Venue: Interlagos, Sao Paulo
Lap record: 1m 11.473s – Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams (2004)
Interlagos is a tough track with many elevation changes, fast corners and high lateral loads which punish the drivers relentlessly for 71 laps. The track is anti-clockwise so places extra strain on the drivers' necks. The circuit itself used to be quite bumpy but over time these have been smoothed out, nonetheless gaining proper traction remains the main setup challenge. With a bumpier track the cars would be run softer so as to allow the rear wheels to maintain contact with the track surface, but with bumps less of a concern now the cars are run stiffer and lower to generate downforce, putting the onus on the driver to modulate throttle application smoothly to minimise wheelspin. With a twisty infield section the cars generally run medium to high downforce settings, but can achieve speeds of almost 200mph on the approach to Turn 1 or Turn 4 with a favourable wind.
Race strategy highlights from last year
With changeable conditions this was a race where everyone was reacting to events, instincts coming to the fore in place of cold, hard numbers. No more was this the case than at Red Bull, where Sebastian Vettel had to overcome a first-lap collision, a broken radio and four subsequent trips to the pits to fight his way back to sixth place, which earned him enough points to seal his third consecutive Driver’s Championship.
Vettel’s fightback started when he spun at Turn Four on the opening lap and was clouted by Bruno Senna’s Williams. Remarkably the Red Bull was able to continue and Vettel fought his way from 22nd to sixth by lap eight, aided by other retirements but also the relative ease of overtaking at Interlagos. Rain started to fall early and many drivers, Vettel included, went for the safe option and pitted for intermediate tyres – Button and Hulkenberg went for the brave route and stayed out, lapping consistently until the conditions stabilised and both went onto the hard tyres, running identical 34-lap stints at the head of the field before pitting for inters when the rain came down again towards the end of the race.
Hulkenberg had impressed, leading the race for 40-dd laps until he collided with Lewis Hamilton, ending the Briton’s last race for McLaren and earning himself a drive-through penalty from which he could only salvage fifth. The other championship challenger, Fernando Alonso, ran in fourth place for most of the afternoon, but held the title in his hands for the briefest of moments on lap 55, when he was promoted to third place after Hamilton’s departure, and Vettel was out of the points following his last stop. Alonso progressed to second place and 18 points, but Vettel’s eight points for sixth secured him the 2012 title by just three points in a hectic, rollercoaster afternoon of racing.
Sebastian Vettel has won the last eight races, six of them from pole, and is bidding to become the first driver since Juan Manuel Fangio to win more than eight consecutive races. The race is beautifully poised between the two Red Bull drivers – Vettel’s motivation is outlined above, whilst Mark Webber wants to sign off with a win in his last race in Formula One before spearheading Porsche’s sportscar effort next year.
There is also a three-way battle in the Constructor’s Championship for ‘best of the rest’ status – Mercedes currently hold second place with Ferrari the only likely challenger, 15 points behind. Lotus are not mathematically out of it either with a 33-point deficit, but only 43 points remain on the table and it looks likely that Red Bull will snare the bulk of those. Expect an emotional turn-out for Felipe Massa, who is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season to join Williams for 2014. Massa won this race twice in the mid-2000’s and was on the podium last year, so a good performance would be well-received all round.
Who has the best record in America?
With two wins and two podium finishes from his nine races on home soil, Felipe Massa is the most successful of the current field in Brazil. Massa’s two wins came in 2006, when he became the first Brazilian to win the race since Ayrton Senna in 1993, and in 2008, when he was famously world champion for all of 30 seconds until Lewis Hamilton slipped by the ailing Toyota of Timo Glock at the last corner, thereby nicking a crucial extra point that would make him champion that season.
Massa’s dignity in defeat that day is one of the abiding memories of the 2008 season and it would be a delight to see him sign off from Ferrari with a return trip to the podium in front of his adoring fans. Other drivers to win here include Mark Webber (2009 and 2011), Kimi Raikkonen (2007, sealing his own title triumph ahead of the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton), Sebastian Vettel in 2010 and Jenson Button last season. Alonso and Hamilton have never won here – it is something of a bogey track for Lewis, who only has one podium in six attempts to his name, while Alonso has been second three times and third four times.
How important is pole position?
Interlagos has one of the lowest pole-to-win ratios on the calendar with just 10 winners from 30 races starting P1, but since 2004 the front row has been the place to be with every race bar the 2007 event won from the front row, and even then the winner (Raikkonen) started third. Interestingly it is Massa who has been the victor from pole on both recent occasions, the 2006 and 2008 events seeing the popular Brazilian lead from lights to flag on both occasions.
With the title battle going to the wire last season, Pirelli went conservative with their tyre selection so as not to unduly influence the outcome. With both championships settled this year we will hopefully see a more fluid race, especially with long-range forecasts suggesting wet weather for race day.
Overtaking is not so hard here so downforce levels can be higher with drivers safe in the knowledge they don’t need to trim off wing to create passing opportunities. The middle of the lap is slower and more technical which rewards cars with good low- and medium-speed traction.
Average speed: 7/10
First gear is not used at all on track, meaning that even at their slowest the cars are doing 70mph. At the other end of the scale, Turns 1 and 4 can see the drivers hitting 200mph.
Track difficulty: 6/10
Heat and humidity play more of a factor here than any particular complications of the track layout, although there are some rapid direction changes which may change out cars on fading tyres. This is one of five races in the last seven that runs anti-clockwise, punishing the drivers' neck muscles.
Interlagos has always created good racing and there are at least four places where it is possible to pass on the circuit – if you are close enough.
The Brazilian crowd always creates a fantastic atmosphere and despite both titles being decided there is no reason to think 2013 will be any different. A bit of rain would add spice to a race which has the potential to see Vettel set a new record for consecutive wins in a season – it’ll be nine in a row with a win on Sunday.
“Just competing in the Brazilian GP is a dream for all Brazilian racing drivers. My racing career started in Interlagos, my local go-kart track and I also raced in other junior categories here. Before then, I remember sitting in the grandstands when I was a kid, watching Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and even Rubens Barrichello. After that, to race there in Formula 1 is a feeling that is hard to explain. There is all that energy you get from the crowd, from being at the track you love the most, hearing the music in the stands, feeling all that support. Winning here in 2006, in my first year with Ferrari was definitely the most incredible race of my life. I had a special race suit featuring the yellow and green colours of our national flag and standing on the top step of the podium was more than I had ever expected from my life. For a Brazilian to win this race, it’s like winning the world title. It was the most emotional race of my life and I remember it as though it was yesterday. It really was the realisation of a dream.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
"We've chosen the hard and medium tyres for Brazil to deal with the different demands of the famous Interlagos circuit, where we always receive a fantastic welcome from the amazingly enthusiastic fans. There are a number of things to look out for in Brazil: despite being resurfaced a few years back the track is always quite bumpy, which makes it hard for the tyres to find traction and increases the physical demands on the drivers. Just like last year, we'll be giving all the teams the opportunity to test next year's tyres during Friday free practice, given the fundamental changes in the technical regulations for 2014. Brazil is actually Pirelli's biggest market, so we're all really looking forward to getting back there, for a race that marks the end of a technical era."
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