Less than a week after the United States Grand Prix in Texas, the Grand Prix field regroups for the penultimate hit-out of the season in the tropics of Brazil.
All eyes may be on the battle for the Drivers’ Championship honours between the Mercedes drivers, there will also be focus on what progress those teams further down the grid have been able to achieve in making the sport financially fairer.
There’s also the future of three of the sport’s World Champions – Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button – to be decided, so this weekend looks set to be an extremely busy affair.
|FORMULA 1 GRANDE PRÊMIO PETROBRAS DO BRASIL 2014
|Date||07-09 November 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Race (53 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00|
|Lap Record||1:11.473 (2004)|
|2013 Winner||Sebastian Vettel|
* All session times are quoted in Brasilia Summer Time (UTC -02:00 hrs)
Of all of the venues being visited in the 2014 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 São 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 Carlos Pace, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa achieving considerable success on the international motorsport stage.
The São Paulo circuit has played host to Formula 1 since the 1970s – albeit in a much longer configuration than today – but it fell out of favour when the (sadly duller) Jacarepaguá 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 layout in 1990 and it has remained there ever since.
Despite its third world facilities that somehow seem to escape criticism each year in the face of far superior amenities almost everywhere else on the F1 calendar, 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 elevation changes, which place great strain on driver fitness and mechanical reliability. A well-balanced set-up – 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.
Rewind to 2013
In contrast to 2014, last year’s Formula 1 championship season was well and truly wound up thanks to Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel’s dominance of the latter half of the season.
Brazil was the season finale, marking the last Grand Prix hit-out for F1 veteran Mark Webber and the end of Felipe Massa’s long chapter as a Ferrari driver.
While the 2012 instalment proved to be a thriller, the 2013 race was a dull affair. Vettel secured yet another pole position and – aside from being jumped by Nico Rosberg at the start – he controlled proceedings to claim a record-breaking ninth consecutive win in the same season. Incredibly, it marks the last time the German stood atop a Grand Prix podium…
Webber finished an emotional second as his Grand Prix career was brought to a close, while long-time friend Fernando Alonso completed the podium for Ferrari. Third place would have gone to Massa, but the Brazilian was handed a drive-through penalty for repeatedly crossing the pit entry line. The punishment dropped the home crowd favourite to seventh and also ensured the Italian constructor would lose second place in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
The Form Guide
Under normal circumstances, Lewis Hamilton’s 24-point lead over teammate Nico Rosberg would have him needing to score just two more points to claim a second Drivers’ Championship title.
The ‘double points’ gimmick at the Abu Dhabi finale means that the championship battle cannot be wound up until the end of the month. A sixth win in a row for Hamilton and a ‘doughnut’ for Rosberg will open the points gap to 49 points, but it could still all fall to pieces at Yas Marina.
Rosberg will have to outscore Hamilton in order to negate any fear that the double points will taint the outcome of what has been an incredible season of racing. Rosberg took pole and led early on in Austin, and he will continue to show the fighting spirit that has kept him in the championship hunt all season long. Momentum, however, remains with Hamilton, who claimed a fantastic championship crown on the final lap in 2008.
Can this weekend see him repeat his success six years on? His record at the circuit – a single third place in seven attempts – makes this one of his worst circuits, but his run of bad luck here must surely come to an end at some point.
Interlagos is famed for its tropical weather, and the weekend’s forecasters are predicting that wet weather will impact all three days of running around the anticlockwise circuit.
That could make the race more of a lottery – a bonus for the likes of the opportunistic Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Racing Renault, this year’s only other race-winner – and place less emphasis on the horsepower advantage currently enjoyed by the Mercedes-powered runners.
If the weather predictions hold true, then expect Williams, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari to feature at the sharp end of the field, while the likes of McLaren and Force India could also snare a top-six result.
Images via Sutton Images