Preview of the Brazilian Grand Prix
The 2012 season comes to a close at Brazil’s Interlagos circuit and there’s still the small matter of the World Drivers’ Championship to decide. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso go head-to-head in season finale that has the hallmarks of 2008’s title decider – if we even get close to that astonishing conclusion we’ll be in for a treat.
Elsewhere, McLaren will be hoping to deny Ferrari second place in the constructors’ championship while in the drivers’ standings there could yet be a lot of movement further down the table. Finally, at the back of the grid, Caterham will be desperately hoping to match Marussia’s best result of twelfth place in order to snatch back the crucial tenth place in the standings. The race will also mark the farewell of several drivers although it’s still unclear how long that list will be. The one certainty is that this weekend sees Michael Schumacher’s second retirement party. Brazil will also be FIA medic, Gary Hartstein’s 247th and final Grand Prix
So what should you look out for this weekend? Well here’s the guide to the weekend but to mark the end of the season we have a special magazine version with bonus feature articles, downloadable in pdf format here.
Track and Conditions
The Autódromo José Carlos Pace, generally known by its former name of Interlagos, features some excellent corners and severe gradient changes. It’s a recipe that is popular with the drivers but makes set-up a challenge – the focus is on optimal aerodynamic efficiency.
The rolling hills that form the circuit’s natural amphitheatre combine to provide several excellent overtaking prospects, while the off-camber corners and uphill/downhill braking zones provide ample opportunities for error.
The first corner, the Senna S, drops down from the start/finish straight into a tightening left-hander which suddenly switches sharply back to the right – it is often the scene of first lap incidents. It’s also the best of the overtaking spots. With a good tow along the start/finish straight drivers can often outbrake a rival here.
Down at Turn 4, Curva do Sol, the marshland is home to many snakes and is the last place you want to suffer a breakdown. On paper it should be the best overtaking place but it is slippery off-line and the negative camber corner is a tricky proposition.
From here, the track runs back behind the paddock and this is where the most bone-shaking bumps are to be found, throughout the fast Turns 5 to 9. It’s through Junçao that the drivers need to nail a particularly good exit, as the rest of the lap is flat-out from there, up the hill around the curving pit-straight. It doesn’t look especially steep on television but it places a lot of demand on power and traction from an engine starved of air by the circuit’s high altitude.
The circuit has something of a reputation for unpredictable weather but only three of the last ten races here have featured rain.
Once again, set-up is about compromise – this time between the fast first and third sectors and the more twisty middle sector. Downforce levels tend to be lower than recent races, though, in order to maximise top speed on the straights – both an attacking and defensive necessity. The proviso to this is the prospect of rain, in which case traction will be given higher priority. Interlagos’ altitude, however, means more wing than usual is needed to achieve the same levels of downforce due to lower air pressure.
At 785m above sea level, there is also an impact on the engine which produces around 8% less power than it does at sea level. This eases some of the loading on the engine which spends extensive periods at full-throttle and high revs.
Suspension is a tricky compromise as the car needs good stability through the high-speed corners but also has to be responsive through the slower corners such as Pinheirinho. Good traction out of the slow corners and, in particular, Junçao is also important and then there are the bumps to consider. There is also the uphill climb to the start-finish line which limits ride-height due to compression of the car.
Last year saw a mix of two- and three-stop strategies with Mark Webber making three-stops on the way to victory. However, that was with the medium and soft compounds. This year it will be the hard and medium tyres on show. The more durable compounds combined with the relatively short pit lane suggests that two-stops is the most likely way to go. However, with rain a strong possibility come Sunday, all bets could be off.
Interlagos has the third lowest rate of mechanical retirements on the calendar behind Valencia and Korea, just 7.3% of starters over the last five years retired because of problems with the car. That’s balanced out by an above average number of accidents with 4.5% of drivers failing to complete the first lap.
It is rare that any sporting event produces as thrilling a climax as the one Formula One was faced with in 2008. With parallels to this season’s title decider Felipe Massa went into the race needing to win while hoping that Lewis Hamilton finished no higher than sixth. A wet start had caused enough confusion to give Massa hope but by the time of the second cycle of stops, while the Brazilian was still out in front, Hamilton was now in a more comfortable fourth place and while Sebastian Vettel was rapidly closing in, fifth would be good enough to take the title even if it might be a more nervy finish.
That all changed when light rain started to fall eight laps from the finish. Over the next few laps the front runners stopped to switch to the intermediate tyres with one exception: With nothing to lose, Toyota took a gamble and left Timo Glock out on his dry-weather tyres. Glock was now lying fourth and Hamilton sitting on the brink in fifth with a charging Vettel breathing down his neck. With three laps to go, and the rain growing heavier, Hamilton ran wide and Vettel didn’t waste the opportunity. McLaren was staring defeat in the face.
Almost unnoticed, however, Glock was now struggling on the increasingly wet track. As Massa crossed the line, Ferrari celebrated – but it wasn’t over yet. In the final turn, Hamilton surged past the Toyota. Victory was Massa’s but the title was Hamilton’s.
Ones To Watch
The focus is on the World Drivers’ Championship with 13 points separating Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso but what does the Ferrari driver have to do to beat his Red Bull rival? Firstly, he has to finish on the podium no matter what but after that it gets more complicated…
Alonso finishes first: needs Vettel fifth or lower
Alonso finishes second: needs Vettel eight or lower
Alonso finishes third: needs Vettel tenth or lower
Therefore Vettel, will be eyeing fourth or better – easier said than done if previous title deciders are anything to go by.
Food for Thought
Who will will in Brazil and who will clinch the championship? Can Caterham overhaul Marussia for tenth? How has this season rated?
Brazilian Grand Preview Magazine
Circuit Profile – Autódromo José Carlos Pace
2011 Brazilian Grand Prix – Webber Closes Season with a Win
Photos: Pirelli Tyres, Team Lotus photo archive, Lotus F1 Team/Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic, Mercedes AMG Petronas