Round 16 of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship takes place at the Jose Carlos Pace Circuit in Interlagos, Brazil. Located on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, the circuit is situated between two large lakes. The track is constructed on a terrain featuring several gradient changes and a mix of corners. It runs in an anti-clockwise direction which will subject drivers' necks to the opposite loadings experienced at a normal clockwise track.
The circuit features 15 corners, 10 left and 5 right, combining slow hairpins with long straights where a good top speed and low levels of downforce will be needed. The notoriously bumpy circuit will test drivers' endurance and will require good mechanical balance for driveability. Drivers and teams will need to ensure vehicle durability in order to achieve optimal aerodynamic efficiency around the lap. Most of the times it is hot and humid at Interlagos, but rain can also be the decisive factor at this circuit.
In 2003 the rain turned the race into a crash festival, and forced Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button, Jos Verstappen, Antonio Pizzonia and Justin Wilson out of the race and into the tyre barriers at Turn 3. A few laps after the safety car went into the pit lane again, Mark Webber crashed in a spectacular way, completely writing off his Jaguar. Fernando Alonso ran into one of the wheels of the Jaguar, and had a spectacular accident as well. Alonso was taken to hospital, but was unhurt. The race was red-flagged, and after a lot of commotion and confusion, Giancarlo Fisichella won the race for Jordan.
In 2008 the Interlagos circuit was the stage of the last and decisive race for the championship, which was decided in the last corner of the last lap. Again at the end of the race, the rain came pouring down, Felipe Massa was in first position, did what he had to do, made no mistakes and won the race. But at that very last corner he lost the championship with just one point to Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton, who needed a fifth place to win the title, was overtaken by Vettel with only three laps to go, but during the last lap Hamilton managed to overtake Timo Glock, who was struggling in the rain with his Toyota still on slicks, took fifth place and won the championship.
Drivers about the circuit:
Rubens Barrichello: "Our car should suit the layout of the track this year and you really need to have full confidence in your set-up to maximize the quick corners, the tight infield section and the bumpy surface. Interlagos has some great corners such as the Curva do Laranjinha and there are real overtaking opportunities into the S do Senna at the start of the lap and under braking for Descida do Lago at the end of the back straight. I will be giving it my all this weekend to achieve the best possible result here in Brazil and hope the fans enjoy a fantastic weekend of racing."
Lewis Hamilton: "My highlights are Turn One, braking into the long left- hander which bends right and takes you out onto the back straight; Ferra Dura, which is a fast right-hander where you body is squeezed hard into the side of the car, and the main straight: you accelerate hard uphill and you can even hear the crowd and the Brazilian drums playing in the grandstands."
Much to the delight of the his many fans, Brazilian officials have confirmed that Felipe Massa will take the honors of waving the finish flag at his home Grand Prix. He will also be present at the Ferrari garage to support his team and of course to support his compatriot Barrichello.
Last Monday Massa passed the FIA medical exam, and according to FIA's medical delegate Professor Jean-Charles Piette, his left eye has fully recovered and Massa got the green light to test a 2007 Ferrari at Fiorano. "The moment I got into the car it was exactly like before the accident, as if nothing had happened," Felipe told the numerous journalists after some 100 km of testing. Massa said he was the old Massa again, and nothing would stand in his way to resume his race career in 2010.
One thing is sure, neither Barrichello nor Vettel can claim the world title at Interlagos, not even if they win the race. Button still has 14 points more than Barrichello, and 16 points more than Vettel. If Button scores 6 points or more, he will win the Drivers Championship in Brazil. A place on the podium would therefore be enough for Button to put the title in the bag.
Barrichello has to score at least 5 points more than Button, and Vettel has to score at least 7 points more than Button to stay in the race for the championship. Barrichello is a real Paulista, but has never won his home Grand Prix, and with all his fans cheering him on, he is on top of the list of possible winners. The Brawn-Mercedes team needs to score just 0.5 point more than Red Bull Racing to secure the Constructors Championship in Brazil.
This week we were surprised by reports of people who think Button would not be a worthy 2009 champion, which is of course nonsense. Sofar Button won 6 races, and has scored points in all races, except at Spa, where he was forced out of the race by Grosjean. So, a few facts to finally bust this myth of Button not being a worthy champion: in 2008 Hamilton won the title with 5 wins, Raikkonen in 2007 with 6 wins, Alonso in 2006 with 7 wins, Schumacher in 2003 with 6 wins, Mika Hakkinen in 1998 with 5 wins, Ayrton Senna in 1991 and 1990 with 6 wins, Niki Lauda in 1984 with 5 wins and the most famous example of all, Keke Rosberg won the 1982 title with only one victory.
The other teams
Bad news for Toyota driver Timo Glock, a second medical examination in Germany revealed he was also suffering from a broken vertebrae, sustained during his Suzuka accident. He will not be able to race at Interlagos, and team manager John Hewitt doubts whether Glock will be fit for the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
But what is bad news for Glock, is good news for 23-year old Japanese Kamui Kobayashi, he will make his Formula One race debut this weekend. He won four karting titles, and in 2004 he joined the Toyota's Driver Academy. He was active in F3, the Asian GP2 series and in 2008 and 2009 he was Toyota's test and reserve driver.
The battle for third place in the Constructors Championship is between Ferrari (67 points) and McLaren (65 pointa). McLaren is determined to take over third place, and they could have an advantage on Ferrari, Giancarlo Fisichella still hasn't shown us that he was the right choice to replace Massa and Badoer, he scored a miserable thirteenth and twelfth place during the last two races. McLaren will without a doubt take advantage of this situation and will urge Hamilton and Kovalainen to score maximum points in Brazil.
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen has scored a few podium places during the last races, and Interlagos has traditionally been a good circuit for the Maranello based team, both Massa and Raikkonen have won this race before. But Fisichella will have to upgrade his performance this weekend, or Ferrari will lose third place in the championship.
Renault has lost their main sponsor ING after their Crash-gate ordeal, and the rumors are that the team will show up in Brazil with a new yellow and black car livery like they had in the eighties, if the FIA will give them their blessing that is, because article 21.1 of the Sporting Regulations states that: "both cars entered by a competitor must be presented in substantially the same livery at each event."
Since we are almost at the end of the season we might as well give you an update on the latest driver and team rumors.
This week British newspapers revealed that Barrichello will join the Williams team, with German Nico Hulkenberg on his side as second driver. But both Barrichello and Hukenberg have denied the deal has already been finalized. The move to Williams involves a 2-year contract for Barrichello and is believed to be worth 4.5p million per year. Williams did however confirm they would not use the Toyota engine in 2010, Renault or Cosworth are the most likely engine suppliers for Williams next year.
Rosberg is believed to be on his way to Brawn-Mercedes, but team principal Ross Brawn said he would not discuss any driver changes before the end of the season. Kimi Raikkonen would move to McLaren, but neither McLaren nor Ferrari are prepared to comment, probably because both teams are still busy negotiating the conditions of such a move. This week there were also very strong rumors that Renault driver Grosjean would be replaced by Brazilian Luca di Grassi.
Toyota driver Jarno Trulli has no contract for 2010, and will be testing for Waltrip Racing in the American NASCAR series. Trulli said he remains committed to Formula One, and said his NASCAR test is just for fun. His name is also mentioned in connection with the new Lotus F1 team. Bruno Senna is believed to be a candidate for the Campos Meta team, and American A1GP driver Jonathan Summerton would be in the race for a seat in the new USF1 team.
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (Interlagos), Sao Paulo, Brazil
Circuit length: 4,309 km
Total number of race laps: 71
Total race distance: 305.909 km
Full throttle percentage: 63%
Top speed: 325 km/h
Average speed: 216 km/h
Tyre usage: Medium
Tyre Compounds: Super Soft / Medium
Brake wear: Medium
Downforce level: Low to medium
Speed limits in the pit lane:
60 km/h during practice sessions;
100 km/h during qualifying and race
The race, the tyres and the strategy
As said before, the rain can be a decisive factor in Brazil. And the local weather forecast (if it is accurate) promises a lot of showers on Friday and Saturday and during the race on Sunday there are even thunderstorms forecasted.
Bridgestone will supply the teams with the super soft and medium tyres, again a choice with a gap in compound stiffness, which has occasionally proved to be problematic this season. The softer tyres will be marked with a green band on the tyre sidewalls. When it is cold, some teams will be struggling to get the tyres up to temperature, especially Brawn GP has had many problems with the tyres in colder conditions this season.
Sao Paulo is situated at 800 metres above sea level, this means an atmospheric pressure of around 930mb and therefore a loss of nearly 10 percent of a Formula One car's aerodynamic and engine performance. Drivers need a well balanced car with good stability in the low, medium and high- speed corners as well as on the long straight.
For Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel there is only one good strategy this weekend, secure pole position and get away as fast as you can at the start on Sunday and win the race. But even if they do, their luck of staying in contention for the championship will depend on the fortunes or misfortunes of Jenson Button. And if the race strategy on Sunday is based upon a dry race setting, the rain could mess-up any strategy teams will have figured out. Teams will therefore have to be very flexible and react swiftly when the track conditions change.
In the UK the bets already have been placed: 9-4 for Vettel, 9-4 for Hamilton, 7-1 for Barrichello, 8-1 for Webber, and 10-1 for Button to win the race in Brazil. And to conclude this preview: If I were Jenson Button or Ross Brawn, I would prefer to win the championship in Brazil, Sao Paulo with its fancy hotels, many pubs, restaurants and nightclubs, would be an excellent choice to celebrate a championship...