Finally, the longest season in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end. Twenty races, five continents, nineteen countries, from mid-March to the end of November, from Melbourne to Sao Paolo.
Like last Sunday’s Austin venue, Interlagos runs anti-clockwise and the race involves plenty of laps because the track, at 4.3 Kms, is one of the shortest on the calendar and timewise it is the shortest lap. For the drivers, this means they almost get a sense of dizziness as the pit board appears before their eyes every 1m and 18 seconds on average. Not that they have much time to look at it, given that come the end of the short pit straight, they dive off the edge of the world into a downhill left hander, where they meet up with cars coming out of pit lane. A quick glance at the Interlagos “Autodromo Carlos Pace” track layout is all it takes to understand why dull racing does not really feature here: the track has a habit of producing some surprises, especially if it rains and if it rains it can often be almost tropical in its strength. The little track, set in a natural bowl which is great for spectating, does not look much on paper, with “medium” being the word that sums up such aspects as aero levels, braking, engine use and so forth, but “maximum” is often the word that best sums up the excitement levels on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The Safety Car is no stranger to the place and races here have often produced some unexpected results. In 2003, they even gave the winner’s trophy to the wrong driver, Kimi Raikkonen, before handing it to its rightful owner, Giancarlo Fisichella, a fortnight later on the grid at Imola. And for putting people through the emotional mangle, nothing comes close to the 2008 finale, when unexpectedly Felipe Massa was actually world champion as he crossed the line to win his home grand prix…but only for a matter of seconds, until Timo Glock failed to hold off Lewis Hamilton, who thus managed to claim fifth place and the world championship crown.
Technically, it’s a challenging track, because of the bumps, the drops and climbs and the aforementioned risk of rain. In addition, even if it’s less of a factor than in the days when the cars had turbo-powered engines, all cars run slightly less power than usual, as the high altitude of Interlagos leaves the engines somewhat breathless. So getting the most out of the engines is particularly important for the long drag uphill from the last corner and past the pits. You need to have good top speed but also plenty of downforce and a car that can change direction quickly, for the slow turns like 8 and 9 and stability under braking is another important factor. Pirelli is bringing the same tyres we had in Austin, the hardest two compounds in its range, which is relatively conservative, so yet again we could be looking at a one stop race.
At Toro Rosso, we will be looking to end our season well, hopefully in the points, while all eyes will be on the final showdown for the Drivers’ crown between Sebastian Vettel who leads Fernando Alonso by 13 points. Whatever the outcome of that particular battle, the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix will also be remembered for another significant moment in the history of the sport: at the end of the race, Michael Schumacher, the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time, will retire from the sport for the second and presumably the final time.
One cannot talk about this event without mentioning the facilities, which to be polite are primitive at best, but it’s all part of the charm of the place. What really makes this event unique is the crowd, which is enthusiastic to the point of being quite scary. Anyone who stands on the grid at the start will understand what it means to be a Brazilian race fans, as they make enough noise to drown out the sound of the Formula 1 cars, a sound that, after Sunday night, will not be heard until early February when winter testing gets underway in Jerez de la Frontera.
Scuderia Toro Rosso