“Well done to Red Bull and Sebastian but we want to be happy in Brazil, not only here, and I am sure we will do it” – Fernando Alonso, India 2012.
19 races in 18 countries across 9 months and it all comes down to this. A season that has yielded eight different winners from six different teams, six world champions and a plethora of other talented racers will be decided at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, better known to F1 fans across the world as Interlagos. Thirteen points separate Sebastian Vettel from Fernando Alonso; fourth place will be just fine for Vettel, a seemingly simple enough task for a man that has been on the podium in every race since F1 left Europe. But with the fickle Brazilian weather set to play a role, anything could happen. Aside from the battle for the championship, it will also be the last ever race for Michael Schumacher and could be the final farewell to the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Heikki Kovalainen, Vitaly Petrov and HRT, whose positions in the sport are under threat.
After several years at the long Interlagos circuit and the physically demanding Jacarepagua circuit, F1 returned to a shortened version of Interlagos in 1990. The following season, home hero Ayrton Senna claimed his first Brazilian Grand Prix victory and also won again in 1993. The 2001 event was notable for the arrival of Juan Pablo Montoya, who was set to win in his third race before being taken out by an errant backmarker. A couple of years later, heavy rain caused chaos with the result leaving Giancarlo Fisichella as the winner and Kimi Raikkonen as runner-up. Third placed man Fernando Alonso was taken to hospital after his heavy crash stopped the race. Such was the confusion over the results that only Fisichella and Raikkonen stood on the podium, with Raikkonen erroneously declared as the victor. Alonso clinched his maiden title at the circuit in 2005 and repeated the feat in 2006 in a race best remembered for Michael Schumacher’s fight through the field as he bowed out of the sport for the first time. The track also played host to title victories in 2007, 2008 and 2009, with the second of those seasons ending in the most dramatic fashion possible. A rain delay, tension and a last corner pass for the title. It had it all. Last season, Red Bull dominated as Mark Webber won his second Brazilian Grand Prix after leader Sebastian Vettel suffered with a gearbox problem.
Interlagos is one of the shortest circuits of the season in terms of lap time – last year’s pole position was just under the 72 second mark. With the circuit set to undergo changes for 2013, this could be the final time the iconic uphill start is used in Formula One. The first couple of corners, the Senna S, has now had tarmac added on the run-off, which reduces the challenge significantly but is still the best passing spot on the lap. The Curva do Sol is an acceleration zone that will be treacherous in the wet, while the approach to the Descida do Lago is also crucial in potentially setting up a move into the fast Ferradura, a fifth gear right hander. The undulating middle part of the track – including the Bico de Pato – offer little overtaking opportunities but do provide crucial lap times. Getting a good exit from Juncao is vital as any time lost here will be exacerbated all the way to the Senna S and while the ‘straight’ is flat out in the dry, the Subida dos Boxes – now with run-off – will leave drivers feathering the throttle if the rain comes down.
What might happen?
Anything. Interlagos is the track that can throw up an unexpected result, as Nico Hulkenberg’s 2010 pole testifies. Ferrari and Red Bull have shared the last six Brazil victories between them – three for Ferrari between 2006 and 2008, with Red Bull sweeping up in the country since 2009. However, rain is forecast and that could play into the hands of Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard hasn’t led a lap of racing since he crossed the line to win the German Grand Prix in July, but has emerged on top in the three wet sessions this season. All Sebastian Vettel needs to do is finish in fourth place and he will win the title irrespective of what Alonso achieves. But as Lewis Hamilton will acknowledge, aiming for a certain position can have almost disastrous consequences. With the likes of McLaren, Lotus and possibly Sauber also playing a role in the race, Alonso and Vettel will have their work cut out to win a third world title. There will be tension, there will be tears and whoever finds themselves running jubilantly down the Sao Paolo pitlane after twenty scintillating races as the youngest ever triple world champion will be a worthy winner.
Sebastian Vettel will win the title if…
- He finishes in the top four
- He finishes fifth, sixth or seventh and Alonso doesn’t win
- He finishes eighth or ninth and Alonso is third or lower
- He finishes 10th or worse and Alonso isn’t on the podium
Fernando Alonso will win the title if…
- He wins and Vettel is fifth or lower
- He is second and Vettel eighth or lower
- He is third and Vettel is 10th or lower