Brazilian Grand Prix 2005 Preview

The World Championship has never been decided in Brazil before, but there is a high chance that Fernando Alonso will become the youngest ever World Driver’s Champion at Interlagos this weekend. Fittingly, he is set to eclipse the record of Brazilian twice-champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

Third place will be good enough for Alonso, even if Raikkonen wins. Raikkonen’s best hope of winning the championship requires him to win the remaining three races with Alonso scoring no more than five points. Barring injury to Alonso, this is preposterously unlikely.

The constructor’s championship is a far more enticing prospect. Somehow, despite having a patently inferior car (in terms of outright speed) for much of the season, Renault are still clinging to a narrow six-point advantage of McLaren with three rounds remaining. McLaren clearly have the performance to win this title, but unreliability and misfortune may yet thwart them.

A few races ago, everyone was talking about the prospect of mid-field teams – Ferrari, BAR, Toyota – disrupting the championship battle by getting between Raikkonen and Alonso. By and large, this hasn’t happened. Toyota squandered chances to get either or both of their drivers in the running for victory in Belgium. Ferrari have dropped further back since their Hungary high and Jenson Button’s strongest performances in Turkey and Belgium only just brought him onto the tail of the leaders. With Renault bringing a substantial aerodynamic revision to Brazil, expect this to be another exclusively McLaren-Renault duel.

Rubens Barrichello will have his last race in front of his home fans as a Ferrari driver, and Felipe Massa his last race before replacing Rubens. Neither has fared well lately. Barrichello floundered in Belgium, and Massa self-destructed his strong run by changing to dry tyres too soon. The battle at Sauber has taken an interesting turn in recent races, with Jacques Villeneuve finally showing up his younger team-mate with some strong drives, notably in Belgium. Villeneuve is racing to keep his place in Formula One, potentially as team-mate to Nick Heidfeld at BMW in 2006.

There are a few other interesting championship battles to keep an eye on over the final races. Third place in the driver’s championship is disputed by Michael Schumacher (55) and Juan Pablo Montoya (50), with Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello slightly further behind. But for the untimely intervention of Antonio Pizzonia in Belgium, Montoya would have finally moved ahead of Schumacher, and he will be eager to finally turn the tables at Interlagos.

In the constructor’s championship Toyota (fourth, 80) have Ferrari (third, 90) in their sights for their best-ever championship result. BAR’s recovery from their horrific start to 2005 has taken them about as far as they can expect to get – sixth on 31, too far behind fifth-placed Williams (59) to get ahead. They are more likely to be looking over their shoulders at consistent point-scorers Red Bull (27) who could bump them with some late good fortune.

Brazilian Grand Prix history

Fittipaldi’s success in the 1972 championship precipitated the first championship Brazilian Grand Prix in 1973, which he also won. The race was held at Interlagos in Sao Paolo, as it is today, but the original circuit was far longer and more sinuous, winding in and out of itself in such a manner that from a bird’s-eye view it is difficult to tell in which direction the cars would have been circulating at each point.

The long and dauntingly quick circuit was used for five years until 1978, when the race was held at Jacarepagua in Rio de Janiero for the first time. After two more times at Interlagos, Jacarepagua became the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix for the rest of the eighties.

Like the original Interlagos, Jacarepagua was defined by its sweeping, high G-force bends and atypical anticlockwise configuration. In the early-eighties times of ground effect cars, the demands this placed upon the drivers were incredible. In 1982 the high heat and humidity were even more excessive than usual, and Riccardo Patrese retired with exhaustion after losing control of his car and spinning round in tiny circles, having lost all his bearings. Race winner Brazilian Nelson Piquet collapsed with fatigue on the podium – and that was before anyone told him he’d been disqualified on a technicality.

Through the eighties and into the nineties, Brazilians were spoiled for heroes with Piquet and Ayrton Senna notching up six championships between them. With both of them being Paulistas, it was little surprise that the world championship made its way back to Interlagos in 1990, even if the newly revised and shortened circuit wasn’t ready yet. Some would say it never has been since.

It must have been the bitterest gall to Senna that his nemesis Alain Prost clocked up Brazilian Grands Prix wins with such apparent ease. From 1982 to 1990 he won the race six times. That last one hurt Senna the most, as he was leading comfortably when he gambled with a late lunge to lap Satoru Nakajima’s Tyrrell, lost his front wing, and let Prost through to win.

Senna set things straight in 1991 with a dominant win despite a late scare when his McLaren stuck in sixth gear and rain began to fall. Powerless against Mansell in 1992, he took revenge on Prost the following year when the Frenchman crashed out in a sudden rain storm and Senna came storming through in at his sizzling wet-weather best. He lost his final home Grand Prix to Michael Schumacher, spinning out having been beaten by the Benetton on fuel strategy, and privately harbouring suspicions that his rival’s traction system was not legal.

For all Barrichello’s efforts, the last Brazilian home win is now twelve years ago. In recent years the ‘can Rubens do it?’ question has come to dominate the race and taken on an air of almost Shakespearian tragedy. He should have won in 1999, but a late change to the pit lane configuration ruined his planned fuel strategy and then his Stewart-Ford failed during the race. In 2001 he smashed into Ralf Schumacher on the opening lap and two years later retired from the lead, out of fuel.

In 2004 he had his best ever chance. Team mate Schumacher had written off his victory hopes with a crash in practice that left him way down the field, and, armed with the dominant F2004, Barrichello should have won. But Montoya and Raikkonen made the running and came home first and second. It may prove to have been Rubens’ last shot at a home win.

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