Race starts at midnight Malaysian time
From Mexico, the 2017 Formula 1 championship goes further southwards for the 19th round in Brazil this weekend. This round is held at one of the sport’s most venerable circuits, the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Interlagos, Sao Paulo. The Interlagos circuit made its calendar debut in 1973 and has been a fixture on the schedule since 1990, making it the eighth most visited venue in the history of the sport.
The circuit is 77 years old, having opened its gates in 1940. An Englishman, Louis S. Sanson, designed and developed the Interlagos circuit in the area which was sparsely populated at the time. Its name means ‘between the lakes’ and refers to its location close to the two great water reservoirs of the city. The original plans were quite ambitious and included a hotel and a spa but in the end, only the circuit was built.
The circuit today is different from the original one which was 7.9 kms long. It’s not surprising that it has changed over so many decades, especially after the 1970s when demands for better safety provisions started to be voiced by the drivers. The circuit which the drivers will circulate for 71 times and cover a total distance of 306 kms has a 4.309-km layout, the second shortest by length after Monaco.
The Brazilian Grand Prix has not always been held at Interlagos, having moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1980. There were rumours that Interlagos would be turned into a housing project but, in 1989, this situation changed. With the municipal elections, a newly-elected mayor convinced the president of the Brazilian motorsports authority at the time to lobby for the return of the race to Sao Paulo. Their efforts were successful and after a needed modernization of the facilities which included reducing the length of the circuit, the Brazilian Grand Prix returned to Interlagos in 1990.
The economic impact of this major sport event on the finances of the city is considerable as evidenced by the study of the city authorities. Approximately US$150 million in additional taxes flow into the city treasury during the weeks of the festivities and the weekend of the race. Motorsports fans from all over the world would visit the city for the race but personal safety is an issue as shown by the Mercedes AMG team members being robbed while on the way back to their hotel in a van.
It may be the end part of the season but Interlagos remains a testing venue for drivers and teams. Like Mexico City, Sao Paulo is at a high altitude though not as extreme as Mexico’s 2,200 metres. The effects of the thinner air are less pronounced but nonetheless, there is a reduction in downforce and turbochargers still have to work harder. The steep rise and fall – for example, the 40-metre incline from Turn 12 to the braking point at Turn 1 – means it’s tougher on combustion engines than many other circuits.
Arriving at the perfect set-up can be tricky as teams needs to balance a desire for high levels of downforce in the tight and twisting infield section against the need to minimise drag on the straight between Turn 3 and Turn 4 and especially on the long sweep from Turn 12 to Turn 1.
With Lewis Hamilton having sealed the Drivers’ World Championship title in Mexico, and with Mercedes winning the Constructors’ crown in the USA, the race in Brazil largely becomes a battle for weekend honours alone. But we can expect some interesting racing since Lewis Hamilton’s crash on the very first lap of qualifying meant that he will start from the pitlane.
“It was a tough session for Lewis and obviously very unusual to see him not set a time in qualifying. But rather than focus on the shunt, I was struck by the way he went straight to parc ferme to be the first to congratulate Valtteri on his pole position. That’s a small example of our team spirit and the trust between two team-mates,” said Toto Wolff, the boss of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.
Felipe Massa will be taking part in his 14th and final Brazilian Grand Prix. The Sao Paulo native last week announced that he will retire at the end of this season after a 15-year F1 career. This race will be his 268th GP and to date, he has won 11 times, scored 41 podium finishes and has taken pole position 16 times.
The race starts at 4 pm Sunday in Brazil/midnight in Malaysia