We’re swapping North America for South America this week, heading off to Brazil after a short trip home following the double-header in Texas and Mexico. The Autódromo José Carlos Pace represents a very different challenge to COTA and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez – and this is good because F1 thrives on demanding something different of the cars and drives every week.
Located in the suburb of Interlagos, and often referred to as such, the circuit on the outskirts of São Paulo is a tight, twisting sequence of loops carved into a hillside. In the 1970s, when F1 first came to Brazil, Interlagos was a much longer track. It lost a long, outer loop when the race returned from Rio in 1990 (though you can still see the former layout very clearly if you look at the track on Google Maps). What’s left is very short, very busy and very exciting.
Perhaps the best thing about Interlagos is that the Senna S chicane – Turns 1&2 – may well be the perfect overtaking spot for F1 cars. It’s approached via a downhill, off-camber braking zone, it’s partially blind and very difficult to defend because both inside and outside lines are viable. In the modern era, with aerodynamics that make overtaking very difficult, it isn’t an easy pass – but nor is it a forlorn hope. Basically, it’s the corner you want on a modern-day racing circuit.
Of course, if it rains, any corner is a potential overtaking point. It’s Spring in the southern hemisphere and the weather over Interlagos tends to be… changeable. Showers are stealthy, hiding from the weather radar, popping up over the hills to deluge the circuit for five minutes before the sun comes out again and the tarmac starts to steam. The circuit has worked hard to improve drainage over the years, but being basically a large basin, it’s very difficult to stop the runoff forming rivers across the track. It’s a tough place to race when the weather isn’t cooperating.
The Brazilian Grand Prix generates some adverse press, and yes, the teams and F1 staff going to the race tend to be a little wary when leaving the circuit in the evenings – but it’s also a very warm, friendly place in a culture that loves motorsport and has created some of the greatest racing drivers the world has ever seen. In the pitlane, opposite the narrow start-finish straight from heaving, noisy grandstands, it’s the positives of racing in Brazil that come to the fore. It’s a great atmosphere and we love going there.
We’ve had some great days at Interlagos. It’s the circuit where we won our first title: the Constructors’ Championship back in 2010. The outside world tends to fixate on the Drivers’ Championship. We know and understand why that is – but inside the F1 paddock, being Constructors’ World Champion is the one everybody wants. The Drivers’ Championship is celebrated just as hard though, and winning that in 2012 at Interlagos was just about as tense as things have ever been in this team: Sebastian Vettel limped over the line in sixth position, with a badly damaged car to take his third title.
Our four victories at Interlagos have been, if anything, slightly less dramatic. Mark Webber won in 2009 and 2011 and Seb in 2010 and 2013. The latter was a special day: it was a record ninth consecutive victory for Seb, and his 38th and final win for us. It was also Mark Webber’s final race in F1. He came home second, ensuring one of the most successful partnerships in the history of the sport ended with another 1-2 finish. Mark did his valedictory in-lap with his helmet off in one of the defining moments of the era. Mark’s departure came five years after we’d said goodbye to David Coulthard at Interlagos. Sadly, David’s final race, in a one-off Wings for Life livery, didn’t survive the first lap – but we gave DC a good send-off anyway.
For our current pairing, Interlagos has been something of a mixed bag. For Daniel, it’s been a bogey circuit at which he’s often struggled to find his rhythm, never finishing higher than sixth. Max has done a little better: he’s set the fastest lap in both of his two visits with the team – but he’s best remembered for a charge through the pack from last to third in torrential rain two years ago, finding grip and lines that simply didn’t seem available to other people.