After racing at F1’s three newest venues the contrast in Brazil could hardly be greater.
On one hand we have Yas Marina with its spectacular hotel and ultra-modern facilities. But a meagre (by F1 standards) crowd of 50,000 was enough to achieve sell-out capacity at an insipid and tedious track.
On the other hand we have Interlagos, where F1 opulence is cheek-by-jowl with appalling poverty, and the drivers arrive with armed bodyguards to protect themselves. But the track is a gem and the crowd is as large as it is passionate.
The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace circuit in Interlagos has served up a series of exciting races without the need for gimmicks like DRS. Recognising this, the FIA have limited the DRS zone to single point on the track for Sunday’s race, not wanting to make overtaking “too easy”.
The success of Interlagos as a racing circuit gives food for thought for those planning the next Yas Marina. It gives the lie to the assumptions behind many modern track designs that leave fans and drivers alike wanting.
It does not have India’s bizarrely wide corner entries nor Abu Dhabi’s bowling green smoothness. Above all, it spurns the excessively long 5.5km length of modern tracks with a compact layout shorter than anything on the calendar bar Monaco.
This has multiple benefits. Lower lap times means closer qualifying sessions. It also means tighter queues of cars and more lapped traffic, all of which adds up greater opportunities for overtaking.
It also means the cars pass the spectators much more often – 71 times in a race instead of the usual 50-odd.
The race organisers have their eye on one of the track’s deficiencies – the lack of run-off in some places – and are planning changes for next year’s race. However it looks like the track layout will remain unchanged, and that is something to be celebrated.
The season finale
The last time Interlagos hosted the season finale it produced one of the greatest races I have seen: the epic 2008 championship showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
With the championships already won and forgotten about, it’s doubtful anything could match that peak of excitement this weekend.
Yas Marina promised to be an intriguing contest between Hamilton – who was quick all weekend up until Q3 – and Vettel. But the contest was over the moment Vettel’s tyre failed.
Hamilton has the chance to end the season on something of a high following repeated setbacks earlier in the year.
While the local crowd will focus its attention on Massa, it’s hard to see him figuring in the fight for outright victory. A podium finish would certainly be welcome, though: Alonso has had ten this season while Massa is yet to finish higher than fifth.
All three of the home drivers find themselves under pressure. Rubens Barrichello’s future with Williams is uncertain and there is the chance this could be his final race.
The same goes for Bruno Senna who is working to keep his place at Renault. Today’s confirmation that Robert Kubica will not be back with the team at the beginning of next year makes it a straight fight between Senna and Romain Grosjean for Renault’s second seat, assuming Vitaly Petrov isn’t going anywhere.
Both Renault drivers have been plagued by technical problems in recent races. It would take a significant upset for the team to lose its grasp on fifth in the constructors’ championship in the final race, but stranger things have happened at Interlagos.
Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso’s three-way contest for sixth, seventh and eighth places will finally be resolved. This may sound like small bier in the rankings remember the distribution of prize money for these places is crucial for the smaller teams.
New tyres, tired engines
Interlagos circuit information
|Lap length||4.309km (2.677 miles)|
|Distance||71 laps (305.9km/190.1 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’11.473 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)|
|Fastest lap||1’09.822 (Rubens Barrichello, 2004)|
|Tyres||Medium and Soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
As the drivers reach the end of their engine allocation for 2011 they will have to make sure their remaining units have enough life to cope with the peculiar demands of Interlagos.
The long, uphill drag from Juncao to the start/finish straight places a premium on engine performance. Although the altitude of the circuit helps reduce the load on engine internals, the lower air density means the engine has to work much harder.
On top of that, drivers will have new tyres to use. For this first time this year the original-specification soft tyres will be absent from a race. Pirelli has replaced them with the new soft compound tested in Yas Marina.
Motorsport director Paul Hembery explained: “The idea is to find a tyre that’s closer in performance to the super soft.
“At the moment the delta gap in peak performance is too high. From that point of view we’ve found up to a half a second improvement over the current soft tyre.”
However this weekend the new soft tyre is paired with the medium tyre, so expect a larger gap in performance between the two.
Hembery added the new tyre: “also has an improved resistance to blistering which is something we wanted to improve on the hotter, more aggressive tracks.”
2011 driver form
Will it be another win from pole for Vettel this weekend? Or can McLaren end the season with back-to-back victories? And how will the home drivers do?
Share your thoughts on the season finale in the comments.
2011 Brazilian Grand Prix