You have to love the Brazilian Grand Prix, an event full of history and drama, even if the championship is over, which is of course the case in Formula 1 2022.
Who would have thought back in 2008 when Lewis Hamilton broke Brazilian hearts by snatching the world championship from Felipe Massa with the, “Is that Glock?” (yes it was Mr Brundle) moment, that he would be made an honorary citizen of the country.
That’s what happened this week at a ceremony at the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia, 12 months on from Hamilton‘s spectacular weekend in Sao Paulo when he overcame the odds to win, having been disqualified from qualifying and being shoved off the track my Max Verstappen in the race.
If there’s going to be a surprise, it will happen in Brazil so don’t expect a simple win for Verstappen this weekend.
One last chance for Mercedes
Abu Dhabi has Red Bull written all over it so Brazil is almost certainly the last chance for Hamilton to keep his record of winning a race in every F1 season he’s competed in.
There are more factors at stake in Interlagos such as safety cars, rain, incidents – all of which can provide opporunities.
Look at the 2016 race, which was arguably the last genuinely wet Grand Prix, 2018 when Esteban Ocon spun around Verstappen who was about to lap the Force India driver, 2019 had 20 laps of chaos at the end and 2021, as we mentioned above.
The cauldron that’s created by Interlagos throws up wild moments and it’s rarely straightforward for the race winner.
Mercedes were better than expected in Mexico City and, in theory, should be even closer to Red Bull.
Everything will have to come together for Hamilton or George Russell, but there will be, deep down, extra motivation to do well.
“My focus is maximising the next two races,” said the seven-time world champion. “I think us as a team is focused on making sure that we have a car that we can compete with next year.
“Every time we arrive at a track, we are surprised one way or the other, at how big the gap is, or how close we are.
“I don’t know if the car will be spectacular here. I don’t know if we will be as close as we were in Mexico. I don’t think we will.
“But I hope we’re surprised and it’s not the case. We know where our car is going to work and what corners it won’t work. I anticipate it’s not going to be the easiest on track.
“But there’s weather that come into it. Out of the next two races, this is the the best option we’ll have.”
Verstappen looking to break more records
He might already have the most wins in a season, but for Verstappen to have the best percentage win record, he needs to stand on the top step of the podium in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull can also match McLaren‘s of 11 consecutive wins for a constructor, if Verstappen or Perez are victories in the final two rounds.
It might have become a bit dull in the second half of the season, but it’s potentially one for the record books. Who would have thought that in the early part of the year?
“It’s always nice to be back in Brazil, it’s beautiful here and so rich in culture,” said Verstappen.
“Interlagos is a short track and with all the elevation changes and cambered corners, it’s a really cool track to drive. There’s obviously a lot of history at the track too, which I love.
“The sprint race set up this weekend means we only have a short practice window, so that always makes it a slightly more difficult, ensuring that the car is perfect and that we set up the car well with limited time.
“As a team we want to finish first and second in the championship so it’s important that we make sure Checo stays ahead of Charles.”
F1 sprint is back
Verstappen has been very clear that he doesn’t like sprint race, an opinion shared by some, but not all of the paddock.
F1 sprint has divided opinion and the person who is writing this agrees with the two-time world champion on this one.
“I’m not a big fan of it because I feel like we don’t really race,” Verstappen told the press. “Ok there are a few points but you also know you can’t really risk it because the bigger points are on Sunday
“We don’t do pit stops, we put on a tyre which can last the distance. With the current cars it might be a bit better to race, but overall we don’t see a lot of overtaking unless a car is out of position.
“It’s not really fun for me. I like one practice then straight qualifying and you need to really nail the setup, but I always feel when I go into a sprint race to play safe.”
Your writer here thinks it’s like having a 30-minute football match, stopping, then continuing the next day with the 90-minute game. Why would you do that?
Anyway, we can save the sprint debate for another day, it’s not like we haven’t had it already…
Another element of unknown due to F1 sprint
One positive of F1 sprint though is that it will punish teams who don’t find a good setup in the opening practice session on Friday, before qualifying.
It puts more emphasis on the simulator work that’s done before an event and offers up the possibility for a surprise or two.
But, as has been proven in the previous five sprint races, a driver in a top team is given a get out of jail free card to get back where they should belong for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
“Sao Paulo is still significantly above sea level and is a tricky circuit for the drivers to optimise,” said Williams‘ head of vehicle performance Dave Robson.
“We will aim to finalise the power-unit and brake cooling setup early in FP1 and then work on the setup ahead of the evening qualifying session.
“It is likely that a long DRS train will form in the sprint race and so overtaking may be difficult.
“Therefore, qualifying is very important, and this will be our primary focus until FP2. The Grand Prix will depend heavily on the performance of the tyres, which this weekend is from the middle of the Pirelli range.
“The track temperature will play a part on the tyre behaviour and, with the forecast currently looking tropical with rain and thunderstorms in the area on most days, it could be difficult to predict the optimum tyre strategy until the race is underway. Overtaking in the Grand Prix should be easier than in the sprint race.”
A standing start in the wet on either Saturday and/or Sunday (which is forecast) would invite carnage in the first sector, another element which is less likely to happen at other tracks.
McLaren v Alpine
Alpine are just seven points ahead of McLaren for fourth place in the constructors’ championship which will go down to Abu Dhabi. Without numerous reliability issues for Fernando Alonso, Alpine would be further ahead.
They should have another great chance to extend their advantage since the strong aero-efficiency of the car will probably make them the midfield team to beat, and they may not be too far away from Ferrari.
“We thought the fight for fourth position in the constructors’ would go to the very end in Abu Dhabi and it looks as though this will be the case,” said Alonso.
“We know when we have a clean weekend without any issues then we have a fast car that is more than capable of scoring points. We’ll keep pushing until the very end!”
McLaren desperately need Daniel Ricciardo to produce be on form again, and will be willing Lando Norris‘ food poisoning doesn’t hamper his performance.
Ferrari could be more towards McLaren and Alpine rather than the front because they look all out of sorts for a mixture of reasons.
Their straight line speed has been down since Carlos Sainz‘ engine blowout at the Austrian GP, a lack of development has seen them fall back and tyre wear seems to be a fundamental problem of the F1-75.
Sainz may take an engine penalty too for new power unit elements so Leclerc could be in for a very quiet weekend. However, he is optimistic about Ferrari‘s chances in Sao Paulo.
“I can’t imagine being worse than Mexico, but I am pretty sure it will be better here,” said Leclerc.
“We were struggling with power unit performance in Mexico because of the altitude and probably didn’t get the perfect balance either which didn’t help.
“The combination of the two made us struggle a lot, but I’m confident we will be better here.
“There’s been quite a lot of analysis and I believe that we’re [nearing] the sweet spot of the car – and that caused all the problems – I won’t go too much into details, but it was very tricky to drive.
“Obviously you lose a bit of confidence and then you lose a little bit here and it adds up to an accumulation and means we just struggle more.”