Here we are again, the end of another season and both championships will be decided at the last race in Brazil. Fernando Alonso looks to have the easier job, needing just one point to retain his world champion status, while Michael Schumacher...
Here we are again, the end of another season and both championships will be decided at the last race in Brazil. Fernando Alonso looks to have the easier job, needing just one point to retain his world champion status, while Michael Schumacher has the task of having to win at Interlagos and have Alonso not score. It sounds unlikely, doesn't it, but stranger things have happened.
Interlagos is one of three anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar and the altitude means a drop in engine power of about eight percent. It's bumpy, has long straights and variable gradients and slow to medium speed corners. Due to the layout compromises are need when setting the car up.
"In terms of aerodynamics, Interlagos presents a real challenge," said BMW Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "While the first and third sectors feature long flat-out sections, the middle sector with its many turns ideally demands maximum downforce. In the end it's a question of finding the optimum compromise. At any rate, high aerodynamic efficiency in the car is crucially important."
The track tends to be quite abrasive and the temperature can fluctuate, while there's always a possibility of rain. It's a tricky choice for tyres -- if the weather is cooler there's the risk of graining, whereas if it's hot blistering can occur. This race sees many "lasts", one of which will be Michelin's last Formula One event.
"The selected products are similar in character to those that worked so well in Budapest -- and that includes the rain tyres," said F1 director Nick Shorrock of the Michelin rubber. "We go to Brazil with one of our partners leading both world championships and we are obviously determined to bow out of F1 on a high note."
This coming weekend will be Alonso's last race with Renault, Kimi Raikkonen's with McLaren and Mark Webber's with Williams, to name a few. The biggest "last", obviously, is Schumacher's last race with Ferrari and Formula One. Can the seven-time champion go out on a high and lay claim to title number eight? It could be done but Schumacher has already said it's unlikely and is focused on the constructors'.
"We have a great squad and, over recent years, I have had Brazilian partners and this has given us even more support," said the German. "Overall I am positive and this makes me enthusiastic about this race. I have already said that I would like to win the constructors' title for my team and so our tactic will be to attack. It would be wonderful to win this last Grand Prix for us all."
Rival Alonso, who took the title at Interlagos last year, is not lulled into a false sense of security by having the upper hand going into the last race. "I don't think it is over at all," he stated. "Until the final lap, when you know you are champion, anything can still happen and we are taking nothing for granted. So we know that there is still a job to do, and we are focused on it."
Behind the two title protagonists there is a little battle going on between Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella for third place in the standings. One point separates the Ferrari and Renault No.2s and, naturally, Massa wants a good result at his home race. A win would be a nice cap to his first season with Ferrari but the Brazilian won't be looking for it unless Alonso and Schumacher's positions let him.
"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," he said. "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."
Honda's Rubens Barrichello is another hoping for a good result at his home race, especially as he has a long and unfortunate history of not finishing at Interlagos. After a nine-year stretch of DNFs, Barrichello finally reached the podium in 2004 with third and was sixth last year but he still rues missed opportunities in front of his home crowd.
"The first race that I saw there as a spectator was in 1980, when Rene Arnoux beat Elio de Angelis, and I've wanted to win it ever since," he commented. "It is frustrating that I've never won at home, especially as I should have won in 2003, but there was a problem with the fuel. I had such a robust car that year, yet it decided to let me down in my home race!"
Juan Pablo Montoya won in Brazil last year, although his victory was rather overshadowed by Alonso becoming the youngest ever champion. Montoya is now off terrorizing the NASCAR world and McLaren has yet to win a race this year, something Raikkonen would like to change at his last GP with the team.
"This will be my final race with Team McLaren Mercedes; I am of course sad to be leaving the team," said the Finn, who will join Ferrari alongside Massa next year. "We have had some great times together and it would be fantastic to go out with a win. It is going to be tough, but we are all pushing hard to try and make it happen."
So who's your money on this weekend? Can Alonso join the club of back-to-back championship winners or will some disaster befall the Spaniard, leaving Schumacher to claim the win and title number eight? Either way it's good to see the battle going to the last race of the season, both the drivers' and constructors'.
Some folks have said that if Alonso is champ it will be due to Schumacher's engine failure at Suzuka, claiming that Alonso is just lucky. Funnily enough, for Schumacher to win it Alonso will have to suffer some misfortune and I bet folks won't be in such a hurry to say that Schumacher is just lucky. Let's hope that 2006 goes out with a bang -- but not that of anyone's engine.