Two races to go in the F1 world championship and one senses that if there is to be an upset, a final twist of the tale, it is likely to come at Interlagos, rather than the final round in Abu Dhabi. And the weather forecast from F1 specialists Ubimet suggests that there is a chance of low temperatures and showers on Saturday and Sunday.
Interlagos is tight, twisty, often unexpectedly rainy and usually unpredictable. Think of Lewis Hamilton’s first world title clinched here in 2008; it hinged on the rain falling harder on the last lap when the Toyotas had stayed out on slicks and that gave Hamilton the fifth position he needed to win the title.
It is a race for which you pack several pairs of shoes as it’s not uncommon to get a pair soaked by a downpour.
So how do you dodge the showers and the Safety Cars and come up with a winning strategy?
As with all the races this season, there are three tyre choices from Pirelli but they look quite conservative with last year’s soft and medium options joined by the hard, rather than the supersoft. Pirelli says this is down to the high loadings from some of the fast corners, but the track does not have the peak loads of the other circuits where these three tyres were chosen: Barcelona, Silverstone, Sepang and Suzuka.
Last year we saw some three stop strategies, but closer inspection reveals that Mercedes always planned two stops and only went to three to cover Sebastian Vettel who had done it to shake the tree and try something different. In reality a first stint on softs and then two on mediums was quite enough to cover the 71 laps.
Interlagos has a short pit lane at 387 metres and it’s quite a fast stop; 22 seconds is good and 23 is typical. Last year there was about five seconds difference between a two stop strategy and a three stopper. But the risk with a three is always of a Safety Car which tends to punish the multi-stoppers as it gives a cut price or even a free stop to other cars.
It looks very much as though the temperatures will play their part in the outcome of this race and it’s likely to be another race where the Friday practive running doesn’t give a reliable indication for the race.
On Friday Ubimet predicts temperatures around 23-25 degrees, but then cooler air on Saturday and Sunday with temperatures around 20-22 degrees. As we saw in Japan and Austin this can make all the difference and it is likely to hurt Ferrari more than Red Bull and Mercedes that generate more tyre temperature.
There is also a chance of showers for qualifying and the race. The track dries quite quickly, as we saw when Nico Hulkenberg won a dramatic pole position for Williams here on a drying track with slick tyres in 2010.
If we have proper rain then that swings the balance towards Red Bull. We haven’t really had a chance to see this in the second half of the season but projecting forward from Silverstone and the relative pace of Verstappen and the Mercedes with the improvements Red Bull has made since then, engineers on both sides feel that Red Bull would have the edge in the rain.
Brazilian Grand Prix in numbers
This weekend’s race in Brazil is the 44th world championship Grand Prix to be held in the South American country, and the Interlagos track will host the event for the 34th time.
In the six Brazilian races that have taken place since 2010, five of them have finished with a 1-2 result for two constructors. Red Bull took back-to-back 1-2s at Interlagos in 2010-2011 and did it again in 2013, while Mercedes’ drivers have finished first and second for the last two seasons.
The Brazilian race weekend has also been hit by wet weather on a number of occasions in recent years. In 2013 only the race took place in dry running, a year after the dramatic rain-affected Grand Prix in 2012. Both Saturdays in 2009 and 2010 featured wet FP3 and qualifying sessions, while the 2008 race was another event made memorable by rain.
Heading into this weekend’s race, Mercedes has now set a new single-season F1 record of 17 victories after Hamilton won last time out in Mexico. This surpasses the team’s existing record of 16 wins in both 2014 and 2015, and it did so in 19 races in 2016, the same number that were held in the previous two years.
Mercedes can also break the single-season record of F1 poles, which it currently jointly holds with Red Bull on 18, if its one of its drivers takes pole at either Interlagos or in Abu Dhabi.
As explained here, Rosberg can become world champion for the first time this weekend. If he were to be successful, he would do so 34 years after his father Keke won his world title 1982. This would make them the second father-and-son F1 champion combination to take the crown after Graham and Damon Hill – with the latter’s 1996 championship victory also coming 34 years after his father’s.
If Rosberg qualifies on the front row it will be his 19th of the year, which would be a new single season F1 record and surpass Vettel and Hamilton, who took 18 in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
Hamilton can break an F1 record of his own at Interlagos. If he wins on Sunday it will be the 24th different circuit that he has taken a Grand Prix win, and he will better Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record of 23 venue wins in the process.
McLaren will make its 800th world championship start this weekend, and in doing so it will become the second constructor in F1 history to reach that figure after Ferrari (which will hit 928 starts this weekend). The British team’s most recent win came at the Interlagos track in 2012, when Jenson Button won the race ahead of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Alonso has finished on the podium on eight occasions at Interlagos without ever winning the race, which is a stat he shares with Kimi Raikkonen’s record in Bahrain. But Alonso did secure both of his world titles at Interlagos, the second of which occurred ten years ago in 2006.
At Ferrari, Raikkonen will be making his 250th F1 start this weekend. The 2007 world champion will become the seventh driver to reach that figure, and he will do so at the track where he clinched his world title nine years ago.
The Finn has also outqualified his teammate Sebastian Vettel for the last three consecutive races and the German driver has now gone 25 races without scoring a front row start. In fact, no Ferrari driver has qualified on the front row so far this season, but the Scuderia has notched up eight third place starts.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo has the longest active points scoring streak – he has finished in the top ten for the last 15 consecutive races – but the Australian driver has only scored one point at Interlagos during his F1 career so far, when he finished tenth for Toro Rosso in the 2013 event.
Force India’s Sergio Perez is also currently on his own notable points scoring record. The Mexican driver has finished in the top ten at each of the last eight races, which is the longest streak of his six-year F1 career to date.
What are you expecting from the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.