Brazilian GP: Pre-race Coverage
Formula 1 returns to the home of the great Ayrton Senna for the final race of the season. It has been a fantastic season, with records tumbling and technology pushed to the limits. It all comes down to this final showdown at the Interlagos in Brazil. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel will go out all guns blazing to clinch their 3rd world championship titles. Vettel is 13 points ahead of Alonso and he just needs to finish 4th or better to be the youngest driver ever to win 3 titles consecutively. Red Bull has already claimed the constructor’s championship last week in Texas, and it surely is testament to their confidence and perseverance during the tough times they had on the course of the season. This will be the last race of Michael Schumacher’s F1 career, or is it?
Brazilian Grand Prix has been the stage for dramatic finishes not only in the race to the finish line, but also in the race to the title. We have seen how Kimi Raikkonen, tumbling all the expectations, won the title with Ferrari, when Lewis Hamilton failed to generate a good performance. And a year later, under even more controversial circumstances, Lewis Hamilton made the title his, only in the last corner, snatching it away from Brazil’s favorite boy Felipe Massa. It has again become the stage for yet another title showdown.
The corner speeds…
The track itself is known for its fast corners and long straights. The home straight in front of the grand stand is an extension of the curve through turns 13 to 15. Cars reach speeds of about 315kmph on the long left-hander of the ‘Subida Dos Boxes’ and reach a max of 325 kmph in the run down to turn 1. Extreme braking in the first corner down to the left demands clever driving as it is the prime overtaking zone of the track. There is a tremendous amount of force on the left front tyre and drivers should have a strategy wound around tyre degradation as it will affect their performance on the long straights. Turns 1, 2 and 3 fly by in quick succession and the ‘Senna S’ chicane helps to carry through the momentum from the first corner after an overtaking maneuver.
It is then a set of high speed left hand corners from ‘Curva Do Sol’ up to turn 7, the ‘Curva do Laranjinha’. Then come the tricky set of corners as the drivers negotiate around two hairpins at turn 8 and 14. This section is the slowest part of the circuit with cars slowing down to a min speed of 70 kmph. This section again demands extreme load on the front tyres, and any sort of locking up is bound to end up in their faster degradation. Now comes the most exciting part of the whole track. After the climb up the turns 11 and 12, the drivers prepare themselves for that mad dash on the long left-hander onto the main straight. It is a visual spectacle as we can see the cars seem like they are drifting onto the home straight.
It was only one man who was making all the headlines right from the point he stepped into this part of the world. Lewis Hamilton and McLaren have found their long lost form in the last 3 races. On Friday, Pirelli introduced the prototype of the tyres they which will be used in the 2013 season. The drivers seemed to enjoy the pace of their cars, thanks to the prototypes and most of them posted their personal fastest times on those sets. Lewis Hamilton was on top of the charts right away and was looking calm and composed as he always is. He has finally into his winning rhythm which he demonstrates right from the first session, slightly intimidating for the other drivers. Sebastian Vettel was just 0.009 seconds off the pace of Hamilton and was looking on course for a 3rd consecutive championship. Alonso was working to improve the balance of his car by changing the front wings and finished 5th fastest.
Hamilton, locking up his tyres
Practice two was a similar story as Hamilton outpaced everyone with Vettel lurking a quarter of a second behind him. Mark Webber was also on song as he finished 3rd fastest ahead of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. Alonso was having a tough time finding the right balance to his car, but again he was able to post a decent time with a mediocre car. Practice 3 on Saturday saw Jenson Button take a dig at the timesheets as he blasted past the finish line in a 1m 13.188s. Vettel, Webber and Hamilton followed the Brit on the charts. Alonso was still almost half a second off the pace. This was not looking for the title hopes of Alonso and Ferrari.
The teams knew in the 3rd practice that rain was due before the start of the Qualifying session. The track was considerably damp as Q1 was flagged a go. Most of the front runners opted to stay in their garages as the HRT’s, Caterham’s and the Marussia’s drove onto the track on the medium compound tyres. There was still spots of rain at turns 11 and 12 and a lot of stagnant water was proving difficult for the handling of the car on the slicks. With the back of the cars dancing all over the track in these sections, posting lap times was becoming an issue. Force India tried a different strategy by sending Paul Di Resta out on intermediate tyres. He was able to negotiate the tricky wet section with ease but suffered with lack of pace on the dry sections. As the track dried up and with 8 minutes left on the clock, all the drivers ventured onto the dry-damp track hoping for a good lap time. Hamilton displayed just how cool he was in his Mclaren as he went top on his first flying lap beating the Ferraris by over a second. Romian Grosjean, who was on top form until this session, had a disappointing Q1. He crashed his front wing into the rear tyre of Pedro de la Rosa on the final corner leaving him with almost no chance to make it into Q2, and eventually he didn’t. Schumacher and Raikkonen were hanging on to their 15th and 16th spots and made it into Q2.
Q1 (Eliminated): Romian Grosjean, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan, Pedro de le Rosa.
Q2 saw Fernando Alonso making some progress as he and Massa were on top of the sheets for most of the time, until Lewis Hamilton happened. Nico Hulkenberg was setting the track on fire in the Force India. His car was responding well to the mixed weather conditions. With about 5 minutes left, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and Button made their track visit and right away the time sheets tumbled. Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton were breaking each other’s times on every flying lap and eventually Hamilton came up top. Schumacher was again poor in Q2, and he ended up finishing only 14th fastest. The Saubers too were struggling to find good balance and were knocked out in Q2.
Q2 (Eliminated): Paul Di Resta, Bruno Senna, Sergio Perez, Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne
Raikkonen and Rosberg managed to make it into Q3 and Rosberg came out early on a set of used tyres, probably to get some heat into the brakes. Maldonado and Hulkenberg too were on used tyres. All the others opted to make short runs in order to save their tyres. Alonso and Massa were seen struggling a lot with their cars. Alonso in particular didn’t look happy with how things were going, yet he was challenging for a pole. A brief 2 lap run was made by the McLarens and the RedBulls and yet again they were found on the top. With a minute left, it was the exciting shootout of the top cars the fans were waiting to see. McLaren made a telling case by bagging the front row followed by the two Red Bulls. Massa finished 5th ahead of Maldonado, Hulkenberg and Alonso.
Come Sunday, and it will be Alonso v Vettel all the way. Alonso might be happy to get into 7th spot after Maldonado incurred a 10 place grid penalty. Lewis Hamilton will be out to demonstrate his authority from pole. With the weather reports suggesting a wet race, it will be interesting to see how it pans out for Vettel and Alonso.