Brazilian Grand Prix preview from Bob Constanduros
Now we really are at the sharp end of this year’s World Championship with 19 points separating leader Nico Rosberg from Lewis Hamilton. The stats show that Rosberg has won nine races to Hamilton’s eight; they both have three second places. They both retired from the Spanish Grand Prix, of course, and Hamilton’s engine failure in Malaysia is the only other retirement for both of them. Daniel Ricciardo, in third spot, has also failed to finish just one race, in Russia.
But of the last two races, Brazil is definitely the wild card. This is the second shortest circuit on the calendar but 15 corners are crammed into just 4.309 kilometres. And it’s the shortest in terms of time; the fastest lap last year was Rosberg’s in 1m 11.282s. They’ll be doing 71 laps around this circuit on Sunday and it’s going to be hard work; it’s at 800m above sea level, much lower than Mexico City of course, and another anti-clockwise track.
Currently inserting the spanner in the works is the fact that it’s due to rain every day for the foreseeable future! They may only be showers or the odd thunderstorm but they can make a big difference. When it is dry, the temperature is expected to reach 30 degrees or more and following last year’s resurfacing, the track is a little paler now but track temperatures could well be over 50.
Interestingly, Pirelli have gone a step harder with the third compound, so that we shall be seeing the orange hard tyre for the fifth time this year but only 2007 winner Kimi Raikkonen – in his 250th Grand Prix – both Force India drivers and Esteban Gutierrez have gone for one more than a single set of the harder tyres. Williams, meanwhile, have gone for nine sets of softs – the rest on seven or eight sets – while only Force India and Williams have gone for three sets of mediums. Everyone else has four or five.
Given the short, twisty nature of this circuit, it’s still fascinating that cars can reach nearly 350kph on the main, uphill straight and only about 15kph less than that going downhill to the lake at turn four. So it’s still quite quick but as usual, it will all about getting everything right for the three days of practice, qualifying and race.
Nico Rosberg has won this race for the last two years from pole position; Lewis Hamilton has never won here although he was on pole in 2012 and has finished second to his teammate for the last two years. If that scenario is repeated, Nico will have 374 points and Lewis 348 – meaning that Nico is the champion with Abu Dhabi still to go. If Lewis wins and Nico finishes second, then Lewis has 355 to Nico’s 367 points and the championship goes down to the wire.
The permutations are endless, of course, but they can’t expect any help from their rivals. Red Bull were good here in the Vettel days – he’s twice been on pole and twice won here – but Daniel Ricciardo’s record is remarkably poor: seventh on the grid and tenth place in 2013 being his best from five races. Verstappen was only here last year of course, ending both qualifying and race in 10th place which became 9th following penalties for others.
Sebastian Vettel reckoned both Austin and Mexico City were good races and with his experience around here and that of teammate Raikkonen, they may feel that they have quite a good chance – of a podium, at least.
But then there are a few others aiming for the same thing. The Force India versus Williams battle will be rejoined. Felipe Massa will be having his last home Grand Prix; he’s been on pole three times and has won twice from there, including his last win in 2008; teammate Valtteri Bottas has twice qualified fourth here and went on to finish fifth last year in spite of a penalty. But Nico Hulkenberg scored his only pole position here – perversely in a Williams and in poor conditions – while current teammate Sergio Perez finished sixth here in 2013.
Jenson Button, of course, is another winner here – indeed, his last win – in 2012 and this will be his 17th and possibly his last Brazilian Grand Prix. (In case you’re wondering, Rubens Barrichello did 19 of home GPs – and only finished one of the first eleven). McLaren-Honda teammate Fernando Alonso never won here but finished second three times; McLaren have a pretty good record at this circuit, so it could be an improvement for them.
But there are many other possibilities for some kind of disruption. For instance, there have been safety cars in nine of the last 15 races. Last year’s winning strategy included three pit stops for the first three cars but only two stops for the next four. However, the bumps that could cause such problems in the past have largely been ironed out by last year’s resurfacing. Much of the circuit’s infrastructure has been renewed since last year as well and to the disappointment of many, while this has improved the lot of the mechanics and teams with more available space, journalists are now in an almost Bahrain-like enclosure without even windows, so approaching rain can no longer be seen.
That actually includes my lot; formerly, I had the whole of the top floor of the control tower and it was wonderful to watch the rain storms circling the track a few years ago before dumping their load on the track. The circuit hasn’t actually decided where I’m going to be commentating from yet, but I’m unlikely to have such a superb view – if any view at all! Such is progress.
Will we have a new World Champion on Sunday, or will it go to Abu Dhabi in two weeks, that’s the question? This would be a great location for a party on Sunday night – but maybe Nico has urgent pram-driving duties at home on Monday. Whatever, the tension now ramps up by the day and Nico will be trying hard to suppress it. It is, as they say, his to lose… Should be a great weekend!