Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Brazilian drivers in Brazil
- Plenty to lose, plenty to gain
- All set for a rainy Grand Prix
After 18 races or 5488 kilometers, and after visiting 17 countries on five continents, Formula One has arrived at the Brazilian Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace for the 19th and final round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One Championship. The Interlagos circuit joined the Formula One calendar for the first time in 1973, and the race was won by Brazilian racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, who is still hugely popular in his home country.
The circuit is a mix of fast and slow corners, the first section is the fastest part, the second section, the infield section, consists of slower corners before it after the last tight left hand Turn 12 leads drivers back to the third section, the start and finish straight.
As a result of two fatal accidents in April this year, the circuit will be modified next year mainly to provide more runoff areas at the fast Turns 14 and 15. Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg have in the past had huge crashes in those turns, but miraculously escaped with just minor injuries.
Brazilian drivers in Brazil
Three Brazilians on the grid this weekend: Rubens Barrichello who will start his 326th Grand Prix on Sunday; Felipe Massa who will start his 100th race for Scuderia Ferrari; and Bruno Senna, nephew of the late three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna, who has 25 races under his belt. All three have something in common: they were born in Sao Paulo and thus the Brazilian Grand Prix will be a little bit more than just their home Grand Prix.
Not much luck for Barrichello in the past, he has never won his home race and a third place in 2004 was his best result. He retired from 11 of the 19 Brazilian Grands Prix he participated in, which must be a record as well. Massa was a bit luckier; he won the race in 2006 and 2008, but famously lost the title to Lewis Hamilton in 2008. Senna being the youngest of the three, finished in 21st position last year, and he is of course thrilled to race in front of his home crowd.
Senna about the Brazilian race fans, “I know the fans will be great there. I learnt last year that they gave me a lot of care, a lot of passion and I would love to reciprocate that by putting in a result to be proud of in the black and gold livery. The flags will be waving for us Brazilian drivers on the grid, and that will be an extremely nice feeling. I'm going to have a great level of support and that will undoubtedly help me as I look to secure a good result for the team.”
Barrichello is a fan of the difficult circuit, “I love the racing track, especially the Laranjinha corner with it is double apexes. Interlagos has always been very good for overtaking and I expect nothing different this year. For a quick lap you need a combination of good brakes, good traction and good engine power. I am looking for a positive end to the season with a points finish.”
Massa said about his two Brazilian victories, “My first win at home was the realisation of a dream, because for a Brazilian to win at home is almost like winning the World Championship, so for those reasons the 2006 victory at Interlagos was the best of those two.”
Unfortunately all three have something else in common as well, they face a very uncertain future, for Barrichello this race could be his last Formula One race ever, as his Williams team is trying to close a deal with Kimi Raikkonen, Massa is still under pressure to improve his performance, and Senna could also lose his current seat at the Lotus Renault team, as there are plenty of drivers with a good sponsor package waiting in the wings to take over.
Plenty to lose, plenty to gain
More records can be broken this weekend: 2011 Champion Sebastian Vettel could improve his own and Nigel Mansell’s record of scoring the most pole positions in one season, if Vettel takes pole, it will be his 15th this season and thus will break Mansell’s 1992 record. Vettel retired from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and he will certainly be poised to finish the race this time and add another trophy to his impressive C.V.
Another question that will be answered this weekend is who will finally take the second place in the Drivers’ Championship. Although he won the last race, Hamilton is no longer in contention for that second place, but he will certainly try to grab the victory to end his not really great 2011 season in style. “Interlagos is the circuit where we won the World Championship, so it will always hold some happy memories for us. In fact, I've only been here once [in 2009] when I wasn't in contention for the championship,” said Hamilton. And he added, “I want to enjoy myself: and I think we have the car to once again make a difference -- we'll pick up where we left off in Abu Dhabi, I hope.”
Webber is currently fourth in the championship, 22 points the number two, Jenson Button, but has to win the race to take second place, and his rival Button should not finish higher than ninth place, and Alonso should not finish higher than fourth place. Webber knows it will be tricky, but not impossible. “There are nice memories for me from Brazil. I've always done well there so I hope I can get a nice result, it would be a great way to end the season with a good last race,” the Australian said.
Next is Alonso who is third, 10 points behind Button, and for him multiple scenarios to take second place from the Briton are possible. For Button, staying in a points position during the race will be important, he certainly has to keep Alonso a few places behind him to grab second place. Staying out of trouble is his primary goal; he could then control the race which is always an advantage.
Button reckons KERS and DRS will play an important role, “KERS will play an important role at this circuit because there is quite a short drag from the start line to the first corner. Towards the end of the lap you've got a long uphill section out of the final corner and the power will certainly help there, too. And, if you can't get past into the first corner, then I definitely think you'll be able to close up along the start/finish straight and then have a look at passing on the short straight ahead of Turn 4, using DRS.”
It has been a difficult year for Ferrari, and Team Principal Stefano Domenicali sums up the season, “We missed out from the technical point of view -- the big theme of this year was the blowing exhaust diffuser. Then we caught up a little bit, we had quite a good beginning of the summer where we could have won two more races with no problems to be honest with you, and that is to do with the luck or bad luck of this year, and then we missed a big development for Belgium that made the difference in the second part of the season.”
The Constructors’ Championship
Force India is currently sixth in the Constructors Championship, 15 points ahead of rival Sauber, and 16 points ahead of Toro Rosso. The higher a team ends in the championship, the more money they get, and the difference could be as much as 8 to 9 million Euro. Force India has the best cards and during the last five or six races have improved their performance dramatically.
But sixth place is certainly not in the bag for the Indian team, and team owner Vijay Mallya commented, “I still remember what happened last year when we missed out on sixth place by just one point. We certainly head to Brazil in a very strong position, but I've learned that you should never take anything for granted.”
Adrian Sutil is upbeat ahead of the race, and also is on a personal mission, “I think we should be strong in Interlagos, too. In Abu Dhabi we achieved the maximum because the cars ahead of us were too quick, so we have to aim for the same this weekend. Personally I would love to finish ninth in the drivers' championship and to do that I need to score at least four points.”
Rookie Paul di Resta also knows what is at stake, “We have a comfortable gap over Sauber and Toro Rosso in the championship, but we still need to be aggressive and keep pushing. Renault are not too far ahead of us, although catching them will require quite an unusual race and a bit of luck, too.”
For Sauber it will be difficult to catch up with Force India, 15 points means they at least have to score a fifth (10 points) and seventh (6 points) place, and Force India should not score any points at all, which in normal circumstances is not a realistic scenario. However, the weather in Sao Paulo can be very unpredictable and heavy rain and drivers retiring is the only change they have to land fifth and seventh.
Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi, who made an impressive Formula One debut during the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, is a fan of the circuit, “Sao Paulo is one of my favorite tracks with a nice combination of high speed and low speed corners. Overall, the track layout with its long uphill straight is very nice. The most thrilling aspect of the Brazilian Grand Prix is the fans who are very excited and emotional, and who create a fantastic racing atmosphere. For me Sao Paulo is a special place because it was here where I drove my first Formula One race in 2009.” And the Japanese driver added, “For our team it has been an exciting season, and I will give my utmost so the team can finish the season with a positive result.”
The same scenario applies to Toro Rosso, who will have to finish fifth and sixth to beat Force India and Sauber, with the latter two not scoring any points at all, again something that is very unlikely to happen. It is expected all three teams will put drivers on different strategies, so if one scenario doesn’t work, they will have a plan B that hopefully leads to a points scoring position.
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace - Sao Paulo, Brazil
|Circuit Jose Carlos Pace||Sao Paulo|
|Circuit length||4.309 km|
|Corners||15 turns, 10 left, 5 right|
|Total number of race laps||71|
|Total race distance||305,909 km|
|Longest straight||650 m|
|Top speed||318 km/h|
|Average speed||215 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Medium (Prime, white), Soft (Option, yellow)|
|Brake wear||Medium to heavy|
|Down force level||Medium|
|Lap record||Juan-Pablo Montoya - Williams - 1:11.473 (2004)|
|2010 Pole Position||Nico Hulkenberg - Williams - 1m14.470|
|2010 Race Winner||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull - 1h33m11.803|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice and qualifying, 100 km/h during the race|
|FIA Stewards||Alex Wurz (AUT), Lars Osterlind (SWE), Roger Peart (CAN)|
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace - Sao Paulo, Brazil - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Cloudy with sunny intervals, dry||17C||26C|
|Saturday||Cloudy, thunder showers||16C||26C|
|Sunday||Light rain showers and cooler||17C||23C|
Pirelli tyre report
Pirelli has allocated the Medium (Prime) and Soft (Option) tyres for the last event of the year. During Friday’s free practice sessions, all team will receive two extra sets of an experimental hard tyre compound for evaluation purposes. From a tyre point of view the Interlagos circuit is challenging, with fast sweeping corners as well as tight slow corners where the speed is not higher than 80 km/h. It has a bumpy surface and there are also changes of elevation, while the sequence of turns that lead to the start/finish straight will put a huge load on the tyres.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “It will be really interesting to hear the thoughts of the drivers about the new hard and soft tyres that we will be trying out in Brazil. We’ve already collected plenty of information on the new soft tyre from the young driver test, so it will be useful to compare that to real race data.” But he added, “It’s important not to get too distracted by the names of the tyres though: what we’re calling a ‘soft’ for now could end up as a medium for next year, as that’s what the testing process is all about.”
The FIA has announced the DRS (Drag Reduction System) setup for the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace. The detection point, where a drivers has to be within one second of the car he wants to overtake, is between Turns 2 and 3, (the Senna Esses), and the activation point is 133 meters before the exit of Turn 3, and ends at the point where a driver breaks for Turn 4.
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting, “There will be one DRS zone on the back straight. We think this will be enough, as the main straight usually gives a good enough opportunity to overtake anyway, so we don’t want to make it too easy.”
Mercedes and Lotus Renault
Behind Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari we find the Mercedes GP team who are currently fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, and Lotus Renault who after a very difficult 2011 season are in fifth place.
Mercedes’s fourth position is secure, they are 87 points ahead of Lotus Renault. Mercedes has actually accomplished the opposite of what Lotus Renault accomplished this season. Mercedes started the season scoring only two points in the first two races, while Lotus Renault scored two third places during those two races. But the Mercedes team have gradually improved their form and from the Belgium Grand Prix onwards have become a regular top six scorer, while Lotus Renault only scored two points during the last five races.
"The Brazilian Grand Prix weekend is always a lively and vibrant event, and Interlagos is a fitting venue for the final race of this year's Formula One season,” Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn commented. And Brawn thinks the season is not over until the chequered flag is waved to end the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday, “We are determined to end the season on a high and continue the run of top six results that we have enjoyed recently, which is the upper limit of the potential of the current car,” he explained.
What is still missing this year is a podium position for the all-German team, and although they have been close at times, they do not seem to have found that little bit extra they need to accomplish this.
Seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher about this weekend, “I am looking forward to the weekend in Brazil. There is always a really good atmosphere at the Interlagos track and it's one of the traditional venues for Formula One to end the season.” And what does he expect this weekend? “We have enjoyed some good results finishing in the top six over the last few races, and I would love to continue this trend in Brazil and bring the season to a positive end. The team have worked very hard to improve our performance with the car that we have available to us and it would be a fitting reward for them.”
His German team mate Nico Rosberg agrees, “I would love to give the season a nice ending; our engineers, the boys in the garage and everybody at our factories in Brackley and Brixworth deserve a good result at our last race.”
Lotus Renault, to be simply “Lotus” next year, are certainly not enjoying a fruitful end of the season, and now have to fight to keep Force India behind them. The season started bad after their star driver Robert Kubica almost lost his life during a rally accident in February and was sidelined before the season even had started, and although they scored two third places, it is clear they miss the skillful Pole, who always managed to score a few points, even if the odds were against him.
Nick Heidfeld initially took Kubica’s place, but the experienced German also had problems handling the black and gold car with its revolutionary exhaust system, which ultimately proved to be a complete failure. Heidfeld was replaced by Senna, but the Brazilian only scored two points, although it must be said he had little time to get used to the Lotus Renault.
Russian Vitaly Petrov has outpaced both his team mates, but after the Canadian Grand Prix has only scored five points until this day. About the Brazilian Grand Prix he said, “It is not easy to set up the car for Interlagos. When you think you are on the limit you try to push a little further, especially at Turn 6 and 7 which are very, very special. The challenge here is to set up the car well and to have the car fully prepared for Saturday and Sunday.”
Like all other team bosses, Lotus Renault Team Principal Eric Boullier wants to end the season on a high, “Well, my hopes are for a fine end to the season. The boys in the team have worked hard and relentlessly to get the best from this season, and it would be nice to be rewarded with a good result.” And he added, “Of course, the positives of the season were lessened by Robert's pre-season incident, which was a big setback for the team. As for the here and now, I would love nothing more than a strong performance at Interlagos to round things off.”
Still no points for Team Lotus, HRT and Marussia Virgin
The Brazilian Grand Prix is also the last opportunity for the last three teams in the Constructors’ Championship to score a point: Team Lotus, HRT and Marussia Virgin. Just scoring one point would be like winning the championship for those teams, but realistically speaking, they will need a lot of good fortune to do just that. All three teams have certainly improved their race pace, and occasionally Team Lotus have been able to fight for positions with Williams and Toro Rosso.
“There is a great spirit in this team -- we are definitely going in the right direction, so we will all look back on this year as another step forward, and then make sure we keep that momentum up as soon as we hit the track in 2012,” Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen said. His team has few new parts and the Finn is hoping to again improve his performance, “We have a new rear wing that should give us a bit more quali and race pace, and we have the same medium and soft tyre compounds we used in Abu Dhabi, so we should be able to put in the same kind of performances we showed there and in several races before.”
Mike Gascoyne, Team Lotus’ Chief Technical Officer also refuses to give up before the last lap has been completed at the Interlagos circuit, “We have been pushing ahead since Singapore, and there will not be one person in the team taking their foot off the gas until we see both cars cross the line on Sunday ahead of the teams behind us.”
HRT, currently 11th, ahead of Marussia Virgin, this week announced they contracted Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, and Team Principal Colin Kolles has the same opinion as his colleague Gascoyne, “I am confident that in Brazil we can have a good race with our competitors. It would be a nice reward for the team to conclude this very long and tough season, which saw everyone give their all, with a reasonable result and go into the winter break with a good feeling.”
Both HRT drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo are also completely in the dark regarding their future in Formula One, but nevertheless are confident to end the season on a high. “We can be competitive and fight with our rivals in this last race. We can be positive about the year we've had and it would be perfect to cap it off with a good performance in Brazil. Interlagos is a fast circuit with a wonderful atmosphere, it's a great place to race and I'm looking forward to getting there and enjoying it,” Liuzzi stated.
The final race of the season
As said, there is still plenty to fight for, and not one single driver would mind adding another trophy to his collection, especially at the end of the season it can be very rewarding to score a good result before the winter break, it keeps the spirits high until it is time to test the new 2012 cars in February next year.
The Brazilian Grand Prix has always provided plenty of action, it is a fast but difficult circuit, and in the past the rain has always added to the excitement, last year rookie Nico Hulkenberg took the pole position during a wet qualifying session, in 2003 Giancarlo Fisichella took an unexpected win for Jordan after the two massive accidents of Alonso and Webber, only ten cars made it to the finish line after rain had hit the circuit.
Rain is again forecasted for Saturday and Sunday, every driver and all teams are determined to top off the season with a good result, follow all the action this weekend on Motorsport.com.