ROUND 19 – Brazil, 22-24 November 2013
Venue: Interlagos, São Paulo, Brazil
Circuit Length: 4.309 kilometres
Lap Record: 1:11.473 = 217.038 km/h • Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams BMW) • 2004
If you think 4.309km sounds like a short lap, you’re absolutely right: Interlagos is the shortest lap of the year apart from the unique setting of Monaco and its 3.340km street layout. But don’t let that fool you: when Mark Webber won there in 2011 his average race speed was 198.876 km/h – when he won in Monaco in 2012 it was 147.312…
The Autodromo Carlos Pace is the fifth and final anti-clockwise circuit of the season. Despite the difficulties of Brazil’s mega-city Interlagos is one of the most popular venues among teams and drivers. The track, reconfigured to its current length in 2000, twists and turns ‘between the lakes’ with that thrilling, long climb from Turn 13 back up to the main straight. Pirelli bring the two hardest tyres in their range. Ten right-handers, 15 left; tough on engines because of the altitude. This is the 31st Brazilian Grand Prix to be staged at Interlagos.
Out with a Brazilian bang?
For us in Australia the main focus of the weekend is on Mark Webber, more than ever: this is his 215th and final Grand Prix. Unsentimental to the end, the 37-year-old from Queanbeyan will treat it, as far as possible, like the other 214: “I feel ready for Brazil and am looking forward to a bit of a different chapter in the future,” says Mark. “There would be something wrong if I was disappointed to be finishing, because that’s the reason I’ve made my decision, as a sportsman or woman that’s why we all make those decisions: because in the end the fire is not quite what it was, and you’ve got to accept that.” If the Interlagos cards fall his way Mark could yet equal his best-ever overall finish of third (2010, 2011): he sits just two points behind Kimi Raikkonen, who is recuperating after back surgery, and six behind Lewis Hamilton.
At the other end of the F1 spectrum entirely, first-season driver Jules Bianchi can’t believe his year is already coming to an end. “Wow, the last race of the season already,” says Marussia’s man. “Time certainly flies when you’re having fun. The last race in Austin didn’t start out with much fun but on Sunday we really brought it all together and that performance has given us all a real lift for the final round in Brazil, where there will be a lot of pressure. We’ve done such a great job holding on to 10th place in the Championship for so long, so it’s hard to imagine any other outcome than seeing the team achieve what they deserve finally.”
Bianchi’s 13th place in Malaysia is the difference between Marussia and Caterham as they fight for the last paying place among the 11 F1 teams. Uniquely placed to understand this fight at the wrong end of the table is Charles Pic: Caterham’s Frenchman was also a Marussia man last year. “So now we’re in Brazil and it’s the last race of the year,” he says. “In 2012 I had my highest ever finish in F1 in Brazil, 12th and that was partly down to having a crazy race all around us and that’s what we’re hoping for again in 2013, even though this year it’s a fight with the team I was with in 2012!”
Hoping to build on some brilliant Brazilian memories are McLaren, seven-time winners at this venue – and winners last year when Jenson Button came through for his own 15th and most recent victory. “Obviously, I have some extremely happy memories of racing in Brazil – it’s where I won my world championship, back in 2009, and it’s where I took my most recent grand prix win, last year for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes,” says the English veteran. “This year has been a tricky one, though, and it’ll be tough heading back to Sao Paulo knowing that the team hasn’t taken a victory since race day last year.” Last chance to score a podium…
Button’s former teammate Lewis Hamilton is another man coming to the end of a very quick year: “It’s difficult to believe that the final race of my first season with Mercedes has come round already,” says Lewis, “as this year seems to have flown by. We know what we have to achieve this weekend in Sao Paulo and everyone is so fired up to have a good weekend and to be in that second place in the Championship on Sunday afternoon. I had a good race in Austin and it felt great to get that under my belt before the end of the season. I’m really looking forward to Brazil.”
Sebastian Vettel apart, the man of the moment is surely Romain Grosjean. Lotus’s Swiss-French driver comes off a fantastic defensive drive against Webber in Austin and he is one driver you can always rely on for enthusiastic comments about what he does – like racing at Interlagos: “It’s a fantastically challenging track which never seems to let you relax,” he explains. “Even the main start-finish ‘straight’ isn’t boring as it starts uphill with some interesting camber, then gradually turns before finishing at the downhill turn one where it’s so easy to out-brake yourself. If I had to pick favourite parts of Interlagos, I would say the first and last corners. The first corner is really technical and punishes you if you get it wrong, while the last corner is so fast and really puts quite a strain on your body. As a driver I really enjoy these corners. It’s one of the real classic old-style tracks so it’s very hard to pick out a single element; I love it!”
Finally, a fond farewell to Ferrari for Felipe Massa: the little Brazilian completes eight years as a Maranello F1 driver with his last race at the track where he first won in a scarlet car back in 2006. He did it again in his heartbreaking 2008 season, taking pole, setting fastest lap but just missing out on the title that should have gone with it.