I was going to feature the fact that this is the shortest permanent Grand Prix venue with the shortest lap time until I did a little research and found that Austria beats it on at least one count – at the moment. The Red Bull Ring is 4.326kms long and 71 laps whereas Autodromo Carlos Pace is 4.309kms long and the race is also over 71 laps. There are 10 corners officially in Austria and seven or nine braking events, depending on who you’re talking to.
Here in Brazil the circuit is 4.309kms as mentioned, but there are 15 corners and six braking points. But it’s also the second highest circuit at 800 meters, soundly beaten now by Mexico City, of course, so it’s just a matter of course that it has a small altitude problem of thinner air and a slight loss of power from the internal combustion engine. The lap time in Austria was down to 1m 08s this year whereas the pole here last year was 1m 10s but how much quicker this year?
And of course Sao Paulo’s infamous traffic now pales by comparison to Mexico City’s, although the Friday evening stagger back to the Morumbi/Brooklin area will still be painfully slow and take about 90 minutes, but at least here we know the way, whereas in Mexico it was all a bit new, even for those of us who had been there before.
This is the 43rd Brazilian Grand Prix and the 32nd here at Sao Paulo. The circuit is named after 1975 Grand Prix winner Carlos Pace who later lost his life in a small plane crash, but it is also called Interlagos – between lakes – as there is a large lake visible to the north of the circuit and a smaller one to the east.
The circuit has had various incarnations and being in a built-up area, as we would say in Britain, doesn’t really lend itself to expansion, more contraction. It was first built in 1938 on marshy area which couldn’t be developed for housing and a long, very twisty but fast and often bumpy circuit evolved for the early Grands Prix from 1973 to 1980. After the Grand Prix moved to the south side of Rio de Janeiro at Jacarepagua for some of the eighties, it returned to a shortened version of the previous Interlagos in 1990 and has returned every year. It’s an important race for Bernie Ecclestone in that it maintains Formula One’s presence in the Americas and South America in particular, of course. I don’t suppose the fact that he’s now married to a Brazilian has anything to do with that desire to hold the race here; it was important to him long before his marriage.
It’s a circuit that winds up and down a hillside with a log, flat-out non-straight bordering the upper edge, full throttle for 17 seconds. It’s on that section that Mark Webber had his big shunt in the WEC round here last year and where we’ve seen some pretty big accidents in the past, particularly when it’s wet.
Ah yes, the wet. When it rains, it pours although sometimes there is a thin drizzle in the air which keeps things damp. But usually the rain is considerable and this year’s forecast calls for thunder showers most evenings, pretty hot – in the thirties – for the two days of practice and qualifying but cooling to 24 degrees for the race. Quite when the rain comes is uncertain, but it’s going to be wet.
Pirelli have bought white medium and yellow soft again, for the ninth time this year so there’s no mystery with regards to those tyres, but it could make it pretty lively on Sunday thanks to the fact that this can be a three stop race. At least, it was three stops last year for the first six so it’s going to be a lively race again – with or without rain.
It’s a race that Lewis Hamilton has never won; he had pole in 2012 and was second last year from second on the grid. But his teammate Nico Rosberg won last year from pole and is now on a roll with four consecutive poles and a win finally in Mexico. Can he continue this run? Lewis comes here on a slight down having had a fever last week but don’t expect a small bingle (Australian for minor traffic accident) to upset him one bit. He will be pushing hard as ever.
What about Ferrari? Vettel’s had two wins and two poles here but with Red Bull, of course, while Raikkonen won in 2007 and has had three second places. Talking of which, Fernando Alonso has finished third five times here in his 250 Grands Prix – although don’t expect too much from the McLaren-Honda combination. Incidentally, after the Finnish civil wars at the last two races – Raikkonen versus Bottas – you might be amused to hear that the driver steward here is another Finn, Mika Salo. Wonder whose side he would take given a free vote.
Talking of Bottas, his teammate Felipe Massa is thrilled to be back at home as Brazilians tend to be, but his last win was here back in 2008 which is a long time ago! It’s also the scene of Nico Hulkenberg’s only pole position, a wise tactical effort back in 2010. And if you thought that there are several rookies here, don’t believe it: Max Verstappen took part in FP1 last year when he was sixth. Felipe Nasr did the same in a Williams and was 12th – he’ll be playing host to nearly 3000 Banco do Brasil guests – while Alexander Rossi has raced here and won in junior formulae. Marcus Ericsson didn’t race here last year but was in the commentary box with fellow Swede and manager Eje Elgh, so the only real rookies are Carlos Sainz and Will Stevens.
But it won’t take them long to learn this short circuit. It will be a busy three days. The circuit isn’t quite looking at its best as development work has finally been started – but not finished. The paddock looks a little better but again, isn’t finished, and there are new offices by the main control tower. The paddock club seems to have been improved but no surprise that we journalists are in the same building with the same air conditioning etc etc. Maybe next year.