It's finally here; the last race of the 2007 season is just about upon us and the drivers' title will be decided at the Brazilian Grand Prix. It's a fitting end to what has been an intriguing season and hopefully we will have a fair on-track fight...
It's finally here; the last race of the 2007 season is just about upon us and the drivers' title will be decided at the Brazilian Grand Prix. It's a fitting end to what has been an intriguing season and hopefully we will have a fair on-track fight to see the champion crowned. Will Fernando Alonso make it three in a row, will Kimi Raikkonen finally claim that elusive title or will Lewis Hamilton take the glory in only his first season?
S?o Paulo's Interlagos circuit first hosted a world championship Grand Prix in the early seventies and over the years shared the Brazilian race with the more glamorous location of Rio de Janeiro. But when Paulista Ayrton Senna began his ascent of the F1 firmament the event returned to the city at the turn of the '90s and the Autodromo Carlos Pace has hosted the race ever since.
The track is anticlockwise, which puts more strain on the drivers' necks, and the notoriously bumpy surface makes for a rough ride. Yet despite being shaken around as if in a high speed tumble drier for 71 laps, Interlagos is still popular with the drivers. "For me, the circuit in S?o Paulo is one of the best of all," said BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. "It is challenging -- both in terms of driving skill and physically."
The cars also have to handle the punishing treatment. "The circuit itself is unique in that it is probably the only track where suspension settings are so important," explained Toyota's Pascal Vasselon. "Normally the main performance factors on an F1 car are aerodynamics and tyre usage. At Interlagos it is still about tyre usage but suspension settings are clearly a major performance factor due to the bumpy nature of the track."
Bridgestone's tyre compounds for the weekend will be from the soft and super soft ranges. These have been chosen due to the high grip requirements, particularly in the tight infield, although the circuit has been resurfaced since last year so there is an element of uncertainty. It's likely the super soft tyre will be better for a qualifying hot lap but the harder compound will be more enduring in the race.
Obviously, as he has a four point lead at the top of the standings, Hamilton goes into this race with the edge on his rivals, but is it enough? The pressure on McLaren's rookie will be intense and he doesn't know the circuit, whereas Alonso won both his titles at Interlagos season finale showdowns, so the defending champion is no stranger to this situation.
The win or second for Hamilton, no matter what Alonso and Raikkonen do, will secure him the title. "It is another new circuit for me, and there has been a lot of talk by other people about how it is tricky to drive," he commented. "That's why I see it as a special challenge and when I arrive at the track on Wednesday I will study it hard with my engineers and start to get an understanding of it."
Despite the strained relationship he now has with McLaren, Alonso feels sure that the team will maintain its policy of equality as he and Hamilton battle it out. The FIA has even appointed a special steward to the McLaren garage to ensure fair play, something that has provoked a storm of criticism from various quarters. Alonso knows he has a hard task on his hands but it won't be for the first time.
"Although I am now only four points away from Lewis, I still need for there to be a lot of circumstances in my favour for me to win the drivers' title that are out of my control, but for sure I will be doing everything that is under my control to make it happen," said the Spaniard, who's best bet to retain the title is to win and have Hamilton third or lower. "I have to do my bit and then hope everything else falls into place."
Raikkonen has the hardest job; he has to win or be second -- anything else and it's over -- and even if he does one or the other it still depends on what both Hamilton and Alonso do. His best scenario to claim the championship is to win the race and have Alonso third or lower and Hamilton sixth or lower. It's possible but one would have to say unlikely -- but then again, both McLarens have had recent unexpected DNFs.
"We go to Brazil in position three, so I'm not really the favourite for the title," said the Finn, who turns 28 this week and knows what present he would like on Sunday. "But as we saw at Shanghai two weeks ago anything can happen. Whatever will happen, it's going to be a very exciting race. We will give it all… I will start into this race the same way as into the last two. My aim is to win and the rest is not up to me."
Although he's not in the title fight any more, Felipe Massa could play a major part in the proceedings. The Brazilian, who just had his contract extended through 2010, is aiming for a second consecutive home win but is not about to forget that teammate Raikkonen could claim the drivers' title for Ferrari. Massa has pledged to help if he can but, naturally, he'd rather run his own race.
"It is a very important race for me on a personal level and we need to do the best we can to win, as I do in every race," he said. "But this is my home race and the final one of the year which adds something to it… My personal target is victory, but if we see any possibility of helping the team to win the driver's title, then of course I will be doing what I can."
In the overall picture Ferrari, BMW Sauber and Renault will be one, two, three in the constructors' no matter what, while Massa and Heidfeld will likewise be fourth and fifth respectively in the drivers' standings no matter what. Probably a disappointment for Massa but a good end result for Heidfeld and BMW. Given Renault's early season performance it's a bit of a surprise to see the team as high as third.
There's only four points between Williams in fifth and Red Bull sixth, so they have their own little constructors' battle to settle, while BMW's Robert Kubica could lose out on his overall sixth to Renault's Heikki Kovalainen, who is five points behind. There are other lower places that could change but, let's face it, the main interest is going to be at the front of the field not the back.
There's been talk about which of Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen is "worthy" enough to win this championship. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but I don't know who made some people such saints that they are fit to pass judgement on another's worth. A driver doesn't win a title by giving good PR, he wins it by going out there and beating his rivals. Ultimately that is what it's all about.