It seems like an eternity since late March, when the F1 season finally kicked off in earnest at Albert Park. Back then, we expected a four-team stoush at the front for championship honours.
Few would have anticipated that a certain German called Sebastian Vettel would have so comprehensively trounced the rest of the pack and wrapped up back-to-back titles just under two months ago.
And so we close off the season at the dramatic Interlagos circuit, home to the Brazilian Grand Prix. It’s a complete contrast to the rest of the circuits the sport visits – it’s positively third world, for one – but its passion, history and ability to provide great racing makes it one of the great venues the championship races at.
There are plenty of talking points as we bring down the curtain on 2011, so let’s get down to business and preview the Brazilian Grand Prix…
|Date:||27 November 2011||No. Laps||71|
|Lap Length:||4.309km||Race Distance:||305.909km|
|Race Lap Record:||1:11.473 – Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams), 2004|
|Last Year’s Winner:||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)|
Of all of the venues being visited in the 2011 season, there are few crowds – with the possible exceptions of those at Monza and Silverstone – who are as passionate as those who cram into the dilapidated grandstands at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit each year.
And the Brazilian fans have certainly had plenty of heroes to cheer over the years, with the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa achieving considerable success on the international motorsport stage.
The Sao Paulo circuit has played host to Formula 1 since the 1970s – albeit in a much longer configuration than today – but sadly fell out of favour when the (sadly duller) Jacarepagua circuit opened in Rio de Janeiro.
Despite the more interesting location in Rio, the flat high-speed circuit didn’t pose the same challenge that Interlagos did, with races at Rio often being more of an economy run than an action-packed event.
And so the circus moved back to a truncated Interlagos in 1990 and it has remained there ever since.
Despite its third world facilities that somehow seem to escape criticism each year when (incredibly) the likes of Silverstone are continually attacked for their far superior amenities, Interlagos has an ‘other worldly’ charm that makes it a popular venue for the Formula 1 travelling circus.
A terribly bumpy, anticlockwise circuit, the track is physically demanding due to its layout and high altitude, which place great strain on driver and car fitness. A well-balanced car – one that offers good grip in the twisty sections without compromising top speed on the straights – proves to be a difficult compromise to reach here when setting up a Formula 1 car.
Being in a tropical climate, weather is often a factor at the track, which features a well-used passing point at the braking point to Turn 1, and a less-used spot at Turn 4, the Reta Oposta left-hander at the end of the back straight. The FIA is hoping that Turn 4 will prove to be an improved overtaking point, after it announced it had placed the circuit’s sole DRS zone on the back straight leading into the corner.
Interlagos Talking Points
What are the three big talking points of the Brazilian Grand Prix?
The fate of the home-town heroes? Not one of the three local drivers – Felipe Massa, Rubens Barrichello and Bruno Senna – is in a particularly great position as the curtain comes down on the 2011 season. With Williams seemingly getting colder on the prospect of re-signing him, Rubens Barrichello looks set to end his record-breaking career this weekend. Felipe Massa, despite celebrating 100 races for Ferrari on Sunday, has had a rubbish season and he’ll be needing a serious form reversal next year to remain with Ferrari beyond 2012. Bruno Senna, meanwhile, has hardly shone as a Renault stand-in, and he’ll need a big weekend on the circuit where his late uncle was such a deity.
The potential for thrills and spills? Brazil’s tropical climate can bring inclement weather in the blink of an eye. Many a race weekend here has seen storms lash the circuit and turn qualifying sessions and races on their heads, bring many shock results.
Will Vettel’s record-breaking run continue? Sebastian Vettel finally fell over at last fortnight’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when his tyre blew out on the opening lap, which allowed Lewis Hamilton to claim an imperious win at Yas Marina. The result denied Vettel – a known stats chaser – the opportunity to equal Michael Schumacher’s 2004 record of 14 wins in a season, but he can still beat Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record of the most pole positions in a single season, should he claim top spot in Saturday’s qualifying session.
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia
“This weekend marks the final opportunity for Mark Webber to get a win on board in a season where – while he has shown flashes of form – he has had the doors blown off him by team-mate Sebastian Vettel. It’s also the last chance for the McLaren drivers to assert their advantage over the other: Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are tied 3-3 in the wins stakes. It’s also the last opportunity for Felipe Massa to claim a podium visit this year. He always drives well on home soil, and he’ll need to do so to avoid becoming the first Ferrari driver since Didier Pironi in 1981 to not finish on the dais.”
Henry, Richard’s F1 reader, Ireland
“Despite its ramshackle facilities and questionable security presence (after last year’s near-ambush of Jenson Button’s group travelling between the circuit and their hotel), this is such a classic circuit and it has always provided spectacular racing for the fans. Forget those boring Tilkedromes!
“DRS is an unnecessary evil here, because the circuit’s final leg, feeding into the iconic Senna ‘S’, has always provided a great slipstream for overtaking. While the DRS zone is not places there (it’s on the back straight), it still seems an artifice on this track.
“Add some wet weather, and every corner becomes an overtaking opportunity! I can’t wait!”
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent
“Within the paddock, there is usually more anticipation for the post-season party than the race itself, as no doubt many will overindulge in hop and grape varieties on Sunday night. Jaime Alguersuari may even provide his DJ services!
The Form Guide
This weekend sees Interlagos return as the season-ending venue for the first time since the thrilling championship showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa in 2008.
Ironically, that weekend marked one of Massa’s greatest performances. While he took an emphatic victory in an exciting race, it wasn’t enough to deny Hamilton his World Championship, which the Englishman claimed at the final corner. Few will forget the sobbing Brazilian accepting the adulation of his local fans as he stood atop the podium, his thrill of winning mixed with the sadness that he was unable to deliver his fans the championship they so richly craved.
It was also Massa’s last truly top-shelf performance. While he may reject that his near-death accident at Hungary in 2009 hasn’t changed his approach, he clearly hasn’t come close to replicating that sometimes devastating form he could unleash. Being robbed of a win at Germany last year (clearly team orders, despite Ferrari’s pathetic excuses to the contrary) was the nail in the coffin for his confidence, and he’s been a shadow of his former self ever since. A brace of fifth places this year is a sad result; were it not for the fact that he’s got a contract with Ferrari next year, there’s frankly little reason to keep him on board in 2012.
This weekend, Felipe returns for his 100th Grand Prix with Ferrari, and everyone will be hoping that the little Brazilian can harness some of the hometown fervour and deliver a solid result this weekend.
His under-fire compatriots, Rubens Barrichello and Bruno Senna, will be hoping for the same.
Despite Vettel and Red Bull Racing having cleaned up the championship titles ages ago, there are still plenty of fascinating on-track battles to whet the appetite this weekend.
There’s the battle for runner-up honours between Jenson Button, Mark Webber, and Fernando Alonso. The mantle is currently held by Button, who can be safe in the knowledge that his team-mate Lewis Hamilton cannot overtake him in the points race. That’s an important psychological advantage the 2009 World Champion will take into 2012, particularly given that he’s barely put a foot wrong all year, while Hamilton’s season has been a very mixed bag…
Further down the field, the Mercedes GP drivers will reignite their battle for top honours in their own intra-team stoush, with Nico Rosberg lying seven points ahead of the ever-improving Michael Schumacher. The indicators would suggest it will fall Rosberg’s way, but Schumacher has always been strong on Brazilian soil, so it’s best not to discount him.
Another great battle will be for seventh place in the Constructors’ Championship. With Force India seemingly having skipped off into a safe sixth place, it’ll come down to who, out of Sauber and Toro Rosso, can claim seventh and the vital extra millions in revenue it warrants.
Finally, next year’s driver market is still wide open, and the results from this weekend could well determine who stays with their current employers, who switches teams in the off-season, and who gets given the boot altogether.
Pedro de la Rosa’s signing at HRT has thrown a cat among the pigeons, leaving Vitantonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo squabbling for the second seat in the Spanish squad. If the Italian stays on board (it’s believed he has a contract for 2012), does that mean that the Australian will be helicoptered into Toro Rosso in 2012? If this is the case, this casts doubt on the security of both Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi, who are also looking over their shoulders at Jean-Éric Vergne, who has tested impressively with Red Bull Racing at Abu Dhabi. Theoretically, we could have Liuzzi and both STR drivers battling for the last few remaining seats in 2012 if they’re not retained by their current employers…
Robert Kubica’s confirmation that he won’t be ready to start the 2012 season leaves Lotus Renault GP trying to slot three drivers into the two available race seats. Despite his recent tantrum in the Russian press, Vitaly Petrov and his coterie of Russian backers will be too tempting for the team to warrant dumping him, effectively leaving the underperforming Bruno Senna up against Romain Grosjean.
And then there’s Rubens Barrichello, who is looking increasingly more likely to be sent into forced retirement after a 19-year career in the top flight. His seat at Williams is under threat by Adrian Sutil (likely to be jettisoned by Force India, assuming Paul di Resta is retained and test driver Nico Hülkenberg is promoted) and Kimi Räikkönen, who is scouting around for an F1 return.
But the red herring that’s entered the mix is Williams’ sponsorship from Venezuelan fuel group PDVSA, who are bankrolling Pastor Maldonado’s drive with the Grove squad. There are suggestions that the deal with PDVSA breaches several Venezuelan government laws, and the sponsorship could be yanked if the deal was found to have been arranged corruptly. This could well save Rubens’ bacon, and leave Maldonado out in the cold…