Brazilian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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How can Ferrari use Kimi Raikkonen to help Felipe Massa win the championship?

Felipe Massa starts the Brazilian Grand Prix from pole position with title rival Lewis Hamilton down in fourth on the grid.

But which of them is carrying the most fuel? Can Hamilton avoid trouble at the start? And how will the expected rain affect the race? Here are my pre-race thoughts on the Brazilian Grand Prix – add yours below.

The grid and the start

Felipe Massa shares the front row with Jarno Trulli, who starts from the front row of the grid for the first time this year.

Massa should be worried about what Trulli can do from that position. At Singapore Truli gained two places at the start (11th-9th), at Fuji he gained three (7th-4th) and at Shanghai he collided with the driver he started alongside. None of those scenarios are what Massa has in mind for turn one tomorrow.

What will work in Massa’s favour is that the odd-numbered slots on the grid are on the ‘clean’ side of the track: that’s good news for him and team mate Kimi Raikkonen, exactly as it was last year. As Raikkonen said today:

I am in a good starting place and I prefer to be third than second, it is a pretty good place to start.

It’s bad news for Lewis Hamilton, who starts in fourth. Heikki Kovalainen, who starts fifth, may have no option but to pass his team mate at the start. Trying anything too clever may end up in a disastrous collision. And if Fernando Alonso gets away cleanly from sixth, Hamilton could be facing a repeat of his 2007 nightmare scenario once again.

An added complication is the incline on the Interlagos grid – the driver at the front of the grid are on an uphill slope, the drivers at the rear are pointing downhill.

If it does rain tomorrow as forecast (see below) the race may be started behind the safety car as it was at Monza. That would be perfect for Massa, who would be guaranteed an unchallenged, unimpaired run into the first corner – unless he screws up the start like Rubens Barrichello did in the same situation five years ago.

2008 Brazilian Grand Prix grid


Here the laps on which the top ten qualifiers pitted last year and their qualifying times:

1. Felipe Massa 1’11.931 – 20, 50
2. Lewis Hamilton 1’12.082 – 22, 36, 56
3. Kimi Raikkonen 1’12.322 – 21, 53
4. Fernando Alonso 1’12.356 – 22, 52
5. Mark Webber 1’12.928 – DNF
6. Nick Heidfeld 1’13.081 – 25, 51
7. Robert Kubica 1’13.129 – 19, 38, 58
8. Jarno Trulli 1’13.195 – 22, 43, 63
9. David Coulthard 1’13.272 – 23, 42
10. Nico Rosberg 1’13.433 – 23, 54

Several drivers opted for three-stop strategies last year in order to reduce the numbe of laps spent on the super-soft tyres. This year they do not have that problem – Bridgestone has brought the medium and soft tyre compounds – so two-stop strategies are likely to be the order of the day.

Massa’s considerable time advantage (0.4s over Trulli, 0.5s over Raikkonen) has led many to speculate he’s very light on fuel. That’s probably part of it, but he’s always been good for a hot lap of Interlagos. This is his third consecutive pole position, and in 2004 he stuck his Sauber in fourth on the grid.

Although Hamilton’s first timed lap was scruffy his second was much better, so he probably tends towards being a few laps heavier. However, it would be unusual if he did not pit on the lap after Massa’s first stop, because were the safety car to come out after Massa’s stop and before Hamilton’s it would utterly destroy his race.

How far can Ferrari use Raikkonen to assist Massa? Raikkonen is very likely to stil be ahead of Hamilton at the end of lap one. And Massa needs Hamilton to finish outside the top five to win the title. So will Ferrari create a ‘Raikkonen train’ to let Massa (and potentially Trulli) get away and hope a few cars pass Hamilton?

It’s been done before – Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine adopted similar tactics with Jacques Villeneuve at Suzuka in 1997. But that was before the rule banning team orders was introduced – could Ferrari get away with such blatant team tactics in 2008?


Did Nico Rosberg qualify poorly because he has a wet weather setup?

If the forecast heavy rain does arrive, then most of the assumptions above will be thrown out of the window. The teams have done no running on the track in wet conditions this weekend and there is no provision in the rules for such practice to be added.

The teams are allowed to make some modifications to their cars if it rains, but they are limited to adding tape to brake and radiator ducts to keep them in the correct working temperature ranges.

They cannot alter any other parts of the car setup than they might normally be allowed to. It is possible that some teams gambled on wet weather coming tomorrow and put their cars on more suitable setups accordingly. A glance at the grid suggests Williams have gone towards a wet-weather setup.

The last time we saw heavy rain at Interlagos was in 2003. On that occasion several drivers aquaplaned off the road at turn three because poor drainage caused a mini-river of water to flow across the track. The resurfacing work carried out last year may have solved that problem.

For the title contenders, rain is an added threat as it brings a greater degree of unpredictability. However Hamiton will probably welcome the rain more than Massa, as he has fared much better in wet conditions this year. More analysis of the likely impact of wet weather here.

Safety car

Rain also increases the chance of safety car periods – but whether they occur in the dry or the wet they have the potential to decide the championship in a random and highly unsatisfactory manner.

As we saw in Singapore a poorly-timed safety car can destroy a driver’s race through no fault of their own. When the safety car is deployed, the pit lane entrance is ‘closed’ and if a driver is forced to pit (or face running out of fuel) they automatically incur a penalty.

Neither of the two championship contenders has suffered that misfortune this year. If it were to happen tomorrow it would be a terrible way to decide the championship, especially given that the FIA have had two years to fix the problem.

What strategies do you think the drivers are on? How do you think the start will unfold? Share your analysis below.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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43 comments on “Brazilian Grand Prix pre-race analysis”

  1. For starters I think it will more than likely it will rain tomorrow. I think Massa will get away cleanly and win the race. I think that Kimi will get past Trulli and leave Trulli to do what he is infamoud for and create his own train leaving Raikkonen to be free to tail Massa, whilst caught in the train I think Hamilton is going to get overtaken by a few oppertunists like Alonso, Vettel and Glock.

    Massa is fuelled light, as is Trulli and Kimi so they come in early to pit, whilst they are doing that there is an accident out on track, safety car is brought out. Once the safety car is brought in Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Heikki and Glock all have to pit, Kubica, Piquet, Heidfeld, Webber, Coulthard, Bourdais and co. who are all on 1 stops are moved forward, hamilton comes out the pits out of the points. In a deserate attempt to score hamilton skids off the track and loses the WDC.

  2. Actually Amy, I see Trulli going for P1 and taking out Massa at the first corner. Hamilton immediately wins the WDC. The rest of the race is quite interesting, but completely irrelevant (relatively speaking).

    Daydreaming aside, I think McLaren’s priority was to have more fuel in the tank than the Ferraris to control when they stop to pit and minimize their pet paranoia: the safety car shuffle. I guess this will have been calculated as the most probable ‘rogue’ factor affecting Hamilton’s chances (bar the completely unpredictable and uncontrollable: spinning off, getting shunted etc.). They’ve handed Ferrari the race to ensure 3rd or 4th for Hamilton. Trulli is the wild element for sure. One scenario I can imagine is Raikkonen getting past Trulli off the clean side of the grid. If Hamilton gets a better start than Trulli, does he try to tuck in behind the Ferraris or play it safe? Must be tempting: if it works, he may have Trulli and Kovi acting as a buffer. But if it doesn’t… spin, crash, stewards penalty?

  3. The Trulli train doesn’t normally have an on form Alonso & Hamilton in it, unless Trulli is very light on fuel or has an unusually fast race set up I can see him being down to 5th or 6th within the first few laps.

    If it turns out to be wet I’m a bit concerned about Massa’s chances, if he has his Silverstone head on again then he’ll be lucky to finish.
    At least Kimi should get Ferrari enough points to secure the Constructors Championship if the worst happens with Felipe.

  4. can’t wait

    My predictions if dry
    …and you all know what that means.

  5. The other battle for 3rd in the WDC standings looks like it’s going Kimi’s way, and a Raikkonen train sounds interesting! Could happen, but then Trulli can handle that ;)

  6. I have looked at all the times from this weekend, and my assessment is as follows:

    In terms of real pace, Massa is about 2 tenths quicker than Kimi. In Q3 the difference was 4.5 tenths. Take out the 2 tenths due to pace differential, and you have Massa heavier by the equivalent weight of 2.5 tenths. At Interlagos a lap’s worth of fuel introduces a time penalty of about .7-.8 tenths. This means Massa is 3 laps lighter than Kimi.

    Trulli is several laps lighter than the other 3 front-runners and may be on a 3-stopper (I do not expect any of the other front-runners to be on such a strategy; 2 stops will be the norm).

    Lewis is clearly saving his engine and gearbox (especially). He’s done 11 fewer laps than Massa since practice-1.

    In Sat. practice and Q2 Lewis showed that he has the pace to compete w/ Massa. He was a tenth faster in Sat. practice and virtually in a dead heat w/ Massa in Q2 (when fuel loads are supposedly near identical).

    In terms of fuel load, I think Lewis is heavier than Kimi by a lap, as in terms of true pace he is quicker by a tenth.

    I think the keys to the race are these:

    – Where will Trulli be after the first corner or lap ? If there is a Trulli train, Massa wins the race w/ 90% probability. If Lewis can somehow get by Trulli (and assuming Kimi does too), then Massa still has the advantage as Kimi will surely be tough to pass, and Lewis probably won’t even risk it. 3rd place means the WDC. If the unforeseen happens and Kimi collides w/ Trulli, then Lewis will end up behind Massa and will win the race outright.

    I think Keith is right on saying that McLaren’s big concern is the safety car. They fueled Lewis heavy to minimize this risk. It cost him pole, and will introduce risks at the start (collision) but apparently the safety car is to McLaren an even bigger concern. They probably think Kovalainen will be able to shield Lewis from Alonso at the start.

    – Will it rain ?
    If it does, then obviously all bets are off and the most unlikely senario may materialize (like Button’s only F1 win in the swimming pool of the Hungaroring 2 years ago). In theory Lewis will have the advantage on the wet, but then again there are always exceptions.

    – Will McLaren have a reliability problem ? Lewis has not had one this year, so the law of averages is against him.

    – Is Lewis on a wet-weather set-up ?
    If so, then he could still win the race after the 1st stint, even from 4th after lap-1.

    Will there be a safety car (or two) ?
    – Again, this could bring things upside down. In theory Lewis is protected more due to his being heavier.

    In conclusion it seems to me that Massa is most likely to win the race, whether it rains or not. If Lewis and McLaren really wanted, they could win this GP, but they are playing it safe, in their way of thinking. A normal result would be a Ferrari 1-2 w/ Lewis 3rd, or a Massa-Lewis-Kimi podium. I can’t see how Lewis finishes lower than 3rd (assuming all things normal, w/ or without rain). So Ferrari likely wins the race and constructors’ title, McLaren wins the WDC.

    Now throw all of what I said above, out the window … the abnormal has occurred more often than the normal this season. Something is likely to happen that is not forecasted, whether is is in Lewis’s or Massa’s favor.

    I will be shocked if we get the expected Massa-Kimi-Lewis podium.

  7. I doubt Williams is on a wet-weather setup. The Williams is just a terrible car to drive. And even the supposedly great Nico Rosberg can’t do much with such a car.

    I think; this weekend could see the longest ever Trulli train. I suspect he will get the jump on Massa and all 20 cars will be running bunched together :D

  8. Sorry, F1Fan, but this is just a ridiculous statement

    Will McLaren have a reliability problem ? Lewis has not had one this year, so the law of averages is against him

    Reliability is independent of the race. The reality is that Ferrari are less reliable than McLaren therefore by the laws of probability Ferrari is more likely to break down.

  9. How much of a factor with the Trulli train really be with the long drag to turn 1, then another straight and passing opportunity soon after?

    It looks like Hamilton is covering the bases by fuelling the heaviest given the very similar pace in Q2. Should make for a fascinating race! I just hope the title isn’t decided by outside factors such as ‘accidental’ shunts or over-zealous stewards.

  10. How about this? Alonso jumpstarts and crashes into Hamilton at the start of the race :D :D

    I can not even imagine the number of comments this website will get in the aftermath

  11. The worst thing that could happen today is if one of these shambolic safety car pitlane penalties was to decide the title. It’d be the most tainted drivers’ title in history, even worse than ’94.

    But it doesnt look good, with the weather forecast and everything, I think there’s a pretty good chance it will happen that way, sadly.

  12. Speaking of the law of averages – I think we’re due to watch another stock-standard Formula 1 race, as has been the case for 90% of races since the “Schumacher era” began in 2000. Therefore, Hamilton will win the WDC in 3rd. Ferrari 1-2 (all they really care about anyway) bringing them the Constructor’s.

    Unless it tips down, I don’t see Hamilton falling below 5th in the race (not even during the stops). Kovalainen will practically guarantee that Hamilton gets a huge gap behind him. This is the part of Qualifying that Mclaren got right. They made a boo-boo with Hamilton’s heavy load imo, but Kovi’s right where they want him. Massa, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Vettel, Glock. Trulli out with a gearbox problem, due to too much sweat, Webber blows something up, both Williams’ trundle ’round in the teens in possibly the team’s last race (cry) and DC manages to finish his last race – something for everyone to smile about, whichever side of the fence you’re on.

  13. Roger Carballo AKA Architrion
    2nd November 2008, 9:00

    Sumedh, it would be a little more interesting than the last issue where every spanish has a racist in his heart…. I had one and I didn’t notice. The police is after me. Sheer heart attack.

  14. comprehensive analysis F1 fan, I can’t wait for this race! Rain, Brazil, chapionship decider…anything that can happen probably will happen, it is crazy!

  15. i disagree, raikkonen rarley gets good starts in the rain.

  16. I don’t think there’s much difference in fuel loads. The Ferrari is traditionally the quicker car around this track so realistically the best Lewis could hope for was 3rd. He’s only 4th because of a light fuelled Trulli so he actually done the best he could.

    The difference in time between Massa and Lewis (0.462 sec) would be down to a couple of laps fuel and a conservative set up from McLaren in case it rains.

    Trulli has put a spanner in the works because 3rd would have been ideal for Lewis and I’m sure that’s what they were aiming for – as Kimi said it’s better than 2nd. Now he starts 4th it leaves him open to attack from 5th which although it’s his team mate, will cause complications if Heikki gets a slightly better start.

    One thing for sure is this will be the most crucial start Lewis has ever made and I can’t imagine the pressure he’ll be under. I hope the rain doesn’t bring a safety car which turns the race on it’s head – lets hope for a nice clean fight.

  17. Personally, the fact lewis hasn’t had a mechanical failure all year makes me confident that he won’t have on today either. To me, this fact just shows the reliability of his car. I don’t understand how some people theorize that by not having one yet, he’s more likely to have one now?

  18. Cameron – well, it happened last year…

  19. A point often overlooked is what Ferrari’s strategy has to be. They need a win for Massa which means they were compelled to fuel both he and Kimi lighter than the McLaren’s. Agreed, Massa’s pole lap was a good’un, but neither red car is going to run with a 2 lap fuel stop buffer.

    It looks like several teams are trying split strategies, with one driver fuelled light and another heavy, so that one of them will get lucky with the safety car or sudden rain. McLaren have tried to mitigate the effects of this by running both cars a few laps longer than the Ferraris to give a slightly wider window of pit stopping opportunity.

    The bottom line is that Ferrari’s strategy is inherently riskier, with the only exception that the McLaren’s will start further into the mix, with a greater likelihood of first corner problems.

    Much has been made in the media of Lewis having to watch out for someone punting him off the track, but the risk here is greater for Felipe, who can’t afford not to finish. I think it will be a clean race, at least until the rain starts.

  20. Looks loke Ferrari is thinking about the race and MCL about WDC. If HAM keeps his cool is a done deal. He does not need to overtake, just to keep P4 (probably he may end in P3 if Trulli is as light as we think). To end in P6 you need both ALO and VET to pass him. The REN has not a good start and VET is a little bit too far. KOV is also there to help. As I said he just need to keep his head cool, a piece of cake??

  21. John,

    It seems you have taken it for granted that the time difference between Lewis and Felipe (0.462s) is entirely down to fuel loads. I beg to differ. This is an anticlockwise track + Felipe’s engine is new and need not last a 2nd race; thus more power. These 2 points alone will give Felipe about 0.3-0.4s even when on same load as Lewis.
    I won’t be surprised if both Lewis and Felipe pit together.

  22. Sorry sumedh I didn’t make that clear as I don’t think the gap is purely fuel loads. I think Massa done a great lap and is the quickest car but the bigger than normal gap between them is down to set-up and 1 or 2 laps of fuel. Remember this is a short lap so the fuel penalty for carrying extra is not that harsh around here. Your right that in an equal fight Massa may have been around 0.3s quicker but thats a big gap to 0.46s.

  23. When today is over their will be tears, I can assume that much.

  24. If it rains. Hamilton will be WDC. Massa is rubbish in the rain, and we all know it.

  25. Amy,

    You dreamer you..shh, Amy is sleeping. Don’t wake her up, let her continue dreaming…

  26. Alvin, watch my dream come to reality today…

  27. there might be rain , so it should help hamilton out on a long 2 stop strategy. Kimi last year won from third, and Alonso in the last few races has made up ground on the track, if anything hamilton knows he can beat most of the field, all i can say is that Hamilton knows he is a champion in waiting.

  28. @sumedh – I don’t think the gap between Felipe and Lewis in qualifying had very much to do with fuel. Apparently a few laps fuel difference has relatively little effect on lap time at Interlagos. But I am certain that both Ferrari’s have at least a couple of laps less fuel. However, McLaren will pit Lewis as soon as Felipe refuels, to cover him in case of a safety car. Ferrari are willing to risk being compromised by a safety car, but McLaren conceded a little in qualifying to give them more options during the race. Events, of course, have a habit of laying waste to the best laid plans.

    Plus – I’ve got to agree with John Beamer – McLaren are less likely than Ferrari to have car problems or pit stop mishaps at Interlagos, based on their respective records this year. Were there a ‘law of averages’, it would say that on average, we have observed fewer problems for McLaren than Ferrari this year, and ceteris paribus, we should expect the same for Interlagos.

  29. I just noticed on the autosport site that Ron Dennis is certain the Ferraris are on a 3 stop strategy, while his boys are on 2. I’m not sure how this would factor into a safety-first strategy of covering rain and safety car eventualities – Ron thinks two stops are safer.

  30. On autosport Ron Dennis is saying the Ferraris are three stopping!

  31. suppose… few laps to go, Kovalainen leads, Massa second and Hamilton on 9-th position. Will McLaren ask Heikki to stop/pit in? :

    hmm.. no, they would not let Massa to win. I think McLaren will just hope that Lewis can somehow get the few points he needs.

  32. i wish the ferrari wasn’t such a pig to drive in the wet, then if it rained we would have the ultimate dual.

  33. Seems it’s raining at Interlagos now and likely to continue. Maybe the McLaren strategy is actually geared to ensuring Hamilton 3rd or 4th and setting up the cars/fuel for wetter weather and, with a dose of luck, getting a 1-2 finish and so perhaps the chance of the WCC too?

  34. Wow Amy (first post) that is some imagination you have!!! although thats a possible outcome to the race, i´d give you odds of 50,000 to one on it actually unfolding like that!

    I think the rain is something Hamilton could do without as there is more chances of it all going wrong with the unpredictable conditions. That´s not to say he´ll be too worried as Massa has already shown his dislike for the wet conditions this year.

    My predictions are as follows……

    1, if it´s a dry race…

    1st Massa
    2nd Kimi
    3rd Hamilton

    2, if it´s a wet race…

    1st Hamilton
    2nd Alonso
    3rd Kimi

    Either way, I think Hamilton will get the job done, although there´s no accounting for a first corner pile up so it´s far from a full gone conclusion. Can´t wait!

  35. John Beamer,

    I did not say ‘laws of probability’, I said the ‘law of averages’. I am sure you can find some informative articles somewhere that will explain you the difference.

  36. F1Fan, the facts of probability analysis are simple. What has gone on in the past has absolutely no bearing on the present. The “law of averages” is just hand waving and has no basis in a mathematical probability analysis.

  37. John Spencer,

    you also need to read up on the law of averages. It is not what you thought at all, in fact quite the opposite.

    As Keith pointed out, this is exactly what caught up w/ Lewis’s car last year in this very same race (that’s if one believes it was really a failure).

  38. Diseased rat,

    I am fully aware what probability is and what the law of averages is. They are different. Read up.

  39. There will be no Trulli or Kimi trains today: Interlagos has two marvelous passing chances as opposed to other tracks, especially in the wet.

    As for who will win, I’m all speculated out, just get the race on and let it unfold!

  40. I think what AMY said is quite possible and makes lots of sense.

  41. F1Fan – er, how about you try Wikipedia first.

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