the top runners on the red-banded rubber, but when he pitted for softs on the 14th lap he fell to sixth behind Hamilton, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Verstappen and Raikkonen.
The Dutchman looked very racy against Rosberg for a while, telling his team he was “not here to finish fourth,” as they tried to get him to eke out his rubber, but he and Ricciardo stopped again on their 26th and 25th laps respectively. Verstappen had come in by mistake, believing his team had told him to box, and discovered they weren’t ready. That put him down to seventh, but he quickly passed Massa’s Williams and Raikkonen on his fresh medium tyres and was running fifth when he suddenly slowed on the 29th lap. He rolled along as far as possible before parking well off track with suspected powertrain problems, but the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was then deployed as the RB12 had to be craned away.
Mercedes immediately pitted both Hamilton and Rosberg for medium tyres under the VSC, and that ‘free stop’ effectively killed any chance Ricciardo had of challenging for the win. It was frustrating, to say the least, for the Australian who had showed plenty of comparable pace to the Silver Arrows, as had Verstappen before his dramas.
Now it was Hamilton leading Rosberg, and all the reigning champion had to do was work through the traffic and manage his race, which he did to perfection to the flag. Rosberg, however, never gave up even though four second places behind Hamilton in the remaining races would still give him his first crown. He kept the hammer down, and steadily reduced a 16.6s deficit from the 32nd lap to 4.5 by the flag.
Ricciardo backed off in the closing stages but was still way ahead of Vettel’s disappointing Ferrari, which suffered from rear wing problems which cost him downforce and caused to have a huge wobble in the Esses in Turns 3, 4 and 5. He finished 43s down.
Fifth place was the subject of a huge battle between Sainz, Massa and a charging Alonso. The former champion muscled Massa out of the way to take sixth on the 52nd lap, then sliced past Sainz on the penultimate lap.
As Perez fought back into the points, Button had a sensational opening lap to go from 19th to 11th, but couldn’t keep pace with his McLaren team mate and had to settle for ninth ahead of final point scorer Grosjean, who added to the Haas team’s score on their first race in front of their home crowd.
Three-stopping Kevin Magnussen had a strong battle with two-stopping Renault team mate Jolyon Palmer and eventually finished 11th on the road for Renault, ahead of Kvyat. However, that became 12th - behind Kvyat - once stewards had decided post-race that the Dane had gained an advantage in running off track when passing the Toro Rosso and handed him a 5-second time penalty.
Behind 13th placed Palmer, Marcus Ericsson raised Sauber’s hopes of a point as he ran 11th at one stage before his final pit stop but had to settle for 14th ahead of team mate Felipe Nasr who had a pass and repass fight with Bottas at the end. Behind them, Pascal Wehrlein led home Manor team mate Esteban Ocon.
Besides Hulkenberg and Verstappen, Raikkonen was forced out when his Ferrari’s right-rear wheel was still loose as he rejoined after his pit stop on lap 38. He got a far as the rise towards Turn 1 before stopping, then rolled back down to the pit lane to retire. Ferrari picked up a €5,000 fine for an unsafe release. And Esteban Gutierrez battled strongly for points against Haas team mate Grosjean, before retiring with brake problems.
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