This weekend's final round of the 2006 Formula 1 World Championship and the race that will decide the outcome of both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles, will be the 34th Brazilian Grand Prix and all but ten of them have been held at...
This weekend's final round of the 2006 Formula 1 World Championship and the race that will decide the outcome of both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles, will be the 34th Brazilian Grand Prix and all but ten of them have been held at Interlagos, the others being run at Jacarepagua in Rio de Janeiro.
Since the world championship began, Brazilian drivers can claim the third highest number of Grand Prix victories, behind Great Britain and Germany, but they have only won their home race seven times, starting with a trio of victories in the first three Brazilian races from 1973 to 1975, the first two courtesy of Emerson Fittipaldi and the third with Carlos Pace, whose name was given to this track after his death in a light aircraft accident.
Ferrari has also won this event seven times, but the last victory for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro dates back to 2002, courtesy of Michael Schumacher, who also won here in 2000, after taking two first places for Benetton in '94 and '95. This will be the seventh consecutive season in which the Scuderia has fielded a Brazilian driver in its line-up at Interlagos, but for Felipe Massa, it is his first ever appearance in front of what is bound to be a very enthusiastic and noisy home crowd, while wearing the red race suit.
"For Brazilian race drivers, the Brazilian Grand Prix is of course very important, we come in for a lot of media attention and there is a great deal of pressure on us to do well," says Massa. "I have been here in Sao Paulo since just after the Japanese Grand Prix, simply getting on with my training programme and preparing as much as possible for the weekend."
"The pressure is not something that bothers me too much and I can deal with it quite well, although of course I have never raced at Interlagos with Ferrari, in a car that is capable of winning. If you look at my early days in Formula 1 with the Sauber team, I was always strong in difficult moments. I could come through them and recover and be stronger."
"So for sure, the Brazilian Grand Prix can be quite difficult in terms of being able to maintain concentration on the job of driving and working with the team on the track, but I know I am able to put the events and attention from outside the track to one side and concentrate on what I would like to do which is to win the race. It will be a difficult target to achieve but I am very motivated to do well here."
"Of course, it is obvious that, given the situation in the Drivers' classification, for me to win the Brazilian Grand Prix, that would mean that Alonso is in a points scoring position, whereas if he is not, then my race will take on a different direction and it will be no problem for me to help Michael. I will even be happy to help him."
Felipe is too young to remember the first wave of Brazilian influence in Formula 1, a phenomenon that began with the first ever home-grown world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, who secured the first of his two world titles in 1972. His first trips to the race track featured more recent local heros. "I have many good memories of Interlagos and the Brazilian Grand Prix," claims Massa.
"I remember going to watch Nelson and Ayrton. I think I went two or three times to the grand prix when I was little, but not to see the race itself, as I was usually taken on Saturday to see the qualifying. I remember once when I was very small, watching Piquet in the Benetton and Senna in the McLaren and that was like a dream for me to be there watching these guys drive."
"Then, a bit later, I can remember watching Rubens when he was racing for Stewart Grand Prix. Watching qualifying from the public grandstands was a very emotional experience for me. And then suddenly I am here..driving for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro with a chance of getting a good result on Sunday!"
When the Interlagos circuit was first built, it measured just under eight kilometres and was regarded as one of the most difficult tracks in the world. Today, it measures around half that original length, but it is still a daunting and challenging place to race. "The circuit itself is very challenging for a variety of reasons," reckons Massa. "It has many changes of gradient, going up and down and it is extremely bumpy which adds to the physical challenge and so too does the fact it runs anti-clockwise."
"Physically, this puts a strain on the neck muscles, especially as there are many high-speed corners which put you under a lot of lateral G forces. Even the main straight is always turning slightly to the left, while the fact the lap length is not so big means the actual number of laps in the race is comparatively high. It is going to be a difficult race, but I am looking forward to the chance of driving it in a very competitive car."
"The perfect car here has plenty of downforce for the corners, while still maintaining power and speed for the straights and I think our car has that. I love driving in Interlagos and have won many races here in other categories. I have plenty of experience and know the place well, but of course my team-mate also has the same and in fact I think he has raced here more than me, so maybe my experience won't count for so much!"
Can a home crowd really improve an athlete's performance. In the totally professional and high-tech environment that is Formula 1, it is hard to say, but it one crowd could add something to a driver's performance, then it would have to be this one here in Sao Paulo, as it is the most colourful and most vocal one of the year. "What I will have is massive support from the crowd," predicts Massa. "It will be a great feeling to race in front of my people again."
"Brazilians are very emotional and I think it would be a great feeling for them and for me if I can be out in front. I will be doing my best as usual. Even being on the grid before the start is an amazing feeling as the crowd is so near the track. There will be a lot of attention focussed on both me and Michael this weekend, but it won't get in the way of us doing our job for the last time this year."