Brazilian Grand Prix preview

It’s unbelievable really. It seems like no time at all since the lights went out in Melbourne and yet here we are in Brazil for the final race of the year. In a sport where speed is everything it’s perhaps no surprise that time travels so fast, but the racing season always seems to fly by too quickly.

The only place to start is with the battle for the title. For the fifth time in seven years the championship has gone down to the wire, and on Sunday either Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso will be crowned the youngest ever triple world champion in the history of Formula One.

Vettel goes into the race at Interlagos as the favourite to retain his title. The Red Bull driver has a 13 point lead over Alonso, and a top four finish will see the German become only the third driver in Formula One history to win three successive world championships. Having finished on the podium in the last six races, the odds are stacked heavily in Vettel’s favour.

But don’t rule Alonso out. In a Ferrari that has never been the quickest car on the grid, he has somehow kept himself in contention for the title. He has rarely finished outside of the top three, and with a podium being enough for the Spaniard to take the championship should Vettel fail to score, he still has a good chance of being crowned champion come Sunday.

In a normal race it would be hard to see any other outcome than a Vettel win, but this is Interlagos, a track that is notorious for throwing up unpredictable results in the past. Rain is not an unusual phenomenon at the 2.6 mile circuit, and with changeable conditions forecast on both Saturday and Sunday the weather could have a big part to play in the destination of the championship.

And wet weather would be good news for Alonso. Whilst not a match for the Red Bulls in dry conditions, the Ferrari has shown itself to be a different animal when the heavens open. Alonso won the only other wet race this year in Malaysia, and in the only two wet qualifying sessions of the season at Silverstone and Hockenheim, the Spaniard qualified on pole both times. If rain does arrive at Interlagos this weekend it will add a new dimension to the title battle.

Of course, those two are not the only drivers who will be going for victory this weekend. After his win in Austin last weekend, Lewis Hamilton will be wanting a repeat performance on Sunday as he looks to end his McLaren career on a high. Kimi Raikkonen will also be looking to add to his success in Abu Dhabi, although his chances are likely to depend on the rain staying away. Mark Webber and Felipe Massa will also want to end the season with a win, but are likely to play supporting roles to their teammates for the weekend.

The scene is set for a dramatic weekend, and no matter what the outcome regarding the race or the championship, it is set to provide a fitting conclusion to one of the most memorable seasons in Formula One history.

The Permutations
Sebastian Vettel will be crowned world champion on Sunday if:
– He finishes in the top four
– He finishes in the top seven with Alonso not winning
– He finishes in the top nine with Alonso no higher than third

Fernando Alonso will be crowned world champion on Sunday if:
– He wins with Vettel fifth or lower
– He finishes second with Vettel eighth or lower
– He finishes third with Vettel tenth or lower

The Circuit

The Autódromo José Carlos Pace, located in Interlagos, Sao Paulo, hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix for the first time in 1973 and has been ever-present on the calendar since 1990. Named after the late Brazilian racing driver Carlos Pace, the 2.6 mile circuit is the second shortest track of the year and is famous for its twisty layout and bumpy track surface.

The track is a favourite of drivers and fans alike, and is one of the most challenging of the season. The circuit can boast corners such as the Senna-S, Descida do Lago, Ferradura, Juncao and Mergulho amongst its many challenges and with it being one of the few anti-clockwise venues on the calendar it can prove to be tough on a driver’s neck muscles.

There have been many memorable races at the circuit over the years. One which will stick in the minds of many Brazilians will be the legendary Ayrton Senna’s win in 1991, when the local hero hung on for the final few laps despite only having sixth gear to take an incredible first win on home soil.

The 2003 race was another classic, when Giancarlo Fisichella took a stunning win for Jordan after many cars crashed out in the torrential rain. The Curva do Sol was turned into a multi-million pound scrapyard, with the race eventually being stopped following a huge crash after Fernando Alonso hit Mark Webber’s stray tyre and was pitched into a wall at frightening speed.

But perhaps the most famous of all was the 2008 championship decider, when Lewis Hamilton won the title on the very last corner after overtaking Timo Glock. With Hamilton seemingly cruising to the crown, rain hit the Interlagos circuit in the closing stages, forcing most cars to pit for wet tyres. The McLaren driver was then passed by Glock and Sebastian Vettel, and it was only after his main title rival Felipe Massa won the race that Hamilton passed the slick-shod Toyota, taking the fifth place he needed to win the championship and break Brazilian hearts.

Past Winners (since 2000)
2011 – Mark Webber (Red Bull)
2010 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2009 – Mark Webber (Red Bull)
2008 – Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2007 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2006 – Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2005 – Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren)
2004 – Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams)
2003 – Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan)
2002 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2001 – David Coulthard (McLaren)
2000 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)

Stephen D’Albiac

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