Here we finally are, the last race of the 2004 season is just a few days away. It seems slightly strange to be finishing the season with the Brazilian Grand Prix but Interlagos is a good a place as any to say farewell. Suzuka is probably breathing...
Here we finally are, the last race of the 2004 season is just a few days away. It seems slightly strange to be finishing the season with the Brazilian Grand Prix but Interlagos is a good a place as any to say farewell. Suzuka is probably breathing a sigh of relief that the end of season karaoke madness is not inflicted upon it for once.
Last year Brazil was the scene of an entertaining race; the weather provided generous rain and turn three was a watery conclusion to several drivers' races. We could have done without the huge crashes at the end, but Jaguar's Mark Webber and Renault's Fernando Alonso escaped intact from their respective shunts.
Those shunts bought out the red flag and then there was all the confusion of who had actually won. First McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was declared the victor, but after an investigation the decision was overturned a few days later and Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella was awarded his maiden win.
Not the best of ways to claim one's first GP victory but Fisichella, along with Jordan, was naturally delighted. "Last year gave me one of the most satisfying moments of my life, when I won the race. I have a very good feeling with the track," said the Italian. "It's one of the best, and also one of the most difficult."
Interlagos is a challenging circuit; it's anticlockwise, bumpy and is physically tough on the drivers. It's about 750 metres above sea level, which means a drop of engine efficiency by about 8%, but of course all the teams will be equally effected. The corners are mostly mid speed and the long pit lane makes for interesting strategies. There are two long straights and a couple of overtaking opportunities.
Downforce will be medium to low and the cars need good aerodynamics and stability to handle the bumpy conditions. "Naturally the straights require low downforce for high top speed which is essential for overtaking, while you need good grip and traction on the infield," said Sauber technical director Willy Rampf.
Renault has a huge -- and, to be honest, probably insurmountable -- task in Brazil if it wants to regain second place in the constructors' standings. Alonso and Jacques Villeneuve would need to finish first and second to put Renault ahead, and have the BAR drivers score one point or less. It's not impossible but one would have to say it's highly unlikely.
Villeneuve admitted to struggling at Suzuka, so how is he going to cope with the challenge of Interlagos? The Canadian managed one day behind the wheel at Jerez testing last week and hopes that he will be better prepared. "Hopefully, it will enable me to run more competitively in my last race for the team in Brazil," he said.
For BAR, the main goal is achieving that elusive first win. "It's a circuit where our car will perform very well, better than in Shanghai and Suzuka I feel," said Jenson Button. "This is the last chance we have of a win this season and probably the best chance over the last few races."
Ralf Schumacher's fine performance at Suzuka gave Williams some breathing space from McLaren and the gap between the two teams is now 13 points, in Williams' favour. Again, it's not an impossible gap to close but McLaren seems unlikely to do it. "I really hope we can follow up the great result we had in Suzuka, it is definitely possible with the car we have at the moment," Ralf remarked.
It will be a race of many 'lasts' on Sunday. Last ever race for Jaguar, the last time Ralf and Juan Pablo Montoya will race for Williams, the last time David Coulthard races for McLaren, to name a few. Perhaps I should say probably the last time, as we all know that things in Formula One are never set in stone, but there will be a lot of goodbyes at the end of this season.
Coulthard will drive his 150th GP with McLaren at Interlagos, the most any driver has ever competed with the same team. "There is no denying that Brazil will be a weekend of mixed emotions for me, as it has been a great nine seasons with the team," said the Scot. It's yet to be seen if he will be on the grid next season.
Three Brazilians will take to the grid at Interlagos and for Rubens Barrichello the big question is, can he do it? Can he actually finish his home race? He has not taken the chequered flag in Brazil for nine years in a row, which has to be a record for bad luck really.
Unsurprisingly, this time round the Ferrari driver wants the win, although he would probably be relieved just to finish for once. "Of course the possibility to win is there and that's what I intend to do," said Barrichello. "But I'll try to enjoy the weekend with my fans, my home crowd, but keeping my foot down and hopefully."
Ricardo Zonta lines up for Toyota, as Olivier Panis graciously bowed out a race early so Zonta could compete at home. "Obviously I would like the car to go well because it would be very nice for me to fight for points or a good position at my home race," said Ricardo.
Felipe Massa is the youngest of the Brazilians to race on home soil. Sauber's little hothead did not finish the race in 2002, the last time he competed at Interlagos in F1, so this time around he's hoping to make amends. "Scoring points would be nice, while a podium for me would be fantastic!" Massa commented.
Brazil's end of season slot means the race is taking place seven months later than usual but that doesn't necessarily mean the weather will be any less unpredictable. "Weather conditions are unlikely to be very different -- and that means heavy rain is always a distinct possibility," said Michelin's Pascal Vasselon.
Indeed, the forecast for Sunday is currently predicting rain. Last year's weather in Brazil certainly provided an unpredictable event but rain or not, let's hope the 2004 season goes out on a high -- and with not too many on-track bangs.