It’s been one of the most exciting seasons of F1 and it looks like it may have one more twist before it’s over.
This weekend the World Drivers’ Championship will be decided at the Brazilian Grand Prix, between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. It seems straightforward for Vettel. He needs only to finish fourth or better regardless of Alonso’s result to win the title. Red Bull is the form team at Interlagos, having won this race for the last three years in a row.
But it looks as though fate may intervene, with rain forecast on Saturday and Sunday. As we have seen in the past at Interlagos, this makes it more of a lottery. If it is dry both days then on paper the Red Bull driver should comfortably achieve his goal, qualifying on the front row and finishing on the podium.
If it happens to rain around 14-00 hrs on qualifying and race day, then anything could happen and Alonso, with nothing to lose, could end up champion. Especially with his record of making things happen for himself.
There is also the question of Red Bull’s reliability, with Mark Webber’s retirement due to yet another alternator failure in Austin causing anxiety for Red Bull bosses. Red Bull is set to use new specification alternators in Brazil, which Renault’s other teams used in Austin last weekend. But it is going to feel like a time bomb until the chequered flag falls.
Here are the championship permutations:
*Any scenario where Vettel is fourth or higher gives Vettel the title.
*A win for Alonso would give him the title if Vettel is fifth or lower
*If Alonso is second, he would be champion if Vettel is 8th or lower
*If Alonso is third with Vettel lower than ninth, Alonso is champion
The Brazilian Grand Prix is a unique race on the F1 calendar, a circuit of unpredictability due to weather, tight run-off areas and a high chance of a safety car. There have been many heart-in-the-mouth finales at this event in the past and it’s a relief when a race goes to plan, especially when a championship is at stake.
The circuit is special for a number of reasons; set in a natural bowl around a lake in a suburb of Sao Paulo, the passionate and noisy crowd can see most of the circuit from their seat. The venue is also at one of the highest altitudes of any F1 circuit at just over 800 metres. This means that the atmospheric pressure is almost 10% less than at sea level and this cuts engine power, downforce and drag by a similar amount.
It is also the shortest lap of the season in terms of lap time, a quick lap there being under 1m 12 seconds, so the qualifying and racing have an intense quality about them. The circuit has a fast downhill sector one and final uphill sector three, with a tight infield sector in the middle.
It is one of six anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar. For years it was the only one, but in recent years Hermann Tilke has had a penchant for anticlockwise tracks and they make up almost 30% of the calendar.
The tyre choice from Pirelli is surprising once again, in that they have opted for medium and hard compounds, whereas last season they came with soft and medium. On the face of it, this is another conservative choice from Pirelli, a trend we have seen for the last six races. However the simulations show that there is doubt whether the fastest way to do this race is one or two stops, as we shall explain.
Interlagos – 4.309 kilometres. Race distance – 71 laps = 305.909 kilometres. 15 corners in total. Average speed 210km/h. A classic circuit set in a natural bowl, in a suburb of Sao Paulo.
Aerodynamic setup – Med/High downforce. Top speed 323km/h (with DRS open) 311km/h without.
Full throttle – 60% of the lap time (ave/high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 144 kilos (ave/low). Fuel consumption – 2.10 kg per lap (low)
Brake wear- light. Number of braking events – 6, Time spent braking – 16% of the lap.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 15.5 seconds
Total time needed for a pit stop: 20 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.27 seconds (ave)
* See if you can find the fastest strategy for the Brazilian Grand Prix, using our own UBS Race STRATEGY CALCULATOR
The Brazilian Grand Prix is the final round of 20 in the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
Last year’s race was dominated by Red Bull, but Ferrari and McLaren both have a strong record on this circuit. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has been the form driver in the final part of the season, winning a string of races and enjoying an average of 0.5s margin over his title rival Fernando Alonso in qualifying since the Singapore Grand Prix.
Mark Webber won last year, Felipe Massa won the race for Ferrari in 2006 and 2008, while Michael Schumacher, making his final F1 appearance this weekend, has won it four times. McLaren hasn’t won there since 2005 and neither Lewis Hamilton nor Jenson Button has ever won there, despite both clinching their world titles at this event by finishing in fifth place in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
This season has featured eight different race winners, one of the most open seasons for a long time.
Rain showers are a common occurrence in Sao Paolo at this time of year and many Brazilian Grands Prix have experienced sudden showers over the years. The forecast for the weekend is for temperatures around 25 degrees centigrade but with threats of rain on Saturday and Sunday.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Brazil: Medium (white markings) and Hard (silver markings). This combination has been seen several times including Austin, Spa, Monza and Sepang
The choice of medium and hard, rather than the soft and medium of last year, is very conservative by Pirelli.
They have gone for this combination due to the high energy loadings through the high speed corners, but the signs are that this will lead to very interesting strategy deliberations. Before a wheel is turned in practice, it looks like there could be a premium on saving a set of the faster medium tyres from qualifying to use in the second stint of a two stop strategy before switching to new hard tyres for a longish final stint (black line in graph below). This is a faster strategy and gives track position in the final stint over a two stop strategy where the second and third stints are on new hard tyres.
However a well-timed one-stop (blue line) on these very conservative tyres is also comparable to the black line two stopper, it will give track position but the two stopper may have more pace in the closing laps.
The track does not have a particularly abrasive surface and the energy going into the tyres is largely from the series of left hand corners before the final straight. On top of that, the tyres get plenty of rest on the two long straights and a safety car around one third race distance could change the decision making process.
The limiting factor on this track is the rear tyre, with the stop-start traction events in the series of corners in the middle part of the lap and the last corner onto the uphill final straight.
Last year’s race was won with three stops. The pit lane at Interlagos is quite short and the time needed for a stop is only 15.5 seconds plus the stationary time. However the indications this year are that two stops will be the way to go.
Starting in the top ten, one stop does not look competitive and seems unlikely to work out unless there is a safety car. However it might be worth a gamble for cars starting outside the top ten, as they can start on new medium tyres, rather than used. One stoppers will be greatly helped by a safety car deployment.
Overtaking at Interlagos isn’t too much of a problem, thanks to the long uphill straight leading to the Senna S. And the DRS wing certainly helps.
The chances of a Safety Car are high at 63%. The Safety Car has been used in seven of the last ten races. It is often called into action on the first lap, as it’s a short lap with 24 cars charging into tight corners.
This makes the Safety Car an important element to factor into Race Strategy planning. It encourages teams to hedge their bets and split strategies with one car doing a conventional two stop plan and the other on a one stop, which would benefit from a safety car. This is because a safety car would close up the field reducing any time loss and if timed well, would allow a one stopping car to effectively get a free pit stop.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows. Please note that where a driver has been eliminated on first lap this has been noted and removed from the sample as it skews the table. So this is intended as a guide of trends, rather than a definitive list.
+35 Massa ***** *******, Kovalainen
+28 Alonso********, Perez***
+22 Karthikeyan, Vergne **********, Pic
+20 Senna* ***** ********
+16 De la Rosa ****
+14 Schumacher* ****** **********
+13 Raikkonen, Kobayashi**** *********
+11 Petrov***** *******
+8 Di Resta ***** ***********
-5 Grosjean** **** ***** ******** ***********
-7 Rosberg******** ***********
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
***Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field
**** Eliminated by or involved in first lap accident in Monaco
***** Di Resta eliminated lap 1 at Silverstone, Petrov did not start
***** Massa, Senna and Grosjean involved in first lap collisions dropping them to the back
****** Schumacher forced to pit lap 1 in Hungary (lost six places)
*******Massa (puncture) and Petrov (broken nose) pitted for repairs on lap 1 in Singapore after making contact.
******** Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Senna and Grosjean either retired or dropped to the back following first-lap accidents in Japan
********* Button eliminated, Kobayashi pitted for repairs, on lap 1 after collision in Korea
********** Schumacher and Vergne pitted for repairs at the end of lap one after first-corner collision in India
***********Rosberg, Grosjean di Resta pitted for repairs and rejoined after first-lap incidents in Abu Dhabi. Hulkenberg eliminated after first-corner accident
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and there have been some amazing performances; we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds this year.
The league table below shows order of the pit crews based on their best total time in the pit lane in the recent United States Grand Prix
1. McLaren 2.39secs (3)
2. Red Bull 2.48secs (1)
3. Lotus 2.77secs (9)
4. Mercedes 2.87secs (5)
5. Ferrari 3.10secs (2)
6. Sauber 3.66secs (4)
7. Force India 3.68secs (6)
8. Williams 3.72secs (10)
9. Marussia 3.96secs (7)
10. Toro Rosso 4.23secs (8)
11. Caterham 4.29secs (11)
12. HRT 6.08secs (12)