Track Check - Interlagos (Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace), Sao Paulo, Brazil
Welcome to the final edition of the Track Check for the 2012 Formula 1 season. The season finale is all set to take place at the historic Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, popularly known as ‘Interlagos’ circuit from Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is a unique track, with a couple of very high speed, sweeping turns, a couple of straights and a very technical up-and-down, twisty infield section; and the added complication of its anti-clockwise direction makes life that much tougher. Located in a natural bowl, the track makes for some great viewing points for the spectators. Without further ado, lets dive in for a storming lap.
Sector 1: Taking the plunge
The start-finish straight feels almost claustrophobic, with the pit wall on the left and the imposing grandstands on the right, packed to the rafters with passionate Brazillian racing fans capable of drowning out the roar of the V8s. A short dash as soon as the lights go out and we’re braking hard, resisting the temptation to tip the car left for the first ape of the blind turn 1. Stay out wide till the last instant, and plunge downhill through turn-1 at 106 kph in 3rd gear, hold the car steady and pull it right to hit the apex of turn-2, already starting to accelerate up to 166 kph. It’s a steep drop and the camber changes on the slope, making it imperative to get the line exactly right, or you’re sure to spin out (and cause a pileup, in the process, as the turn is almost blind). This sequence is named ‘The Senna’S’ ” after the legendary Ayrton Senna. Significant time can be gained or lost through the exit of turn-2, as you flick up through the gears, threading the needle through the fast, sweeping left hander at turn-3 “Curva do Sol”. It’s a storming corner with just one line that allows going flat out. That the DRS activation zone starts right at the entry of the Curva do Sol makes it even trickier in race conditions. You need to take the car right up to the outside kerbs as you gun full throttle down the back straight, the “Reta Oposta” and into sector 2.
Sector 2: Over the hills and over the vales
You’re flying through the Reta Oposta, at over 325kph in top gear, as you approach the downhill left hander at turn-4 “Curva do Lago”, a fast 90 degree bend at the bottom of the hill, taken at 155kph in 3rd gear. Only the most daring would risk a move here in the past, but DRS may just throw up many more this time. Hit the apex and floor it as you climb up, going through the left handed kink at turn-5, in 5th gear, 250 kph. You continue the climb as you fly blind into the double apex right hander at turn 6,7. You’re braking from 6th gear, 250 kph, to 5th gear, 218 kph for turn 6, still climbing up, feathering the throttle a bit to keep the momentum going through the cusp of the hill, tipping rightwards at turn-7 “Curva do Laranjinha” taken in 5th gear. The G-forces acting here are tremendous, going up to 5G! Hit the apex, preserve the momentum as you drop downhill, and then slam on the brakes hard to stop the car in time for the very tight second gear right hander at turn-8, taken at 76kph. Hit the apex, use up all the track, and wring the last ounce of torque from the engine and the last scraps of grip from the rear tires as you slide downhill into the more open 180 degree curve at turn-9 “Pinheirinho”. Repeat the exercise of boosting yourself back out of the corner, use up some KERS if you need as the exit sends you scrambling uphill again, going up through the gears and a rightward kink as you climb to 200 kph, before braking real hard for turn-10 “Bico de Pato”, the very tight right handed hairpin at the top of the hill. The road opens up dramatically as you hit the apex, and drops away downhill without warning. Resist the temptation to floor the throttle too early if you want your rear tires to last. Build speed down the slope as you fly flat out through the left handed turn-11 “Mergulho” in 5th gear, 235kph, and into the final sector.
Sector 3: Citius! Altius! Fortius!
Take a wide line out of Mergulho, as you brake for the 3rd gear left hander at turn-12 “Juncao”, already having started the climb back up the hill. It’s very very imposrtant to carry as much speed as possible through Juncao, as the rest of the lap is absolutely flat out… Citius!
You’re now one with the car, willing it to go beyond its top speed, climbing all the while as you blast through the left handed kink at turn-13 going higher and higher… Citius! Altius!
And then you approach the most awesome part of the track, the identity of Interlagos, the banked turn-14 “Subida dos Boxes”, you exert all your might to counter the G-forces and steer the car left, maintaining the acceleration, reaching the summit and holding strong through the widest part of track.. Citius! Altius! Fortius!
Slide inwards, almost entering the pitlane as you fly through turn-15 and back on to the start-finish straight, and back braking for the Senna ‘S’. The run through the Subida Do Boxes has traditionally been a site for slipstreaming moves, and we’re sure to see a few this weekend.
Technically, the challenge here is to find a setup that is responsive in the low speed, twisty infield section, without compromising the straightline speed too much, as a large amount of the track is run flat-out. The cars are constantly accelerating out of slow corners, and going uphill at the same time. This puts big demands on the engine and gearboxes, not to mention the pounding the rear tires have to endure in order to provide enough traction to actually get the car out of the corner. Add to it, the banking for turn-14, and the sweeping natures of turns 3, 4, 13-14, and the camber settings need to be spot on, to keep the tires in the optimum temperature and loading windows.
Interlagos is a track that has witnessed many a historic moments. Ayrton Senna’s win in 1991, with his McLaren stuck in 6th gear towards the end of the race, and the sea of fans willing him on is an unforgettable story. It is also the site where Kimi Raikkonen completed his miracle run to come back from behind and win the 2007 drivers’ championship at the cost of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. It is also the same place where Felipe Massa came deperately close to winning the title in 2008, crossing teh line in the lead, only to see Hamilton take the crucial extra point, passing Timo Glock’s Toyota at the last corner of the last lap. Fernando Alonso will be using all his skill and guile to pull a similar coup over Sebastian Vettel this weekend, as the two are locked in battle, 13 points between them. There’s also the chance of rain that seems to loom around here, and when it comes, it turns things on their head. Remember Giancarlo Fisichella’s 2003 victory driving the Jordan-Honda?
This Sunday, after 71 laps of this 4.309km long circuit, Fernando Alonso needs to be on the podium to have any hopes of a third title, whereas Sebastian Vettel needs to score a decent haul to complete a stunning rally in the second half of this season, and complete a hat-trick of championships. Amid all this excitement, the 2012 Brazillian Grand Prix also marks the end of an era: Michael Schumacher‘s racing era. The great man walks away from the wheel after this Sunday, leaving behind a legacy for the very capable current generation to look up to.
Will the rain come to stir the couldron? Will Ferrai pull something out of Pandora’s box again? Will Felipe Massa go for glory in front of his home fans? Will the McLaren’s pace help or hinder Alonso’s bid? Will Vettel dominate this last dance? Will Michael Schumacher finish on a high note? Time will tell. Till then, we wait in anticipation.