It may not seem like it to the fans, but this weekend marks the end of the longest Formula One season in history. Nineteen races later (Bahrain was cancelled at the very last minute) and a season that stretches to the very last weekend of November were previously unheard of. The idea behind such a long competition year was to create more excitement and to take Formula One to a wide audience – India was a new addition for the 2011 calendar. The teams, of course, will all be complaining of exhaustion and a hectic travel schedule, while fans will no doubt be revelling in the prolonged action. Whatever the case, Mr Bernard Ecclestone calls the shots and as long as he does the Formula One circus will be jumping to the crack of the ringmaster’s whip.
All the front-runners will be aiming for a win at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton’s emphatic victory at the Abu Dhabi race showed that a driver’s confidence really feeds on wins and he is the most likely to take victory in South America. Hamilton’s win was “gifted” to him by Sebastian Vettel’s untimely exit on the very first lap. The recently crowned champion will be looking to go out on a high and carry the momentum of a win into the next season.
Hamilton said ahead of the race weekend commencing, “Winning in Abu Dhabi last week was a fantastic feeling and it’s made me even more determined to finish the 2011 season with a victory. It would be great to go into the winter off the back of another win, so that’ll be my aim.
Both of their team-mates will be looking to put one over their dominant team-mates at the final round of the year. Red Bull’s Mark Webber would dearly love to close out a winless 2011 season with a victory as he attempts to usurp McLaren’s Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for second overall. Ferrari’s Felipe Mass will be looking for a home win and break his victory duck for 2011.
If the rain falls on Interlagos – as it tends to – then Michael Schumacher will be aiming to claim his first win since his return last year. Schumacher seems to be getting quicker and quicker with every race, much to the chagrin of his younger team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Even though it is one of shortest circuits it can provide some of the best action. The 4,3 km circuit has several unusual features to it, such as an anti-clockwise layout and an uphill start-finish straight. There is a long back straight the Reto Opposta where the cars reach up to 310 km/h. This is followed by a very tight right-hander that allows an overtaking opportunity for the very brave.
“The long left corners are a strain on our neck muscles because the track is anti-clockwise, which is opposite to normal,” Vettel points out. “That’s why I usually do some special training before Sao Paulo to get my muscles used to it. One of the best overtaking places is in the first chicane, the so-called Senna Ess. It’s perfect for braking as you can drive in the slipstream of the car in front, to be able to pass. I’m coming here to win!”
The middle part of the lap is a low-medium speed section that relies heavily on mechanical grip. High tyre wear could prove to be a factor, but with a short pitlane we could see up to three pit stops for the front runners.
Interlagos could prove to be the final race of Rubens Barichello’s long career as there is a strong likelihood that Kimi Raikkonen will be a Williams’ driver in 2012. Barichello will undoubtedly want to go out on a high. A victory will be unlikely – let’s not forget Nico Hulkenberg’s pole position set in a Williams last year – but regardless of where he finishes he will have the support of all his countrymen this weekend. Barrichello insists that he is not treating this race, his 326th, as a farewell, "I am positive," the veteran Brazilian says. "I am not going to say goodbye to people."
Forecasts suggest storms on Saturday and showers on Sunday so we can look forward to a very exciting race.