The Brazilian Grand Prix brings the longest ever Formula 1 World Championship to an end this weekend, the Sao Paulo race selected to bring the curtain down on the series as it will take place at a prime time for European TV audiences.
With Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro having won both titles earlier in the summer, the team will be looking to close the year in style and naturally, for Rubens Barrichello, whose childhood was spent racing karts at this circuit, the grand prix will have special significance. However, the Ferrari man's record here is not good, with only one finish to his name.
"That doesn't bother me and the only retirements I really look at are the last four years with Ferrari," says the Paulista. "On those occasions, I feel I should have finished all of them, winning one and getting a podium in the other three. The other seven times, the Brazilian GP was either the first race of the season or certainly very early on in the year and I was driving for teams that were less well prepared and often I came to Brazil without even having completed one race distance in testing."
"People might say, 'here he comes again with excuses,' but I dismiss those early races. I'm a fighter, I don't believe in bad luck and there will be a time when I win in Brazil and I hope this year is it. This year is probably my best chance of victory to date: it is the last race of the season and we know the F2004 very well. I am very motivated and I know all the crowd will be behind me. It's going to be a great weekend."
There has been speculation in the media that Barrichello's team-mate will help him take the win, but Rubens dismisses this suggestion: "It will not be a case of Michael helping me, as it is much better to win on your own and I have the full support of the team. The team is well set up, giving 50% of its attention to each driver. I enjoy this situation, but I don't believe in getting a gift of the win."
"If I had not won a race before this one, even though I would have still believed it was possible to win at home, the pressure would have been much greater. Right now, I am in a situation where I won two races (Italy and China) in a good way, which makes it much easier to come to Brazil. Monza was a high pressure race and I said I regarded it as a sort of 'pre-qualifying' for the Brazilian GP."
"I'm feeling good and I've been at home since the last race, so I am very relaxed. I definitely don't regard this race as a problem. I have a competitive car and I see it as another opportunity to show what I can do and share that with the public. I remind myself that it also took Senna a very long time to win at home, even though he was in a competitive car. The Brazilian GP is unfinished business as far as I am concerned."
Interlagos is very much part of Barrichello's past as well as the present. "I used to watch the races from my grandfather's house between turns 1 and 2. I have great memories of those days," he recalls. "I remember when I was karting there, I would jump over the wall to watch the grands prix cars and dream of being part of that one day."
"This weekend will be a family event, with my father, mother and sister there and even my son Eduardo is asking to come to the track! I've lived 20 years of my life just a short bike ride from Interlagos. I used to come home from school, get my bike and go to the track. I feel this will be a week where I will be under pressure, but I know it will go very quickly, which means it is enjoyable."
In these days of ultra-modern facilities such as China, Bahrain and Malaysia, the Interlagos circuit is a truly old fashioned track, but it is very popular with the drivers. "It is a fantastic track, tough physically, very nice for overtaking, which we need in F1 and so it is a good place to finish the season," reckons Barrichello.
"I don't know if the track surface will be any better, because they have done some resurfacing, but I say that every year! But in a way, the bumpy track is part of its character. Usually, it is difficult for the drivers, physically, because it has mainly left hand turns, which is unusual, but coming at the end of the season, we should all be a bit fitter than when we came here at the start of the year."
It is not just the bumps that cause problems for drivers and engineers. The track is located at altitude, which means that engine power is reduced, as is aerodynamic downforce, because the air is thinner. Interlagos has twelve corners, most of them medium to slow and engineers and drivers have to compromise between finding sufficient downforce for the turns, while retaining sufficient top speed to protect race position during the race.
The final key factor can be the weather, as torrential rain is no stranger to Sao Paulo and indeed, heavy rain characterised last year's race, which ended in confusion with Raikkonen being declared the winner, only for victory to be handed to Fisichella, after it was found there had been a timekeeping error, when the race had to be stopped prematurely. Neither Ferrari driver scored points in 2003 and Rubens and Michael will both be aiming to put that right this time.