The Championships have been decided but every F1 race is an event in its own right, and the team will be going at it as hard as possible in Brazil this weekend, on a track that’s been good to us in the past.
There’s a saying that, to build a good racing circuit, you take the side of a hill, and scrape away anything that doesn’t look like a racing circuit. The Autódromo José Carlos Pace – or Interlagos, if you prefer – fits that description perfectly. It loops and whorls across a hillside, with never a level stretch of road in sight. It’s a pocket-sized circuit, and from a decent vantage point in the paddock, you can see the whole track spread out below you.
As a short track with a lot of corners crammed into a small space, it’s a tough race on the tyres. It’s not so tough on the drivers as used to be the case when Interlagos was the only anti-clockwise track on the calendar, and the succession of left-hand corners put an unusual strain on the neck: these days the calendar is more balanced and neck training is serious business.
The compact nature of the circuit extends to the width of the main straight. It’s very narrow – which means the grandstand opposite is practically on top of the garage. It’s one of the great atmospheric races of F1: the crowd make it special in ways that only a place long-steeped in Formula One can.
We have had some mighty days at Interlagos – truly the stuff of legend. We won the race in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 – and all of them were special. Mark Webber won in 2009 for what was only his second F1 victory. A year later it was Sebastian Vettel’s turn, leading Mark over the line in a 1-2 finish that gave us a first title in São Paulo, at the penultimate race of 2010. 2011 saw the order reversed with Mark leading Seb over the line, and then another 1-2 finish in 2013 had Seb win his record-setting ninth race in a row.
Of more significance, it was Mark’s farewell race, and he finally took a moment to smell the roses, with an emotional in-lap. He wasn’t the first driver we’ve said goodbye to at Interlagos. David Coulthard retired at the same track in 2008 – though his farewell tour only lasted as far as the first corner, through no fault of his own, DC was punted off into the wall and watched most of his final race from the garage.
The most drama we’ve ever had at Interlagos, however, has to be 2012. Sebastian Vettel’s sixth place saw him squeak over the line to snatch a third consecutive drivers title. While 2008 may well get the accolade of being the most tense championship finale, in our garage, nothing will ever get close to ’12. By turn four of the first lap, Seb was stopped in the middle of the track, facing the wrong way, with a shredded sidepod and a crushed exhaust. And it was raining. His recovery drive from there was truly epic – and that exhaust manifold, polished but not repaired, wound up in chief designer (now chief engineering officer) Rob Marshall’s office. We build ‘em tough.
We haven’t quite hit those heights since – but Max has had a couple of epic drives of his own. It was the wet race of 2016 where he truly announced himself to the world, finding grip in places others could not on his way to third. Last year he went one better with second – though he would have won the race, were it not for being punted off by Esteban Ocon, who was attempting to unlap himself. After that, you may recall tempers were a little frayed.