This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix marks something of a watershed for Formula One. Not only is it the season-ending race of a record-breaking year for Sebastian Vettel, but it is the last time V8 engines shall be heard in anger.
Add to that the final race of Australian hero Mark Webber, McLaren’s last race with Vodafone, Felipe Massa’s goodbye to Ferrari and you have a weekend worthy of marking in a special way.
Interlagos – quite literally ‘between the lakes’ in Portugese – has a habit of serving up thrilling Grand Prix races on a par with venues a la Silverstone or Spa. It could be the unpredictable weather (think 2001, 2003, 2008, not to mention last season’s gripping finale), or it could be the Brazilian crowds whose passion for the sport knows no depths. Indeed, Brazil is one of the few countries where the popularity of an F1 race rivals, or even exceeds, that of the national football team.
The circuit, originally named after Brazilian F1 star Carlos Pace, is an eclectic mix of high speed straights and cambered turns, interspersed with a few fast stops, all culminating in the rise toward the finish line at the top of the hill. It’s a layout that can bite the unwary, but rewards those who hit their car setup right on the head.
Team by Team
Red Bull – Gunning for a tenth straight victory, Sebastian Vettel is the overwhelming favourite to win again this weekend. He’s done it before – once, in 2010 – and the pressure is well and truly off with both titles long secured. Mark Webber enjoys a more successful record here than his younger rival, with two wins in 2009 and 2011 to his name. He may well expect a third to come his way should the German feel any pangs of regret over ‘that’ Malaysian GP and hand the Aussie a farewell gift. With the RB9 working as sweet as any Adrian Newey creation ever has, the clever money is on this team.
Mercedes – Desperate for a fourth win of the season, Interlagos presents a more likely candidate for Merc to seize victory than some of the more recent, hotter rounds. Temperatures will likely remain low for the duration of the weekend, and the nature of the track should reward the best traits of the F1W04. What does matter is beating Ferrari – the prancing horse is a mere fifteen points behind with forty three up for grabs.
Lotus – Romain Grosjean’s last chance to win in 2013. That’s it. The Frenchman has been close but no cigar yet, and the E21 could be the last competitive beast from the Enstone stable for some time with the 2014 rule changes in effect. Money remains a hurdle for the former Renault outfit and there is no guarantee Grosjean will get another chance to showcase his talent next season. Heikki Kovalainen wants points, of that there is no doubt, and the long-wheelbase E21 in use since Monza should be a solid platform from which to assault Interlagos – as it has been everywhere else.
Ferrari – Slim hopes of beating Mercedes in the constructor’s to a somewhat meaningless 2nd place in the table behind Red Bull rest with a downbeat Alonso and an outgoing Massa. It really is the end of an era for the Brazilian – five years since he won a race and eight seasons since he joined the Scuderia. A repeat of 2012’s double podium finish would be a welcome upturn in form but, barring rain, the likelihood is not very strong.
McLaren – The Woking team have one, final chance to avert their worst season since 1980 this weekend. If Sergio Perez or Jenson Button finishes 3rd or higher, it’ll go so way to healing the pain of a disastrous campaign. With the Englishman in a rut after dire performances in the last three races, it may fall to the already-axed Mexican to deliver the goods. Whether he can depends very much on the MP4/28 matching up well to the Interlagos layout, ssomething this year’s car has failed to do at a great many locations.
Sauber – As Force India have recovered, Sauber’s slight look-in at 6th in the constructor’s table has vanished and this weekend is simply one needing a good result for team morale, if nothing else. Many suspect both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez to be on the way out, and the weekend is of importance to both men for neither have a confirmed 2014 seat yet.
Force India – Believe it or not, this could be the last weekend you see Adrian Sutil in a Force India. Yes, the man who has been the backbone of the Anglo-Indian team’s efforts since it’s F1 baptism in 2008 is under the spotlight – as is Paul Di Resta, who should avoid a repeat of his 2012 accident to save his flagging reputation with the top teams. Like Sauber, for the team itself it is a weekend of racing for racing’s sake – 6th in the constructor’s championship is theirs.
Toro Rosso – The US Grand Prix was indicative of Toro Rosso’s current predicament. A bold but ultimately flawed decision to start Jean Eric Vergne on the hard tyres offered no reward and by race’s end Ricciardo, on a conventional strategy, was on level-pegging with his team-mate. They can’t win by doing either, it seems. Ricciardo though will be set to enjoy his last race at the Italian minnows before hitting the big time with Red Bull next season, while Vergne is still eager to prove the Austrian drinks giant picked the wrong man to join Vettel.
Williams – Rejoice, they’re back! Of a fashion, anyway. Bottas’s excellent showing in Austin cast a veil over the increasingly bitter relationship with Pastor Maldonado that erupted into open warfare in Texas, but ‘sabotage’ is unlikely to be repeated this weekend. Overturning their 2011 points total to ensure 2013 is not the most disastrous season ever for Williams was important, if only for pride. The Finn will be all-out to cement his reputation in Interlagos.
Caterham – Presented with one last chance to overtake Marussia for 10th in the contructor’s championship in Brazil. They maanaged it at the death last season and they may well do it again, but with a budget and resources greatly stronger than the Russian team you have to ask why it hasn’t been secured already…
Marussia – Hoping to avoid last season’s final moment defeat by Caterham this time around. It’s probably better for F1 that Marussia get the 10th place and the all-important money to secure the future of the final two cars on the grid. Bianchi will be back next year, with Chilton expected to sign anytime soon.
What They Say
“The track is at a high altitude, so it’s tough for the engines and the anti-clockwise direction makes it pretty physical for the drivers. There are more left-hand circuits at the back-end of the calendar than there used to be, so our necks are conditioned for them, but it’s still a good workout. I feel ready for Brazil and am looking forward to a bit of a different chapter in the future. There would be something wrong if I was disappointed to be finishing, because that’s the reason I’ve made my decision, as a sportsman or woman that’s why we all make those decisions: because in the end the fire is not quite what it was, and you’ve got to accept that. So the time is good for me, one to go and we’ll put on a very good performance, I believe I can do that in Brazil. I’m happy I’m still driving pretty well, making my mark so to speak, but I’ve had my time. I’ve enjoyed it and achieved a few things, so let the guys do their thing in the future.” Mark Webber, AUS, Red Bull
“This race is always crazy! It is actually a very short lap and it is quite difficult to overtake at Interlagos. The race is long at over 70 laps and it puts a lot of load on your neck because of the long left corners, so the centrifugal forces pull in an unfamiliar counter-clockwise direction.” Sebastian Vettel, DEU, Red Bull
“It’s difficult to believe that the final race of my first season with Mercedes AMG Petronas has come round already as this year seems to have flown by. We know what we have to achieve this weekend in Sao Paulo and everyone is so fired up to have a good weekend and to be in that second place in the championship on Sunday afternoon. I had a good race in Austin and it felt great to get that under my belt before the end of the season and I’m really looking forward to Brazil. Interlagos is such a unique track in its location and layout, and I have some great memories from previous races there. The passion of the Brazilian fans is amazing and it’s fantastic to see their support over the weekend. We’ll be hoping for a smooth weekend but it’ll be interesting to see how the predicted weather develops.” Lewis Hamilton, GBR, Mercedes AMG
“I like it a lot. It’s a cool race, Sao Paulo is an interesting city and the whole weekend is simply special. In addition, the track in Interlagos has so much history. The atmosphere is extraordinary from the moment you arrive there. I have very good memories of Brazil. I achieved my first pole position in mixed conditions there in 2010, and last year I led about 40 laps of the Grand Prix, and that was also under tricky conditions. The Brazilians are always very excited and most of the time the grandstands are packed. I am really looking forward to the weekend.” Nico Hulkenberg, DEU, Sauber
“The weather is often quite variable at Interlagos which gives teams a chance to play with their strategy and make up places if we see rain during qualifying or the race. I drove in FP1 last year and I have done a lot of work in our simulator which correlates well to the actual track so I’m feeling well prepared. The circuit is anti-clockwise, so has more left handed corners than right handed ones, which is different to most tracks and you need a car that has good downforce and is good in long corners. There is normally a different atmosphere to this race as it’s the final one of the season and historically the races are very entertaining, so I’m looking forward to racing here and hopefully finishing my first season in Formula One with a good result that will give us confidence going in to next year.” Valtteri Bottas, FIN, Williams
“I love Interlagos because it’s such a racer’s circuit – you attack the whole lap. The first corner is a fantastic place for overtaking, and you can pretty much race side-by-side with someone all the way down into Turn Six, which is incredible. The infield section is tricky, because it has a range of elevations and cambers, but it’s a fantastic feeling when you get it right. Finally, Juncao is a tough little corner, because you’re often outbraking yourself on entry, simply because you want to maximise your speed through the corner in order to maintain speed along the long, top straight. Every lap is a challenge and, when you’re racing, an absolute thrill. I love it around here and I’ll be giving it everything to make sure I finish the season in style.” Sergio Perez, MEX, McLaren
“The E21 has been performing really well this year and there’s no reason to think it won’t be a great car once again in Brazil. It’s a fantastically challenging track which never seems to let you relax. Even the main start-finish ‘straight’ isn’t boring as it starts uphill with some interesting camber, then gradually turns before finishing at the downhill turn one where it’s so easy to out-brake yourself. If I had to pick favourite parts of Interlagos, I would say the first and last corners. The first corner is really technical and punishes you if you get it wrong, while the last corner is so fast and really puts quite a strain on your body. As a driver I really enjoy these corners. It’s one of the real classic old-style tracks so it’s very hard to pick out a single element; I love it!” Romain Grosjean, FRA, Lotus
Friday – Low 17c/High 22c – Rain
Saturday – Low 17c/High 20c – Rain
Sunday – Low 17c/High 22c – Rain