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2015 Brazilian Grand Prix Preview

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Track: Autódromo José Carlos Pace, São Paulo, Brazil.
Scheduled number of laps: 71
Circuit length: 4.309 km (2.677 mi)
Number of turns: 15
Race distance: 305.909 km (190.067 mi)
Race start time: 16:00 BST, 14:00 Local Time
Lap record: 1:11.473 (Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams, 2004)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG Petronas, 1:10.023
2014 Race Winner: Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG Petronas
Tyre Compounds: Medium, Soft, Intermediate, Wet
Most Wins: Alain Prost (6)
Most Wins (Teams): McLaren (12)

Following F1’s memorable return to Mexican soil more than a week ago, it’s now Brazil’s turn to host its annual Grand Prix as Formula 1 travels to the southern hemisphere to the city of São Paulo. Autódromo José Carlos Pace, colloquially known simply as Interlagos, will act as the venue for the 44th running of the Brazilian Grand Prix, and round 18 of the 2015 Formula 1 calendar. 

The fight for both this year’s world titles is all done and dusted while the prospects of next season are starting to become the main focus of conversations in the paddock. Still, the last two races should answer all the questions left unanswered and will provide closure on some inter-team battles still ongoing. While the fight up front between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is not one of those battles, as Hamilton has already secured the crown back in Austin, it’s nevertheless worth noting that there has been an intersting development lately: Rosberg has managed to get back to his impressive 2014 qualifying groove as the German scored 4 pole positions in the last 4 races. However, beatean by Hamilton in Japan, struck by bad luck in Russia and again beaten by his teammate because of a late mistake in Austin, Nico Rosberg wasn’t able to fully capitalize on his recent improvements in pace. It all finally came together in Mexico though, as Rosberg was imperious all weekend and put Hamilton in his place by claiming pole, winning the race and then posting the fastest lap of the race on top of it all. Is that a sign of an incoming resurgence for Rosberg in 2016, or was his brillaint drive in Mexico just one of very few? It’s a question that could be partially answered this week in Brazil. It’s vital for Nico’s future ambitions to continue to push Hamilton, now that he’s buoyed by his recent performance, as it could give him the much needed bravado and inspiration going into 2016. Lewis, on the other hand, could afford to be more relaxed, but the fact that Interlagos is one of those very few circuits where the Briton hasn’t yet won is one hell of an incentive to push for the win.

For Scuderia Ferrari, the nightmare weekend in Mexico where both cars suffered DNFs for the first time since 2006 meant that their hopes of securing 2nd place in the Driver’s Standings with Sebastian Vettel are all but over. Vettel now trails Rosberg by 21 points and it would take a retirement of the Mercedes driver and a win for Sebastian for him to claim 2nd with two races to go. It’s surely a tall order, but as the recent Singapore or Hungarian Grands Prix showed, surprises could very well still happen.

Further down the standings, the gaps between the teams at the top are too big for any significant changes to happen in the last two races. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the Top 4 will remain the same, with Force India most likely to hold on to 5th place overall, given their run of good performances. However, Toro Rosso and Lotus are both in contention for 6th place, while Sauber and McLaren, as painful as it is to say, will battle it out to avoid finishing as the second-to-last team.

The situation is less clear in the Driver’s Standings, though. The 4th to 6th postions respectively held by Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa are separated by just 9 points while the Red Bull paring of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo – by a mere 4 points.

Given the characteristics of the track and their recent in-roads chassis-wise, Red Bull should look competitive once again this weekend. In Mexico, the RB11 chassis showed great nimbleness through the track’s second sector but lost out greatly on the straights. Interlagos is less reliant on straights than Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and puts more of an emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency meaning that Red Bull could show great race pace. However, with the team deciding to use the newly-upgraded Renault engine this weekend, it means that qualifying will be hindered by grid penalties for both Ricciardo or Kvyat or for at least one of them as Red Bull is yet to decide whether they will use the new engine on both cars or only on one.

Red Bull’s penalties will make Ferrari’s job to slot behind Mercedes in qualifying or maybe even challenge for a front-row start, much easier. Williams and Force India have the best chance to claim row 3, most most likely followed on the starting grid by Toro Rosso, Lotus, McLaren, Sauber and finally Manor.

For McLaren in particular, the race in Brazil could be the team’s last chance for a good points-scoring performace this year, as the track puts less of an emphasis on power, which the Honda PU so drastically lacks. Mexico was another weekend to forget for the Woking-based squad, where the combination of the unusually high altitude and long straights has taken a toll on the already problematic power units.

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Autódromo José Carlos Pace

Autódromo José Carlos Pace, known in the past as Interlagos, doesn’t really require any introduction. The iconic track acted as venue for the Brazilian Grand Prix 34 times since 1972 and is synonymous with motor racing in Brazil. Heavily renovated and shortened for its return 1990 after a period of absence, the circuit has been largely unchanged since then. A 4.3 km track with 15 turns, Interlagos is a circuit of contrasting nature and poses yet another challenge for drivers and mechanics to get the set-up of the car right. The first sector is mostly made up of long straights and begins with arguably one of the best corners in F1, the “Senna S”, a flowing series of left and right handers going downhill that leads to the long left-hander “Curva do Sol” followed by the long “Reta Oposta” straight. The second sector is radically different and is comprised of 8 low to medium speed turns that require a high amount of downforce to ensure proper braking, acceleration and speed through the corners. Finally, the third sector is more akin to the first, having one junction where a good exit is vital, then followed by several high speed turns and the main straight. Balancing decent straight line speed and the high downforce required for the 2nd sector is paramount in order to achieve the fastest lap time. The track is relatively easy on both tyres and breaks, and should pose less of a challenge than Mexico in that regard.

Out of the current drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa each won twice here while Nico Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button have one win each. Interestingly, Interlagos is where Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg has claimed his one and only career pole position so far back in 2010 when driving for Williams.

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Teammate battles (when both drivers were classified)

As the end of the season draws nearer, we are getting close to finding out the outcomes of some of this year’s most intense teammate battles. While in the case of Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus the winner has been already decided long ago, the fight is far from over at other teams like Red Bull, Williams and Toro Rosso. After Mexico, both Daniil Kvyat and Valtteri Bottas have gone ahead of their respective teammates on race results, while Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen is now one point ahead of Carlos Sainz in the pair’s qualifying battle, and leading the Spaniard 8-6 on race results. Also worth noting is the duo at the back of the grid: Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi. The latter, having raced for Manor on 4 occasions since his debut in Singapore, now outscores the more experienced Will Stevens 3-0 on race results. It looks better and better for the American’s ambitions of securing a seat with the team for next year.

Here are the full statistics:

Mercedes AMG Petronas:
Qualifying: Hamilton 12 – 5 Rosberg
Race: Hamilton 11 – 4 Rosberg

Scuderia Ferrari:
Qualifying: Vettel 14 – 3 Raikkonen
Race: Vettel 9 – 3 Raikkonen

Red Bull Racing:
Qualifying: Ricciardo 11– 6 Kvyat
Race: Ricciardo 6 – 7 Kvyat

Qualifying: Massa 7 – 9 Bottas
Race: Massa 6 – 7 Bottas

Force India:
Qualifying: Hulkenberg 12 – 5 Perez
Race: Hulkenberg 6 – 7 Perez

Qualifying: Grosjean 16 – 1 Maldonado
Race: Grosjean 11 – 3 Maldonado

Toro Rosso:
Qualifying: Sainz 6 – 7 Verstappen
Race: Sainz 6 – 8 Verstappen

Qualifying: Alonso 7 – 6 Button
Race: Alonso 5 – 7 Button

Qualifying: Nasr 7 – 8 Ericsson
Race: Nasr 8 – 4 Ericsson

Qualifying: Stevens 2 – 2 Rossi
Race: Stevens 0 – 3 Rossi

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What our Formula One writers say:  

Dan Culyer (Formula One Lead Writer and Sports Editor): “Interlagos is one of my favourite race tracks and was the host of one of the most thrilling and pulsating final championship showdowns I have ever witnessed in 2008, where Lewis Hamilton secured the title on the penultimate corner of the race.  All of the legends in the sport have won here, and having recently cemented his status as an all-time great in the Sport, Hamilton will be eager to claim his first win on Brazilian soil, especially after saying it would be a fitting ‘tribute to Senna’. He faces stiff competition from his team-mate though, as the German has had somewhat of a renaissance in recent outings. Hamilton will look to re-establish his dominance, and I expect him to claim his 11th win of the season here.  Ferrari will also be strong, and Red Bull have made encouraging steps in recent races. McLaren could be in for another tough weekend, and Williams will most likely be in another dogfight with Toro Rosso and Force India.  Interlagos always throws up the odd surprise though, so it wouldn’t be too unusual for the grid to have a bit of a shake-up this week! I expect another thrilling race this year!

Alex Brașovan (Formula One writer): “If the weather doesn’t throw in any surprises, it should be another dominant affair by Mercedes AMG Petronas. The real question is whether Nico Rosberg will be able to continue his recent good form, or will Lewis Hamilton finally achieve his first win in Brazil. Both seem pretty determined to do well, so it would be interesting to follow their on-track squabble. Other than that, I think Ferrari won’t be far behind and could potentially fight for 2nd place or even more. Red Bull will surely benefit from improved race pace with their new engine, but incoming grid penalties will severely hurt their chances of a podium finish. I expect Williams to finish somewhere in the top 8 and I predict another decent haul of points for Force India, with Sergio Perez finishing ahead of his team mate. As for McLaren, a top 10 finish here is not impossible, assuming they won’t once again suffer from reliability woes”


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