The 2016 world champion will only be crowned after next weekend’s Abu Dhabi finale.
Although teammate Nico Rosberg is the favourite, Lewis Hamilton has kept himself in the hunt with three consecutive wins in the US, Mexican and now a rain-soaked Brazilian grand prix.
But a mere podium finish will guarantee German Rosberg the crown in Abu Dhabi.
“At first I tried to put pressure on him (Hamilton),” Rosberg said after once again finishing second at Interlagos. “But I quickly realised that he was faster. Second place is not bad for me.”
Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda said: “Bernie Ecclestone will be pleased that he will have his finale.”
Actually, the real star of the show at Interlagos was Max Verstappen, who surprised even his father Jos with his recovery from an unnecessary pitstop to finish third.
“I’ve seen many races he did and today it was incredible,” Jos said.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner agreed it was “one of the best drives I’ve seen in formula one”, while even Mercedes’ Lauda admitted it was “outstanding”.
“I knew the guy was good but he proved it again to everybody,” said the F1 legend.
There was, however, a collective grumble about Sunday at Interlagos — Charlie Whiting’s continuing decisions to delay, neutralise and red-flag races due to rain.
The crowd registered its displeasure with jeers and downwards-pointing thumbs, while Lauda told Bild newspaper the stoppages were “not worthy of formula one”.
“These were perfect conditions for a rain race,” he blasted.
“This is an example that everything is over-regulated.
“Ok, all the top drivers had their moments, perhaps with the exception of Hamilton. But this is normal in a rain race.
“I think mistakes were made today so we need to get together with Charlie Whiting to do better in the future. Race drivers have to race, even in the most difficult conditions,” said Lauda.
“Some drivers should look carefully at Max and what lines this boy drives,” he insisted.
But Kimi Raikkonen, who was among those who crashed and almost collected by a rival car, pointed the finger at F1’s tyre supplier Pirelli.
“These tyres tend to aquaplane even if it’s not raining hard,” he said.
“Ten years ago, these conditions would have not been a problem for the tyres,” the 2007 world champion insisted.