The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, or Interlagos as it is most commonly referred, is often held up as an example of how not to do an F1 circuit – it is tired, scruffy and crumbling in places but everyone loves it and whatever its faults, it is assured a place on the Formula One calendar as one of the series’ true classic races. The circuit itself dates back to the 1920s but a revised 8km layout saw Formula One visit for the first time in 1972, a non-championship race won by Brabham’s Carlos Reutemann. Since then some of Brazil’s greatest drivers have triumphed here to rapturous scenes, notably Ayrton Senna’s 1991 victory after which the McLaren driver could barely stand, so physically exhausted was he after coaxing the car home for half the race with a failing gearbox. One of the sport’s most enthralling moments occurred here in 2008 when Felipe Massa won the race but lost the championship ten seconds after crossing the line when Lewis Hamilton snuck past Timo Glock’s Toyota on the last lap at the very last corner.
Interlagos is a tough track with many elevation changes, fast corners and high lateral loads which punish the drivers relentlessly for 71 laps. The track is anti-clockwise so places extra strain on the driver’s necks. The circuit itself used to be quite bumpy but over time the bumps have been smoothed out. Nonetheless, gaining proper traction remains the main setup challenge. With a bumpier track the cars would be run softer so as to allow the rear wheels to maintain contact with the track surface, but with bumps less of a concern now the cars are run stiffer and lower to generate downforce, putting the onus on the driver to modulate throttle application smoothly to minimise wheelspin. With a twisty infield section the cars generally run medium to high downforce settings, but can achieve speeds of almost 200mph on the approach to Turn 1 or Turn 4 with a favourable wind.
After locking out the front row for the season finale, Red Bull finished the race 1-2 although it was Mark Webber who took victory, his only win of the season, after Sebastian Vettel was forced to slow with a gearbox oil leak. Vettel ceded first place to his team-mate on lap 30, moving aside at the first corner, and thereafter shadowed the #2 Red Bull until the latter stages, when increasingly strong warnings from his team about the car’s potential failure forced Sebastian to drop back, eventually finishing 17s behind Webber and a comfortable nine seconds in front of Button, who earned the final podium place of the season by repassing Fernando Alonso with ten laps to go. Webber’s win, combined with a fourth place finish for Alonso, meant the Red Bull driver nicked ahead of the Ferrari man in the Driver’s Championship, stealing third place by a single point.
Tyre wear: 5/10
Last year Pirelli brought the medium and soft tyres and got a three-stop race, but were able to do so with the championship decided. This year the tyre manufacturer is being more cautious so as not to affect the title battle between Vettel and Alonso and the medium and hard tyres should see one or two-stop strategies employed.
The middle sector requires a high downforce setting so teams will run generally higher levels in the knowledge that they can use DRS to carve out overtaking opportunities.
Average speed: 7/10
The cars nudge 200mph twice throughout the lap, and do not use first gear at all, meaning that the lowest speed reached on track is still over 70mph.
Track difficulty: 6/10
While the track layout itself isn’t too taxing, the Brazilian Grand Prix is a punishing event for the drivers which can lead to mistakes later in the race with rapid direction changes and compressions pushing their muscles to the limit.
Interlagos has always created good racing and there are at least four places where it is possible to pass on the circuit – if you are close enough.
The Brazilian crowd always creates a fantastic atmosphere and this year will be no exception. The circuit hasn’t hosted a world title decider since the Massa-Hamilton epic in 2008, and with the prospect of rain spicing up the action, it will truly be one to remember.
Venue Interlagos, Sao Paulo
Lap record 1m 11.473s – Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams (2004)
2011 Winner Mark Webber, Red Bull
GP History (only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included):
Interlagos (8km circuit) 1973-1977, 1979-1980
Jacarepaguá 1978, 1981-1989
Interlagos (4.3km circuit) 1990-present
Stats, courtesy of Mercedes Petronas: