Continuing with the American theme, the F1 fraternity heads to Interlagos' José Carlos Pace Circuit this weekend for the penultimate race of the year. The world championship is already decided in the favour of Lewis Hamilton but the battle is now for the second place between his teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton is already 73 points ahead his teammate. The German is up to the second place again, after Vettel’s duck in Mexico, with 21 more points than the Ferrari driver, who has 251. Valteri Bottas claimed fourth position in the last race, passing his compatriot Kimi Räikkonen who scored a DNF; 126 vs. 123 points is the all-Finnish battle. Felipe Massa is sixth, with six fewer points than Raikkonen. The top ten is completed by the two Red Bull drivers, with the Russian Daniil Kvyat ahead with 88 points, 4 more than the Aussie, Sergio Pérez with 68 and rookie Max Verstappen, who has been doing an amazing job so far, scoring 47 points thus far.
A little bit of history
Interlagos has held the Brazilian Grand Prix since 1972. The first championship race was held a year later, and was won by Emerson Fittipaldi, the local driver. In 1980, security changes had to be made; the surface of the track was too bumpy and the circuit had inadequate barriers. As a result, F1 moved to Jacarepaguá Circuit in Rio de Janeiro and it didn’t come back to Interlagos until 1990, thanks in part to another local driver, Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian GP has stayed there ever since. The layout has remained almost exactly the same since that year.
Brazil has hosted multiple dramatic races over the years. In 2001, then-rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, in his third F1 race, overtook Michael Schumacher in a spectacular move. Fernando Alonso claimed his two Championship titles, 2005 and 2006, both in Brazil. Kimi Räikkönen did so in 2007, after arriving third in the table and winning the race.
In 2008, Felipe Massa almost won the Driver's World Championship when he finished the Brazilian Grand Prix as winner; he was going to be the first Brazilian World Champion after Senna. Things changed when, after he finished, Lewis Hamilton gained a position and was crowned World Champion. Button got his title in Interlagos as well.
In 2012, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were title contenders until last race in Interlagos. The Spaniard needed to score 12 points more than the German to win the championship. Vettel was fourth in qualy and Alonso seventh so it looked good for Vettel until in the first lap he spun and he started to lose positions. He had to start the race from the last place and, luckily for him, he didn’t have any damage in the car so he started to overtake and in the lap number 8 he was already eight. We lived one of the most exciting races in the last times and, finally, Vettel won his third championship by just 2 points over Alonso.
Alain Prost is the driver with most victories at the Brazilian GP, but just one of them was in Interlagos. Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver on this track, with four winner trophies. From the current drivers, just four of them have secured a victory here: Kimi Räikkönen, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. Only the Brazilian and the German have repeated, having won 2 times each. The lap record is hold by Juan Pablo Montoya since 2004, with a 1.11:473.
The circuit is one of the shortest on the calendar, at just 4.309 km, but also one of the most demanding. The high altitude, 800m above the sea, makes the engines produce less power. It also affects the downforce levels so teams will have to run with high downforce and cope with the mechanical grip in order to have a good equilibrium. It has 15 corners and a lot of topography. Last year the track was resurfaced since it was too bumpy.
The first sector is the fastest one, with long straights and high speed corners. Drivers will get to 330 km/h on the starting straight and they will reduce until 140-160 km/hat the first two corners, a fast sequence called “Senna’s S”, first to the left and then to the right, downhill. They are considered extremely difficult because both of them have a different angle, a different radius, a different length, a different inclination (inward or outward) and a different shape (besides the terrain goes down and then up again). It is important to have a good exit from the first two corners because the third is a high speed round-shaped large-radius left one and just after there is the first DRS activation zone, during the second long straight called “Reta Oposta”. Drivers will get out of turn number 3 at 280 km/h and accelerate again until 330 km/h.
Sector number two, the most curvy and slow one, starts at the end of the straight. Speed decreases until 160 km/h when they go through corner number 4, a 90 degrees corner to the left. It is a good overtaking point. Here, drivers will press the accelerator pedal again and take a very fast corner number 5 to the left. These pair of corners are downhill and they lead to a straight where drivers fill go almost full power and again a fast corner with two radius to the right. This is followed by a slow and difficult section, with tight turns and elevation changes. Corners number 6 and 7, downhill and the slowest point of the circuit, are followed by a sequence of linked curves; first, a quite tight one to the right and a long closed to the left before getting to the number 10, a near hairpin to the right passed at 80 km/h.
Then, there is an open fast constant radius corner to the left, a short straight where the sector number 3 starts, and a 90 degrees corner to the left taken at 125 km/h. After the corner number 12, it comes a very fast part; corner number 13 to the left, done at 220 km/h and where the second DRS detection point is, corner number 14, uphill and done at 255 km/h, very demanding for the engine. After a straight, corner number 15 already at 300 km/h to take the “Tribunas” straight with the second DRS activation point. The series of left turns from the exit of corner number 12 all the way to Senna's S is typically taken at full throttle and treated as a long straight. This section is known as one of the longest full-throttle stretches on the Formula 1 calendar, and thus demanding of the engine's reliability at sustained high RPM and torque.
The races are therefore very tough on the car, and also physically tough on the drivers, especially since the circuit is anti-clockwise, where the centrifugal forces in the many hard left turns push the drivers' necks to the right, instead of left as in the majority of circuits on the F1 calendar.
Pirelli is bringing soft and medium tyre compounds to Interlagos. Paul Hembery explained why: “Interlagos is one of those historic venues that has helped to shape the history of Formula One, so it’s a pleasure to come here and experience once more the unique atmosphere and passion from the local fans, at the end of what is our first American triple header in Formula One, with races in the United States, Mexico and now Brazil. South America and Brazil in particular is one of Pirelli’s biggest global markets, so this is a particularly important race for us, as we are so widely represented here. The changes to the asphalt at Interlagos last year altered the pattern of tyre behaviour, so it will be interesting to see how that affects tyre usage this year. Traditionally, Interlagos is quite a high-energy circuit for tyres, so we would expect to see two or three pit stops for the majority of competitors. As always though, we will only have an accurate picture of the real situation after the opening free practice sessions on Friday.”
If in Mexico Sergio Perez was the one in the focus, in Brazil the attention will be divided between Massa and Nasr. As the latter said: “I am really looking forward to my first ever Formula One Grand Prix in Interlagos. I am sure there is going to be a lot of energy around the track from all the fans. It will be a very exciting weekend for me representing my home country in Formula One. Last year I drove in FP1 for Williams, which was a nice feeling. But racing in Formula One in front of my home crowd is a dream I have always had. Considering our motorsport history, it is not only a pleasure and honour, but also a moment to remember.”
Nico Rosberg arrives here after four poles and a win, wanting to keep the momentum. His rival for second place, Vettel, has one goal: to win the last two races. We'll see.
Race local times
FP1 Friday 13 10.00h
FP2 Friday 13 14.00h
FP3 Saturday 14 11.00h
Qualifying Saturday 14 14.00h
Race Sunday 15 14.00h
by Cristina DeLarge