ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 13 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The Brazilian GP Preview

Interlagos, Sao Paulo by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Formula One stays in the tropics for the third round of the 2001 season, going to Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace is named after the great Brazilian Formula One driver who scored his only Grand Prix victory on this circuit in 1975 but, tragically, was killed in a plane crash in 1977. A total of 20 Brazilians have raced in Formula One since 1950, and four of them will be competing on Sunday. Jordan's test driver and Curituba native, Ricardo Zonta, explains why there have been a new wave of Brazilian drivers: "There are lots of go-kart tracks in Brazil and many kids take up karting when they are young, which is definitely the motivation for moving to F1. With quite a few Brazilian drivers of the same generation now in CART, and five of us in F1, I think it's also fair to say that our fathers were probably a big source of motivation to our driving because of Ayrton Senna."

The four current Brazilian Formula One drivers are Rubens Barrichello, Luciano Burti, Enrique Bernoldi and Tarso Marques. But Brazilian drivers haven't scored a point at Interlagos since Rubens Barrichello finished 4th in 1994. Can Ferrari's Barrichello add to Brazil's glory in the 30th Brazilian Grand Prix this Sunday?

Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America, housing an estimate of 17 million people, including descendants of Italian and Japanese immigrants. Much is publicised about the poverty, violence and pollution in Sao Paulo, but this culturally diverse city has another cultural side that is supported by a highly skilled, cultured and well-educated middle class. Sao Paulo is built on a plateau and is very close to the Tropic of Capricorn. In the dry, Interlagos tends to be hot, humid and dusty. Rain in Sao Paulo is always a possibility - last year's qualifying ended with rain and the start of the 1996 race was a wash-out. Fortunately, the surface of Interlagos dries quickly. Altitude also affects the set-up, as Gary Anderson, former technical director of Jaguar and Jordan, explains: "In Brazil you run a high downforce setting on the car but because of the high altitude you lose about 10 per cent of the downforce."

The Interlagos circuit was one of the first tracks to combine a fast perimeter with a twisty infield section. In its current form, Interlagos is the third shortest Grand Prix circuit and is one of the slowest. This was not always so. In 1990, the circuit's length was shortened from 7.874 to 4.325 Km (4.893 to 2.687 miles). Last year, there were some track changes that resulted in the current 4.309 Km (2.677 miles) length. Also, some new safety changes have been introduced at the track for this year's event.

Interlagos presents a real test of driving skill, with many changes in elevation and several challenging corners, including some with advense camber. Adding to the complexity, the section from the Curva do Sol to the Ferradura was run in the opposite direction in the original 7.874 km track! There are two good passing opportunities: at Senna's S at the end of the pit straight, and at Descida do Lago, at the end of the Reta Oposta.

Interlagos is a pain in the neck!

The Interlagos track is built on unstable soil and is one of the bumpiest circuits in the calendar, despite regular resurfacing. It was completely resurfaced in 2000 but the surface had broken up at several points by the end of the race weekend. Jaguar's Eddie Irvine wryly observed, "I hear they have resurfaced a lot of it since last year, but I'm not holding my breath, because the last time they did that, it seemed to make it worse!" The circuit is extremely hard on both man and machine, with cramps and driver fatigue becoming major problems.

Interlagos is unusual because, like Imola and Kyalami, it is run in an anti-clockwise direction, hence the majority (10 out of 15) of corners are left-handers. "Because drivers regularly race and test on clockwise tracks," McLaren's David Coulthard explains, "this can cause some discomfort on the left hand side of the neck, which isn't as used to experiencing g-force loads as the right side." Despite these drawbacks, many drivers thoroughly enjoy Interlagos.

Sauber's Technical Director, Willy Rampf, explained the challenges presented by Interlagos: "Interlagos is quite a different track to Melbourne and Malaysia, so it poses special challenges. There are two long straights: past the pits and along the back of the circuit. Then there is also the tight infield complex followed by the long climb to the start/finish line. It's quite difficult to strike the right compromise there, especially as you need very different set-ups for qualifying and for the race. For qualifying you need high downforce to handle the infield, but for the race you need high top speed so you can overtake on the straights. You also need to pay a lot of attention to mechanical set-up, with the springs and rollbars, to find the most suitable means of dealing with the circuitīs serious bumps."

BMW Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger, added: "Both the Melbourne and Sepang circuits required a higher level of downforce, which was quite difficult to achieve due to this year's rule changes. Interlagos is going to be the first track of the 2001 calendar where less downforce is required. In Sao Paulo again, we will have to deal with high temperatures, but no different to that we have already experienced, anyway. In Interlagos the engine power is very important on the circuit's two long straights, one of which, furthermore, is uphill."

Honda Racing Development's technical director, Kazutoshi Nishizawa, agreed: "Interlagos is basically a mid-speed circuit, but the throttle is fully open for a reasonably high percentage of the time. The fast last corner and uphill pit straight following it are the main areas where a powerful engine can bring an advantage." Benetton's Director of Engineering, Pat Symonds concluded, "The engineers need to cope with a number of different challenging corners and the cars need to be set up to use the curves well in the low-speed corners but also to ride the bumps which, although less than in previous years, can cause problems. The possibility of heavy rain is always present in Brazil and can be similar to that seen in Malaysia last week - with little warning and very heavy downpours. Over the years though, this has led to some exciting races."

Pitstops and Tyre Strategy

The surface of Interlagos is quite abrasive and the tyres will wear more quickly than in Melbourne. Michelin's Competition Director, Pierre Dupasquier, explained: "Interlagos is a superb track, but extremely demanding on tyres because of the endless turns. You have to turn into each one, hold it through the bend and then come away before setting up for the next one" Right-hand tyres also tend to wear out more quickly than the left-hand ones due to the anti-clockwise direction of the track. Dupasquier added, "We were just 3/10th of a second off pole and set second fastest lap time in Sepang. We will be working with our partners to build on the lessons learnt from this performance and Interlagos will once again provide another excellent testing opportunity for us! We're still a long way from optimising all the parameters involved in this sport, but Interlagos should help us to gain a clearer understanding with a view to providing drivers with better products before the end of the year. But we don't expect miracles in Brazil. The little time available to the teams between Asia and South America doesn't leave much room for innovation."

Michelin and Bridgestone will each provide two types of dry tyre and three types of rain tyre at Interlagos.

Michael Schumacher won last year's race on a two-stop strategy. Jordan adopted a tortoise-and-hare strategy with Frentzen on a one-stop and Trulli on a two stop strategy, while all the other finishers were on a one-stop strategy. The pitstop window is very wide at Interlagos: those on a one-stop strategy pitted between laps 35 to 51 while those on a two stop pitted between laps 20 and 28 and laps 51 to 56. Benetton's Pat Symonds observed, "Interlagos has the longest pitlane of the Formula One circuits." Attrition has been variable at Interlagos, ranging from 18 finishers in 1997 to only 9 in 1999. Gearbox failures have been the most common mechanical problems.

Down the Pitlane

Ferrari lead the Constructors' Championship by 19 points. Ferrari must also be considered the favourite to win at Interlagos, after their one-two victory at Malaysia. Ferrari have won twice (1990 and 2000) at Interlagos and have finished in the points over the last seven years with a total of 59 points.

Michael Schumacher leads the Drivers' Championship by 10 points. Schumacher admitted, "It will probably be another tough race for us and the cars. It can be very hot in Brazil combined with the humidity, although not as bad as Malaysia I hope. We have proven the car's reliability in two tough races right at the start of the season, which is encouraging going into the Brazilian race."

Schumacher, being aware that a DNF on Sunday would leave the door open to his teammate Rubens Barrichello or McLaren's David Coulthard to equal his current points tally, continued, "You can never be sure of finishing a race at any time of the season, but the team have done an incredible job with this year's car, which has survived not only the rigors of racing on the track but also off it as well. Nobody likes to race in the wet as it makes things a lot more risky, but if we do get a wet race it's nice to know that the car is so strong in wet conditions."

Schumacher is, however, the most successful and consistent driver at Interlagos, having finished in the points in every single Brazilian Grand Prix that he has entered. 1997 was the only year in which he did not have a podium finish. Furthermore, Schumacher won there three times - in 1994 and 1995 for Benetton and in 2000 for Ferrari. And, although Schumacher has set pole position at 6 circuits in a row, he has never set pole position at Interlagos. Instead, he qualified second in 1994, 1995 and 1997. Schumacher set the race lap record of 1:14.755 in 2000 and he also set fastest lap in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

Rubens Barrichello is second equal in the Drivers' Championship. For this Paulistano, this is truly a home Grand Prix. Barrichello confessed, "It would be the dream of a lifetime to win my home race and I will certainly be doing all I can to beat Michael to the chequered flag. When you have your whole country behind you it certainly adds to your motivation and determination to do well. It's a lot of extra pressure, but a positive one. I had a disappointing result last year when an engine problem put me out early in the race. My first goal is to make it to the finish, to be the first one there will certainly be a welcome bonus."

Barrichello has only completed the Brazilian Grand Prix once, when he finished 4th for Jordan in 1994. Barrichello led for 25 laps of the 1999 race in a Stewart-Ford and for two laps of last year's race. Barrichello has qualified well, taking second position on the grid in 1996 and third in 1999.

McLaren are second in the Constructors' Championship. McLaren have been struggling with understeer and lack of balance in the MP4/16. Team Principal Ron Dennis declared, "At both Australia and Malaysia we have seen the capability of the MP4-16, through both reliability and speed, and we aim to show that the work carried out in testing will enable the team to harness the maximum potential of the car at Interlagos. We haven't sunk deep. We'll soon be back where people expect to see us - at the top."

Mixing his metaphors, Dennis said, "Anyone who is thinking of writing us off are burning their bridges too early. We had the very best car right from the beginning of the season for three great years; now we only have a good one." McLaren have won the Brazilian Grand Prix four times (1991, 1993, 1998 and 1999) and have scored a total of 70 points at the modern Interlagos.

Mika Hakkinen is seventh equal in the Drivers' Championship, after scoring the hardest-earned point of his career at Sepang. Hakkinen reflected, "We always enter a race weekend with the intention of winning and this is the key target for Brazil. The team and myself are working as hard as possible to secure the desired result. I enjoy racing at Interlagos as the Brazilian fans have a real passion for the sport and the atmosphere is always fantastic."

Hakkinen won the 1998 and 1999 Grand Prix and finished 4th in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Hakkinen has been on pole position for the last three Brazilian Grands Prix and set the qualifying record of 1:14.111 in 2000 as well as the fastest lap in 1998 and 1999. In last year's race, Hakkinen retired after leading for nine laps.

David Coulthard is second equal in the Drivers' Championship. Coulthard stated, "Interlagos is a greater physical challenge than some of the other tracks, and it demands a high level of fitness, which I have been focusing on over the winter, the circuit also offers genuine overtaking opportunities, in particular through the first corner, adding to the interest of the race. Historically, the Brazilian race has been successful for the McLaren team and I hope we can continue this trend in 2001."

Coulthard finished second in his Brazilian Grand Prix debut in 1995 for Williams and again in 1998 for McLaren. In last year's race Coulthard produced what Ron Dennis described as a "remarkable drive" to finish 2nd, without 3rd gear, only to be disqualified because the nose of his McLaren had twisted in its mountings and one wing end-plate was ruled to be too low by the FIA. Coulthard has qualified second in the last three Brazilian Grand Prix.

Williams are 5th in the constructor's championship. Team Principal Sir Frank Williams stated, "I am really looking forward to this race to be competitive once again. A good long straight presents very good passing opportunities beyond the pits. I've always thought Interlagos provided a fine track for exciting racing. Let's hope we're part of the action."

BMW's Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger, observedL: "The Malaysian heat turned out being very positive for Michelin, and also on the engine side we could get further trust in our reliability. All in all we are looking confidently at the Brazilian Grand Prix where we hope to collect some more points."

Williams cars have seen the chequered flag at Interlagos many times, winning three times (1992, 1996 and 1997) and finishing in the points in all races at the modern Interlagos, with a total of 67 points. Williams have the advantage of testing the FW23-BMW at Kyalami, another high-altitude, anti-clockwise circuit.

Ralf Schumacher is 6th in the Drivers' Championship. Ralf stated: "The Brazilian Grand Prix is amongst the most demanding races of the F1 calendar. The Interlagos track should be a really good one for us, a bit like Malaysia. Usually in Brazil it's very warm, which helps our tyres and doesn't affect our engine, which is very good anyway. I see problems only if it should rain, because on a wet track or when it's drying out, we still have some gaps. I hope that the track surface has been really improved, because in the past years I experienced a real pounding so much so that after a few laps I already had a headache. Otherwise I am very pleased to enjoy again the great Brazilian steaks!"

Ralf finished 4th in 1999 and was classified 5th in last year's race. His highest grid position was 8th in 1998.

Juan Pablo Montoya declared: "The Brazilian GP should be a positive race weekend, as Interlagos is a good track for us. But theoretically Malaysia wasn't supposed to be a good track for us and we were pretty quick, so you can never tell. I've never been there [Interlagos] but I have fond memories of Brazil because I've raced in Rio de Janeiro with the Champ Cars and I won there. It should be pretty exciting, as this is the closest race to my country. I expect to see lots of Colombian fans there and this will be a really great sensation. This week I had one day of testing in Barcelona and now I'm spending a couple of days in Madrid with my girlfriend. I need to recover, as I am still a bit jet-lagged: in the morning I am still waking up at 5:00 am Before flying to Sao Paulo I will spend a few days in Colombia."

Benetton are still struggling to finish races in 2001. Technical director, Mike Gascoyne, explained: "Malaysia was obviously a tough race with the high temperatures, but we were pleased in general with the reliability of the cars, which was a step forward from Australia, the first race of the season. Last week we tested in Barcelona for four days, with Mark Webber driving the B200 and working on tyres and electronic systems, whilst Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella ran in the B201 looking at performance work. We also tested a new bodywork package with several major updates and this will be incorporated on the cars in Brazil. The new aero-package gave us positive results in testing and so we hope it will help us improve our performance in comparison to our competitors."

Benetton have been a consistent team at Interlagos, winning twice (1994 and 1995) and finishing in the points in every Brazilian Grand Prix from 1990 through 2000 except for 1999, scoring a total of 44 points. This is the first anniversary of Renault's takeover of Benetton and of Flavio Briatore's second empire.

Giancarlo Fisichella was classified second in last year's race by starting on full-tanks and making a single very late pitstop, but this proved to be a false dawn for Benetton. Fisichella also finished 6th in 1998. Fisichella's highest grid position was 5th, in 1999 and 2000. Jenson Button scored his first Formula One points at Interlagos, when he was classified 6th after qualifying 9th in last year's race.

BAR's Chief Engineer, Steve Farrell, stated last week: "Having not tested since before Melbourne we had a long list of development work to try out and we have achieved our objectives. At the end of this test we are happy with the progress and feel that we are in a good position for Brazil." BAR have yet to score a point at Interlagos, their only finish was Ricardo Zonta's 9th place in 2000. Like Williams, BAR also have the advantage of testing the BAR 003-Honda at Kyalami.

Olivier Panis made his Formula One debut at Interlagos in 1994, finished 6th in the 1996 Brazilian Grand Prix for Ligier, 3rd in 1997 and 6th in 1999 for Prost. Panis's highest grid position was 5th, also in 1997. Jacques Villeneuve swept the board in 1997, setting pole position, fastest lap and winning but hasn't score a point since then.

Jordan are third in the constructor's championship. Team Principal Eddie Jordan declared: "Third in the Championship is where the team wants to stay. The first two races have gone well for us, but we are up against stiff competition. Heinz has finished third in Brazil for two years running, so if we can maintain that form and see Jarno in the points too, it would be perfect."

Jordan have scored 14 points at Interlagos. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, now fourth in the Drivers' Championship, commented: "I enjoy the circuit and we have seen some good races there in the past with good overtaking manoeuvers. The track was re-surfaced before the 2000 Grand Prix which reduced the lap times, but the bumps are still quite bad. This is a circuit where no tooth-filling is safe!" Frentzen finished third in 1999 and 2000 for Jordan, and 5th in 1998 for Williams. His highest grid position was third, also in 1998.

"Interlagos is a very nice circuit, but it is technical and tough and very twisty," said Jarno Trulli. "I always like driving in Brazil as the circuit suits my driving style and I have always been strong there, so I hope for more good results. Last year we scored our first points at this race so I would like a repeat performance." Trulli finished 4th in last year's race. His only other finish was 12th in 1997 for Minardi, while his highest grid position was 12th in 1998 for Prost and again in 2000 for Jordan.

Arrows Team Principal Tom Walkinshaw stated: "We've been testing for four days in Barcelona this week, working on various set ups and have learned more about the car, so hopefully we can do well for the race. The team's very up-beat after Jos' performance in Malaysia, so we're hoping to continue the good form and get both cars to the finish, perhaps in the points if we have a bit of luck." Arrows were unlucky to have left Malaysia without any points and they demonstrated that the Peugeot-derived Asiatech engine is not the lemon that many pundits expected it to be.

Jos Verstappen had a very impressive drive at Malaysia and he declared: "I am still very motivated after Malaysia which was great and last year's race here was quite good too. I was running in third for a while so hopefully we can make the car a little bit better and have another good race. I had trouble with the strain on my neck last year but this time around I'm a lot fitter so I'm not expecting any problems." In last year's race, Verstappen was classified seventh after making his way up to third in mid-race. Verstappen's only other finish at Interlagos was 15th in 1997 for Tyrrell. His highest grid position was nineth in 1994 with Benetton.

Arrow have effectively been a one-driver team so far this season, since Curitiba's Enrique Bernoldi has only completed 5 laps in his first two Grands Prix. Bernoldi confessed, "It's the third race of the year and my home Grand Prix. Obviously I want to finish the race this time, especially as it will be in front of my friends and family. I like the Interlagos track very much. It has a good combination of fast and slow corners but is physically very demanding."

Sauber are 4th in the Constructors' Championship. At Malaysia, Sauber couldn't follow up on their success at Melbourne and opted not to test at Barcelona, instead concentrating on aerodynamic components in Switzerland. Sauber have scored one point at Interlagos with Karl Wendlinger's 6th place finish in 1994. In last year's race, Sauber wisely withdrew both cars from the race, after Mika Salo suffered a rear-wing failure during qualifying.

Nick Heidfeld has slipped to 5th in the Drivers' Championship after spinning off at Sepang. Heidfeld stated, "I am definitely looking forward to racing at Interlagos. It's a different sort of track so itīs difficult to predict how we will go. The weather is due to be as warm and sunny than in Australia and Malaysia, but the climate could also bring some rain. Interlagos is interesting too for tyres as the track is renowned to be bumpy. I also wish to find the quickest combination for qualifying. I kept my physical level up since the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix as driving through the bumps is very uncomfortable: you get some very hard shocks on your whole body. Also usually muscles on the left of your neck are not as strong as on the right-hand side." In last year's race Heidfeld did not finish after qualifying 19th for Prost.

Kimi Raikkonen has slipped to 7th equal in the Drivers' Championship, tying with his compatriot Mika Hakkinen. Raikkonen admitted, "Interlagos is another new circuit for me to learn. It doesn't worry me to know that it is anti-clockwise and considered as one of the toughest of the year in the calendar. The track is difficult because it is very bumpy. It is a lot of work to find a special set up for that, unlike any other track in the F1 calendar. I'm looking forward to driving there, and to challenging again for some points."

Jaguar had a mixed start to the 2001 season. Jaguar's Team Principal, Bobby Rahal, stated: "I'm reasonably pleased with the progress we are making, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us. As I said in Malaysia, we must make better use of track time during the free practice sessions, that in turn will help optimise the set-up of the Jaguar R2 in qualifying and race trim. Eddie has been missing the 'Luck of the Irish' during the first two races and given the rate at which we are meeting our reliability targets, I'm obviously keen to see both cars race without interruptions from other drivers. We know Interlagos is a very challenging track and the heat will certainly help dictate the outcome of this race. Reliability will subsequently play a key role and our efforts to address this have so far been pleasing. We've just finished a three-day test in Barcelona with all three drivers and I'm pleased with what we addressed and achieved."

Jaguar have been the hub of the rumour mill of the past month with speculations that CART driver Dario Franchitti definitely will/will not test for Jaguar; Luciano Burti will/will not be fired to make way for test driver Pedro de la Rosa; and Eddie Irvine will/will not be fired for Foot-in-Mouth disease. All of this is a little absurd, since Jaguar's technical problems won't be solved by shuffling drivers. Bobby Rahal's last word was, "With regard to recent media speculation about the immediate future of Luciano, I can only reiterate my words from Malaysia in that Eddie and Luciano are our drivers."

Neither Jaguars finished last year's race, and Stewart-Ford had a terrible record at Interlagos with only one 10th place finish provided by Jan Magnusson in 1998. Eddie Irvine was self-effacing in his comments. "My track record in Brazil isn't exactly brilliant," the Ulsterman said. "My only points finish from seven starts was a fifth place in 1999. The Interlagos circuit is very demanding. Physically it is tough, partly because of the fact it is left-handed and also because it is very bumpy. If the track is something of a car breaker, then that might just do us a favour as the R2 seems to be a strong car. At last week's testing in Barcelona, we concentrated on traction control work in anticipation of the Spanish GP, but we also tried a few new aerodynamic modifications and hopefully these might up our general performance level in Brazil." Irvine has scored two point at Interlagos, finishing 5th in 1999 for Ferrari. Irvine's highest grid positions were 6th in 1998 and 1999 with Ferrari.

Sao Paulo native Luciano Burti admitted, "I don't know Interlagos well as I've only ever raced there once in Formula Ford. When I was young, I also remember watching races from the grandstand and to come back as a driver in front of my home fans is something I can't wait for. My goal now is to help improve the car and finish higher than we have so far managed."

Minardi did not test at Barcelona last week but should be encouraged by three classifications in the first two races of the 2001 season. Fernado Alonso has been impressive in his consistency, finishing in his first two Grand Prix. Curitiba native Tarso Marques made his Formula One debut at Interlagos in 1996. He qualified 21st but spun off on the first lap.

Prost have scored five points at Interlagos, with Olivier Panis finishing 3rd in 1997 and 6th in 1999. Team Principal Alain Prost won the Brazilian Grand Prix a record six times, including once at Interlagos in 1990.

Jean Alesi is the only driver to have competed in every Grand Prix at the modern Interlagos. Alesi finished in the points in six of these eleven races, with a total of 17 points. Alesi's best finish was second in 1996 for Benetton and his highest grid position was third in 1994 with Ferrari. In last year's qualifying, Alesi's Prost was hit by advertising placards and fortunately escaped injury. Gaston Mazzacane finished 10th after qualifying 21st in last year's race for Minardi.

My Predictions:

If it is dry, I'm going to pick McLaren, Ferrari and Jordan as the top three teams during qualifying.

Starting grid:

  1. Mika Hakkinen,
  2. Michael Schumacher,
  3. David Coulthard,
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Heinz-Harald Frentzen,
  6. Ralf Schumacher,
  7. Jacques Villeneuve
  8. Olivier Panis
  9. Jarno Trulli,
  10. Kimi Raikonnen
  11. Juan-Pablo Montoya
  12. Nick Heidfeld

The Brazilian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • Only champions win at Interlagos. Since 1994, the winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix has gone on to win the World Drivers' Championship of that year. Furthermore, since the Brazilian Grand Prix returned to Interlagos in 1990, the race winner has been either a World Champion or a future World Champion. Will the winner of the 30th Brazilian Grand Prix be the 2001 World Drivers' Champion again?

  • Will Ferrari's Michael Schumacher make it seven wins in a row? Unless Schumacher retires, Ferrari is unlikely to let Barrichello win his home Grand Prix.

  • Can McLaren find a balanced set-up at Interlagos? Hakkinen and Coulthard will both be looking for podium finishes to challenge for the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships.

  • Jordan are the Best of the Rest with Sauber close behind.

  • The Kyalami factor: Will BAR and Williams have an advantage after testing on an anti-clockwise track at high altitude?

  • Always in the points at Interlagos: Williams and Michael Schumacher.

  • Ewan Tytler© 1995-2005 Kaizar.Com, Inc.
    Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

     Back to Atlas F1 Front Page   Tell a Friend about this Article