2014 Brazilian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Despite the famous Interlagos circuit in Brazil being home to many a memorable season finale, Abu Dhabi has taken the illustrious final spot on the calender this year – the advantage is that we have two weeks less to wait for one of the most highly anticipated races of the season. The 4.3 kilometer circuit may lack distance, but certainly compensates for this with several unforgettable races over the years. In 1991, Ayrton Senna took victory in front of a jubilant home crowd, while spending the final stint stuck in sixth gear; In 2008, “is that Glock” sent Hamilton fans across the world into hysteria; In 2012, Sebastian Vettel battled back after sustaining first lap damage, to win his third consecutive title. Interlagos certainly has an abundance of stories to tell.

Interlagos 2011 Box” by Jo Lorib
CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Facts

  • The Autódromo José Carlos Pace (otherwise known as Interlagos) has hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix intermittently since 1972. Every race since 1990 has been held at the venue.
  • The race will consist of 71 laps.
  • Michael Schumacher has the most wins at Interlagos, with four victories to his name – two coming during the title winning campaigns at Benetton and in 2000 and 2001 with Ferrari.
  • Felipe Massa’s home victory in 2008 saw him become World Champion for all but 30 seconds, before Lewis Hamilton passed Timo Glock on the last corner of the last lap, to snatch the title.
  • Jenson Button’s last race victory came at Interlagos in 2012 – it was also Lewis Hamilton’s final race at McLaren.
  • Juan-Pablo Montoya holds the lap record, with a 1:11.472, set in 2004 when the Colombian drove for Williams.  

Rewind 12 Months…

Sebastian Vettel ended 2013 in sublime style, claiming his ninth consecutive victory. The German drove another faultless race, beating outgoing teammate Mark Webber by over 10 seconds. It was an emotional day at Red Bull, as the Aussie drove in Formula 1 for the final time, ending a career headlined by nine race victories, all of which were achieved at the Milton Keynes based outfit. On his in-lap, Webber removed his helmet in what will surely be considered an iconic image in years to come. Meanwhile, McLaren enjoyed their best result of the season, as Jenson Button finished P4 and Sergio Perez in P6, after a challenging qualifying session which saw the latter meet the barriers. 

Virtual Safety Car Tweeks

In the aftermath of Jules Bianchi’s horrific accident at the Japanese Grand Prix, it became obvious that Formula 1 needed to alter its safety precautions. As such, a Virtual Safety Car procedure was trialed in Austin, which saw drivers slow to a specific delta time over the course of a lap. This weekend will see the concept trialed at the end of FP1 and FP2 once again, this time with some modifications based on driver’s feedback from last weekend. As Fernando Alonso highlighted; “We need to tune it a little bit better, because we had some tones in the radio that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, so there are some things to put in place there.”
This weekend will see delta timing zones extended from 50 to 200 meters long, which is hoped will enable drivers to more accurately plot their speed and keep within the given delta time. Meanwhile, a 10 second warning will now also be given to drivers as to when they will enter virtual safety car procedures. It will be intriguing to see how this redrafted version of the concept works. At present, this virtual safety car seems to be the focus of the Safety Panel. 

Pit Entry Tweeks

For years, the pit entry at Interlagos has been all about commitment. However, in a move to make the circuit safer, the pit entry has been re-profiled, with a chicane added to ensure that drivers have to slow down earlier and are therefore enter the pit lane in a safer capacity.
Personally, I feel that this change has been needed for several years, not only from a safety perspective but also from a sporting perspective. The pit entry used to cross the racing line and has therefore been a point of contention in regards to track extending for years. Felipe Massa suffered at the hands of stricter stewarding in regards to the zone last season. Such controversial decisions will now be avoided and another safety measure implemented – what’s not to like?

Prediction Corner

All eyes will again be on the title fight this weekend, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg enter another pivotal round. Lewis delivered a hammer blow to Nico in Austin, extending his lead to a daunting 24 points. Aside from reliability woes, it is fair to assume that the battle between the pair will resume. Hamilton may not have taken victory at Interlagos before, but circumstances have often conspired against him. In 2007, the mysterious gear selection issue not only cost his a potential victory but probably cost him a World Championship. Then, in 2012, Nico Hulkenberg made contact with Lewis, (who was leading the race at the time), ending the Englishman’s final race with McLaren prematurely. As such, it is difficult to judge whether Interlagos is a “Hamilton-track” or not. Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg knows that nothing less than a victory in the next two rounds is good enough and so will be fully motivated – the question is, has Lewis won the psychological battle over Nico. Personally, I expect a Hamilton victory this weekend, on account of his sublime run of form.
Elsewhere, Williams could lose ground to Ferrari this weekend, as Interlagos fails to suit the characteristics of the FW36. The middle sector of the lap demands an abundance of mechanical grip, which is an attribute in which Williams have a deficiency. As such, this will surely be Ferrari’s last chance to reel in Williams’ now sizable 25 point advantage. Watch out for their battle this weekend.    

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