2018 Brazilian GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
There’s something about the Brazilian Grand Prix that I really like. I never came to the old Interlagos circuit but I went to Jacarepagua on the outskirts of Rio and I’ve been to all these races at the shortened Interlagos. It could be the beef, of course, because that’s excellent and so are the caipirinhas, but for once I’m talking about competition.
It’s a race that always holds a lot of surprises. It’s very short; I may have pointed this out before, but if you go to Spa you see the cars 44 times during the race. If you come here to Interlagos you see them 71 times. Only at Monaco do you see the cars more. It is the third shortest circuit after Monaco and Mexico City and it has the shortest lap time of all. It’s the only circuit where I’ve ever seen the entire Grand Prix field covered by less than one second – and that didn’t last to the end of the session.
It’s a twisty track, running along the side of a hill between two lakes to the south-east Sao Paulo. There are 15 corners, ten left and five right and yet only six braking points, showing that the corners are highly interconnected; only 19% of the lap is spent braking. It’s situated at 800m above sea level, so while being much lower than Mexico City, it is higher than all the others. And finally, it is also anti-clockwise like Baku, Singapore and COTA before, and Abu Dhabi next. That isn’t as important as it used to be.
Three times the cars reach over 300kph and yet the slowest apex speed is just 90kph. There’s massive stop and start, some quick corners and a long long uphill ‘straight’ from turn 12 through 13, 14 and 15 to the start/finish line. Opportunities for overtaking are reasonable, with two DRS zones which gave us 11 normal overtakes last year and 24 DRS overtakes.
The weather has quite a lot to do with those surprises. Everyone thinks of Brazil as being sunny, a beach environment with beautiful weather but it isn’t all like that. Looking out of the window now it is extremely grey, just 19 degrees and it’s been spitting with rain all day and like to do so for days to come. Being on a hillside, the track does drain but streams run across the track, particularly out of turn five which can see drivers lose control and end up in the barrier on the inside.
Much of the drama and surprises of Interlagos has been caused by the weather. Remember the extraordinary 2003 race, eventually awarded to Giancarlo Fisichella in his Jordan. EJ had to collect the prize from Ron Dennis at the next race at Imola; I thought it particularly ungracious of the McLaren boss that EJ had to come to him, not that Dennis had been wrongly awarded it and therefore should make the effort to return it to the rightful owner. Ron was no doubt scoring points in a small-minded sort of way.
Nico Hulkenberg will no doubt remember his one and only pole, secured in unstable conditions in 2010 (eight years ago!) and everyone remembers the way Lewis Hamilton won his first World Championship here in 2008, after Felipe Massa had been World Champion for seven seconds. Who can forget Ayrton Senna’s emotional win in fifth gear here and yet it is Alain Prost who is the most successful winner of Brazilian Grands Prix – but Michael Schumacher the most prolific at Interlagos.
However, Sebastian Vettel could equal Michael’s record here this weekend and he needs to. Sebastian has won three times and has secured two poles but his Ferrari team needs points from the German and his Finnish teammate – who is another winner here and has been on the podium six times. Ferrari are 25 points behind Mercedes in the Constructors championship and there are a maximum of 43 points available at each race in total for a two car team – with two races to go. Ferrari then need to outscore Mercedes by 13 points to take the battle to the final in Abu Dhabi. With their form, the Ferrari duo could do it.
But this is a weird track when it comes to tyres, with lots of lateral G forces going through them. Consequently, Pirelli have brought their medium, soft and supersoft compounds, a combination used eight times this year already. At which point I look up at the screen and there are Williams working on their full wet tyres; this has all the potential of being a real lottery this weekend. But one thing is for certain, teams will be trying to protect their rear tyres throughout the weekend but this can instead create a problem with front-locking instead and the undulations of the circuit tend to have their effect too.
It is therefore not a race where you want to take any chances which is why it’s wise – if you have the luxury – to seal the World Championship before you get here. Cut out the last two races, make it a 19 race series instead and make sure you’ve won it before you get here which is what Lewis has done for the last two years. But third place in the championship has still to be decided between the Finns and I’m sure we can only hope that Daniel Ricciardo’s demons may have been left in Mexico and that he can have a decent race as he prepares to leave Red Bull.
Have a look out for Toro Rosso as they step up to the latest spec engine again. There will no doubt be a big battle for best of the rest again, with some of the lower positions in the World Championship up for grabs. It may not be a very sunny weekend, but I’m sure it’s going to be very very competitive. As usual, I’m looking forward to it.