The Formula 1 field heads to South America to one of the season’s most classic venues, the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, for the penultimate round of the 2015 season.
|Formula 1 Grande Prêmio Petrobras do Brasil 2015|
|Date||13-15 November 2015||Lap Length||4.309km|
|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||Qualifying||Sat 14:00-15:00|
|Race (71 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00||2014 Winner||Nico Rosberg|
Session times quoted in Brasília Summer Time (GMT -2:00)
Of all of the venues being visited this year, there are few crowds – with the possible exceptions of those at Monza, Silverstone and, more recently, Mexico – 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 Autódromo José Carlos Pace 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 there 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 2014
Last year’s event saw Nico Rosberg ensure that the battle for the 2014 Drivers’ Championship between he and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton would go down to the wire at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by claiming victory in Brazil.
The German narrowly hung on to win after surviving intense pressure from teammate Lewis Hamilton over the race’s final 20 laps; the Englishman had a spin midway through the race that ultimately cost him a shot at claiming his first win at the home of his idol, the late Ayrton Senna.
Rosberg was, nonetheless, the dominant force after being quickest in every practice session and qualifying.
Baking track conditions meant this would be a race of tyre and grip management. Learning his lesson from the preceding United States Grand Prix – where he hadn’t been aggressive enough – Rosberg stormed off the line and quickly set about building a healthy lead over Hamilton, who had to keep the two chasing Williams’ of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas at bay.
Rosberg kept his margin through the first round of pit stops, but Hamilton turned up the head on his second stint and was on a charge. He looked to possibly overtake Rosberg with an ‘overcut’ on his second pit stop, but pushed too hard on his in-lap and had a spin at Turn 4.
The lost time was enough to ensure Rosberg’s lead was healthily increased, leaving Hamilton with it all to do once again over the remaining two stints.
Hamilton’s pace was such that he almost took the lead at his final pit stop, emerging from the pit lane just a few metres behind his rival. Over the final twenty laps, the gap between the two never stretched to more than a few seconds, but Rosberg kept his defence tight and never gave Hamilton a sniff at a passing opportunity.
To the delight of the raucous Brazilian fans, third place went to Williams’ Felipe Massa, who finished over half a minute adrift to underscore the works Mercedes team’s dominance of the weekend. By no means was it a brilliant showing from the little Brazilian, however, as he incurred a five-second stop/go penalty for speeding in the pit lane and then suffered an embarrassing gaffe by pulling into the similarly-liveried McLaren pit bay!
McLaren’s Jenson Button was a solid fourth, keeping Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel at bay in the closing laps – Vettel’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo saw a 15-race run of points’ finishes come to an end with a suspension failure.
Fernando Alonso was sixth in his Ferrari, with his performance hampered by a slow pit stop that saw him emerge behind his two-stopping teammate Kimi Räikkönen. The pair waged a terrific scrap in the closing laps, with Alonso ultimately prevailing thanks to his much fresher rubber.
The Form Guide
Nico Rosberg will head to Brazil at the event’s defending race-winner and with an added skip in his step after a confidence-boosting victory last time out in Mexico. It was a quite dominant performance, and while the sceptics may sneer that teammate Lewis Hamilton might have been short-changed by the Mercedes team’s decision to pit him a second time, it was still very much the ‘Rosberg show’ – playing hypotheticals only gives you hypothetical wins…
Last year saw Rosberg end Hamilton’s five-race run of victories with a superb performance, and he will be looking to show Hamilton that – while this year’s title fight may be over – he will be the Briton’s biggest threat in 2016.
Hamilton, by contrast, has had a bumpy journey to Brazil. Suffering from the ill effects of an apparent fever which delayed his flight to Brazil, he was also involved in a car accident in Monaco in the early hours of Tuesday morning. That’s not the kind of press coverage he wants or needs heading into a race he is desperate to win.
Speaking of bad press coverage, one need not be reminded of Ferrari’s disastrous race last time out in Mexico. Sebastian Vettel’s race went downhill after he was tagged by former teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the scramble through Turn 1 on the opening lap and copped a puncture, before a clumsy spin at the Esses and a subsequent race-ending slide into the barriers at the same complex of corners.
Teammate Kimi Räikkönen had his second collision with fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, but this time it was the 2007 World Champion who was out on the spot. Both drivers (Räikkönen in 2007; Vettel in 2012) hold fond memories of Interlagos after claiming securing World Championship titles here.
Wet weather has had a major impact over the last four Grands Prix and it’s expected to rear its head once again in the tropical climate of São Paulo’s with rain forecast to his on both Friday and Saturday. Sunday’s race is expected to be dry, but conditions can change rapidly and deliver plenty of slipping and sliding at a track notorious for its questionable drainage.
Images via Sutton Motorsport Images