2017 Brazilian GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
Sitting here in the Interlagos media centre, the addition of windows this year – I think they were merely covered up last year – means that we can see that it’s raining. And that’s going to be the pattern – apparently – for the next few days. Now whether that applies to raceday on Sunday or not isn’t exactly specified as yet, although it has been suggested that it will clear up by then.
The best time to visit Sao Paulo is apparently in their winter: June, July, August when it’s drier. In the summer – December, January and February – it tends to be wet, which is why the Grand Prix was moved from its early spring date to November. And what do we get?
Last year’s race was very wet, to such an extent that this year additional grooves have been etched in the tarmac where the water accumulated, to aid drainage. But looking out of our media centre window at turn two, the water is just flowing off the turn one run-off creating a stream across the circuit as they turn into the left handed turn three. Let’s hope it’s not that wet in the race.
Interlagos continues to be updated, so that the big control tower has been modernised and lowered by a floor or two and with it has gone my scenic commentary position. Instead, I shall be in what is basically a container and currently a very bare container. This is typically Brazil; it might be ready tomorrow for FP1 – or it might not. And it’s not the first time that I have commentated inside a container; that’s our view in Australia and Singapore.
My only frustration with such a view is that you can’t see the weather. FOM do a superb job of providing TV pics of the action, and they do pick up every little story as you well know. But what they can’t tell me is if inclement weather is the on the way and from what direction, so I guess I’ll just have to have a little peep out of the door to find out.
Interlagos was built in the late 1930s and was originally a superfast 7.960kms long. It’s in pretty much a built-up area, apart from the side that is bordered by a lake, so there’s not much room for expansion. It was shortened in the mid-‘80s and Formula One returned in 1990. It is the shortest permanent circuit on the calendar, second shortest to Monaco overall, and shortest in terms of lap time. You get to see the cars 71 times in Brazil, only 44 times at the popular Spa! Its other feature is that until Mexico came along, it was the highest circuit in terms of altitude, fractionally more than Austria, at around 800m. While Mexico trumps them all with 2200m, the altitude still makes a difference in Sao Paulo.
It’s a circuit that throws up all kinds of action, not always caused by the weather. There’s been the odd stray dog, for instance, debris on circuit and even Kimi failing to find an escape road which he swears was there last year (it was actually, but it had been closed up)! There was that amazing finish to the World Championship in 2008 when Felipe Massa was World Champion for just a few seconds when he won – his last – only for Lewis to score enough points to clinch the series. And it’s the scene of Nico Hulkenberg’s one and only pole position in 2010, on his first visit to the circuit.
This year we have the rare situation of a Formula One rookie to the circuit who has been on pole position here and has just been crowned World Champion for the second time. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley is in the middle of a bruising schedule at the moment: Fuji WEC for Porsche followed by Austin F1, then Mexico F1, Shanghai WEC, Brazil F1, Bahrain WEC and Abu Dhabi F1. He can now add Paris to the end of that, for the FIA prize-giving, having clinched the World Endurance title at Shanghai last weekend, with a race in hand. He was on pole position here for Porsche in 2014, so he will have done a few laps of the circuit.
Another rookie will be GP3 champion George Russell having a Friday morning outing for Force India, no doubt arranged by Mercedes for whom he is a reserve driver. The new World Champion, Lewis Hamilton is one of four current drivers who have won here, having triumphed last year for the first time, and my preparation for this race reveals his remarkable season, with his nine wins, only three second places and no thirds at all. Sebastian Vettel has had four wins, but six second places and again, only one third. He won here in 2010 and 2013, while the other two winners are Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and Felipe Massa with two wins in 2006 and 2008.
Felipe has just announced his retirement from Formula One for the second time; this was due to be his penultimate race last year and remember how he crashed at the pit lane entrance and all the teams came out to applaud him as he walked down the pit lane? Of course, he was then offered his old seat back at Williams which he accepted, but this time I suspect that opening isn’t available and it’s for real: he will be retiring at the end of the season in two weeks.
This year’s dry tyres are, for the ninth time, white medium, yellow soft and red supersoft, a fairly conservative choice. Everyone has chosen one set of white mediums, with either two sets of soft for Williams and Renault, up to four sets for Mercedes, Toro Rosso and Haas among others and the rest being made up of between eight and ten sets of supersofts. How much they will use remains to be seen.
Apart from Felipe’s retirement, there will be much talk about the FIA’s engine proposal for 2021. As with most items of news these days, some of the journos in F1 have gone overboard about these fairly vague proposals which aren’t much more than a basis for discussion. Italy’s newspapers have revved up Ferrari so much with threats of them losing their substantial preferential payment that chairman Sergio Marchionne seems to have followed the lemmings over the cliff with threats of Ferrari’s withdrawal from Formula One.
The trouble with that is that we’ve heard it all before. Enzo Ferrari regularly used to threaten to quit Formula One; read Richard Williams’s excellent slim volume Enzo Ferrari – A Life and count the number of times 1) he fell out with his chief engineers and 2) he threatened to quit F1. Amazingly, Bernie Ecclestone was particularly reluctant to ever call Ferrari’s bluff, and awarded them the extra payment that is now being disputed with real ardour.
Many of us have been frustrated that Ferrari get this extra payment and still can’t win the championship – so why should they get it? And if you speak to some of the photographers, they would almost welcome a Ferrari withdrawal. Ferrari are seriously unpopular in F1 at the moment. Marchionne’s revelation that Ferrari would welcome a withdrawal with open arms suggests that they are in it for other reasons than the supposed passion that everyone says runs through the veins at Maranello. It’s a mess and Ferrari haven’t come out of it well. And it isn’t over yet, this is only the beginning!
But we’ve a wet weekend in Sao Paulo to come. The rain is warm at least so that’s something, but it could at least throw up yet another unpredictable Brazilian Grand Prix – and that’s the way we like ‘em.