Changing tracks: Interlagos

Brazilian Grand Prix

Once almost eight kilometres long with a two-and-a-half-minute lap, Interlagos has been halved in length since holding its first world championship race in 1973.

But the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix retains its distinctive character and, of course, the passionate Brazilian fans.

Interlagos, 1973

Length: 7.96km (4.946 miles)
Lap record: 2’34.160 (Jean-Pierre Jarier, Shadow)

Its proper title is the “Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace” (pronounced par-chay), named for the Brazilian driver who scored the only win of his F1 career at the track in 1975, and lost his life in a light aircraft accident in 1977.

But the Sao Paulo circuit is usually referred to simply as “Interlagos” meaning “between the lakes”. It refers to the nearby Guarapiranga and Billings reservoirs that supply water to the sprawling suburbs that surround the track.

Brazil’s most populous city has produced several F1 drivers including arguably its greatest star of all – Ayrton Senna.

The circuit held a non-championship race in 1972 and although only a dozen cars appeared, it won a place on the calendar the following year.

Pace was one of four Paulistas on the grid for F1’s first race at Interlagos in 1973, along with Luiz Bueno, Wilson Fittipaldi and his reigning champion brother Emerson. A dominant win by the latter gave the home crowd exactly what they came to see.

The track was first used in 1940 and held lower formulae races. Its addition to the world championship was thanks in part to the efforts of television station TV Globo who promoted races at the track for junior formulae as Fittipaldi moved up through the ranks.

In its original form Interlagos was almost twice the length it is today. From the start/finish line the drivers tackled a series of extremely fast and banked left-hand corners. They then swung into a long, serpentine infield section. The final sequence of corners was much the same as it is now.

The track was only used in this longer form for seven F1 races. The last of which, in 1980, was won by Rene Arnoux for Renault.

Here’s footage from the track as it was in 1973:

Interlagos, 2010

Length: 4.309km (2.677 miles)
Lap record: 1’11.473 (Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams)

After spending the best part of a decade at the Jacarepagua circuit in Rio de Janeiro, F1 returned to Interlagos in 1990. The track underwent substantial modifications and at its first race still looked unfinished in places, rather like Korea did more recently.

The track was substantially sanitised, with the fast outer portion almost entirely removed. Instead the first corner became an S-bend complex that cut through onto was used to be the infield section – albeit with the cars now travelling in the opposite direction.

They continue along Reta Oposta and into Subida do Lago – now re-shaped into a double-apex corner. From here they cut back onto a later section of the old track and into a familiar series of corners that double back on themselves – Laranja, Pinheirinho, Bico de Pato and Mergulho.

The last real corner on the track, Juncao, was re-profiled. The long climb back to the start/finish line begins here.

It curves left, and the lack of run-off on the right-hand side has been a problem in recent years, Fernando Alonso suffering a huge crash there which ended the race early in 2003.

Brazilian stock car driver Rafael Sperafico was killed in an accident there in 2007. Changes to the run-off have been made ahead of this year’s Grand Prix.

Senna failed to win the first race on the new Interlagos in 1990 after tangling with the lapped Saturo Nakajima. But he made amends with delirious victories in front of his home crowd in 1991 and 1993.

More recently another Paulista, Felipe Massa, won in 2006 and 2008 – though his second win was bittersweet as it was not enough to prevent him losing the world championship to Lewis Hamilton.

Fellow Sao Paulo native Rubens Barrichello has never managed to win his home race despite starting from pole position here in 2003, 2004 and 2009. Two more Paulistas, Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna, join them on the grid this year.

Interlagos has attracted criticism for its poor facilities in the past. Qualifying for the 2000 race had to be red-flagged after overhead advertising hoardings fell on the track.

But despite lacking the polish of Yas Marina, even in its reduced form Interlagos is widely regarded as one of the best tracks on the modern F1 calendar. It’s the second-shortest circuit currently in use and has the lowest lap time, meaning drivers are kept busy in traffic

After a few minor alterations to the track, including the re-positioning of the pit lane exit, the circuit hasn’t changed significantly since 2000. In 2004 it was moved from the beginning of the calendar to the end and has been the scene of every championship-deciding race since 2005.

Interlagos has a deserved reputation for providing excellent races. Though its place at the end of the season and the unpredictable weather play their part, the superb track deserves much of the credit too.

Here’s an introduction to the 1990 race on F1’s return to the venue and the start of the first Grand Prix on the revised Interlagos:

Interlagos, 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix

Interlagos, 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix

How F1 tracks have changed

Image ?? Brawn GP

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78 comments on Changing tracks: Interlagos

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  1. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st November 2010, 8:46

    Interlagos is terrible. There are no fancy suites for VIP and the pit facilities are reminiscent of the days when F1 wasn’t about money.

    I’m being sarcastic of course. Hopefully next year it will stay as the last race as it usually has been because I couldn’t think of anywhere better to go than here.

    • GeeMac (@geemac) said on 1st November 2010, 9:20

      I loved this comment!

      How dare F1 go to circuits that have real character and which produce fantastic racing at the expense of those poor, ultra important, ultra stylish VIP’s who don’t actually care about what is happening on track! It makes me sick!


    • BasCB said on 1st November 2010, 11:12

      Really bad, it is something for real fans only!
      Nice comment there.

    • spectator said on 1st November 2010, 12:26

      I miss the old european circuits

      • Looks like u dont like it. for me its my fav track :) So much action every year

        • Ronman said on 2nd November 2010, 8:58

          yeah F1 tracks without the posh suites and VIP areas are not cool. as if the racing happens in those areas… it’s all about the track… hotels overlooking the track do not spice the racing… great looks for the photos and postcards, but I’d rather see a focus on racing rather than architecture.

    • kevin peel said on 3rd November 2010, 11:04

      This will be the 1st time I have gone to the Brazilian GP.
      I have tickets for the Senna esses. Is it a free for all for the seats or are you allocated a seat as per the number on the back of your ticket.
      I’d appreciate any info on this please.

    • tharris19 said on 3rd November 2010, 13:10

      I too, would love to see Brazil back as the last race of the season.
      I know this is off topic but, Spa is on it’s last leg because of money issues. I wonder how FOM plan to handle it?

  2. Strange how Barrichello, the driver with the most number of career races never won his home race, despite if I’m not mistaken, growing up in one of the apartments within sight of the circuit (think it was his grandmother’s)…

  3. Dan Selby said on 1st November 2010, 9:03

    I love these ‘Changing Track’ sections Keith. Really interesting read.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st November 2010, 9:12

      Cheers Dan! There’s loads more on the other tracks in the “track history” links.

      • kowalsky said on 2nd November 2010, 6:29

        just an idea. Show the old spa, reims etc so the fans can go and drive them on their private cars the day after the race.

    • LewisC said on 1st November 2010, 11:45

      Hear hear, one of my favourite parts. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t realise Interlagos was so much longer originally…

    • macahan said on 1st November 2010, 14:12

      I have to agree with Dan Selby. Great read and learned things I didn’t know about this great track (as with other similar articles like the one about Valencia).

      The original layout looks like a very fun and interesting track that has it all. Long straights, fast corners, medium speed corners and a highly technical section. Kind of Korea but looks even better. That was my first thought when I started reading and saw the original track layout. Had to laugh when I got to the first us of the new track layout that made reference to Korea due to it’s unfinished nature here I already connected the two tracks for another reason and Keith makes the connection on another level.

      Looking forward to this weekends race, but also does not look forward to it. Because the championship hunt could be over after this weekend which would be a shame. I hope (bit unfairly maybe) that Alonso has a horrible race and finish either out of points or scores very poorly. This would make for an very very exciting finally for the last race. Also I would assume I am not the only one that will be very very annoyed if Alonso won the championship with less then 7 points because of the blatant team orders over radio in Germany (I was so mad when I heard the radio communication I had to leave the Bar I was watching the race at in Heathrow airport because I knew what was coming and I got back to see replay of Massa letting Alonso by).
      People made reference to Heikke letting Hamilton by. Team orders? Maybe, maybe not at least he was not told to pull over over the radio, had this been previously arranged? Maybe. Was it him just being a good team mate? Maybe. No matter what he wasn’t “forced” to do so live over the radio for the world to hear.

  4. Jim N said on 1st November 2010, 9:12

    The track maps are not loading on my machine. Any one else got the same problem?

  5. Regis said on 1st November 2010, 9:14

    I really love this track, always plenty of action here, its a shame i have to wait until 3am to watch the race live here in Australia, but its all worth it !!

  6. Johnny86 said on 1st November 2010, 9:45

    “once almost eight mile long”

    is it mile or km?

    Great circuit though. And except for its bumps it quite an easy circuit for drivers i believe.

  7. Johnny86 said on 1st November 2010, 9:46

    Oh my mistake. Didnt read properly.

  8. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 1st November 2010, 9:47

    The original Interlagos was epic. It’s a shame they can’t rebuild it and race on it. Having seen videos of it in rFactor on YouTube, it was an undulating labyrinth, whih would have been incredile. It’s a shame that rebuilding it would cost us the Senna ‘S’.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st November 2010, 9:58

      What I’d like to know is if they ever used the cut-through from the old third corner to the exit of Juncao to make a terrifyingly quick oval?

      • john wylie said on 1st November 2010, 10:14

        Now that would be a treat to see.

      • Stealthman said on 1st November 2010, 14:17

        That configuration was possible, I believe:

      • Guilherme (@the_philosopher) said on 1st November 2010, 14:36

        Yes, they did. I don’t have much information to back my claim, but I remember that once our comentator was saying that a certain driver held the lap record of the outter ring, in a F2 car. I’ll google it and see what I can find.

      • Guilherme (@the_philosopher) said on 1st November 2010, 14:56

        Well, I found some stuff. The outter ring was used from 1957 to 1982 (with the exception of 1964, where they used the Grand Prix track) for the 500km of Interlagos. The outter ring was 3.208km in length and the fastest lap of the 1982 Interlagos 500 1:06.350

        I found a blog article which claims to be written by an old-school driver who raced in both the GP track and the outter ring. It is funny how he says the track was “totally descarachterized” when they modified it. Actually it is not the first time I read something of the sort (I think it was from Fritz d’Orey and some old man who raced in sportcars), so I wonder if the old track was really so much more awesome than it is today, or if it is just that this people can’t aprreciate the new, the changes, becase regardless of what they did to the track, it is still one of the Top 5 tracks on the calendar (along with, IMO, Spa, Silverstone, Suzuka and Monza).

        • It really was much better than one who didn’t know it can ever wonder. Consider that the new Interlagos is part of the old one. And the best, fastest and most daring parts of it are gone. The blindigly fast first and second corners, those never ending Ferradura, Lago and Sol corners were outstanding. Who once knew it cannot forget the way it was. Be sure, it was one of the very best there has ever been. Ask Emerson Fittipaldi, ask Nelson Piquet. Like Fritz d’Orey did (who was one of the best single sitters drivers in his time), they will tell you so. I know because I saw it, I drove it, and I will never forget it.

      • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 2nd November 2010, 9:26

        @Keith – That is exactly what I was wondering!

    • Daniel said on 1st November 2010, 10:06

      I’d like to see some banking back in F1 too.

  9. fyujj said on 1st November 2010, 10:28

    In a promotional video for Ford Maverick at Emerson Fittipaldi presents the (old) track with very detailed comments on the characteristics of its curves and straights.
    It would be nice if it was subtitled.
    Interesting that when he approaches those curves that still remain now before the “Mergulho” (dive) he comments “…we enter now the low velocity part of the circuit, the part where the good driver runs together with the optimum driver…”

  10. Dan Selby said on 1st November 2010, 10:30

    Alot of the outside track seems to still be there. I take it that’s for access routes etc?

    The addition of some footage to these ‘Changing Track’ articles really make it :)

  11. Dan Selby said on 1st November 2010, 10:34

    Also, as general as this sounds, why can’t we have tracks like these anymore? Also, why can they not leave the original parts to the tracks they butcher?

    Imagine if they just built run-off on alot of these old school tracks. You could weave in and out of the old and the new with various configurations (ie. Paul Ricard TT).

    I know that there’s strict rulings on elevation, run-off etc But surely if they can just extend run-offs, install tyre walls, and smooth out parts and reduce banking, then you’d have a safer version. Like I said, even if it was conjoined with new parts of the track, it’d be much better than nothing. I’m guessing the answer here will be ‘money’ :)

    Imagine having the option to use alot of the different Silverstone layouts. That’d be awesome!

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st November 2010, 10:44

      Very good point. We could forgive car-park run-offs if the tracks themselves were terrifying. Probably wouldn’t be enough space with old Interlagos because it’s a bowl, but it could work on others.

    • invoke (@invoke) said on 1st November 2010, 12:09

      You raise an interesting point which I have often wondered myself, why don’t we alternate track layouts year on year to give the drivers and teams something extra to think about.

      By next season we will have inadvertently used two configurations of Bahrain, which (although proving unpopular) gave the teams and drivers something extra to think about, without relying totally on previous years data for setups etc.

      If we could do this successfully with interesting layout changes (e.g. the full outer ‘oval’ configuration at Bahrain) then I think it would add a little more excitement and unpredictability to the races.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st November 2010, 12:22

        The benefit of using the same track every year used to be that the cars got faster every year so it was an index of progress. The 140mph lap, the 150mph lap, the 160mph lap…

        Sadly that sense of progress has gone. So maybe there’s something to be said for mixing it up a bit?

        Still I think I’d rather see more quality tracks and a better variety of layouts rather than ones that vary slightly from year to year, which feels like a bit of a gimmick.

        Let’s have some really short tracks, and let’s have one that doesn’t have any slow corners, let have one that has half-a-dozen corners instead of two dozen like most new tracks seem to.

        • David B said on 1st November 2010, 12:27

          Couldn’t agree more.
          I regret when we had some street circuit (Detroit, Long Beach) and the crazy hot european fast summer (SIlverstone, Paul Ricard, Hockenheim, Zeltweg, Zandvoort, Monza). You could be so bad in slow circuit but win in the fastest. And there were more competitors, in the championship.
          Now tracks, and cars, look all alike each other.

          If there was a signature collection to try a Bahrhein GP on the fastest outer ring I’d be part of it!!!

          • LewisC said on 1st November 2010, 13:01

            You could even – especially as the first race of the year – run two ‘sprint’ races at Bahrain; 45 mins of the “Paddock Circuit” setting the grid for 45 mins of the “outer loop”…

        • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 1st November 2010, 20:37

          Yep. The outer circuit at Bahrain could be close to your half-dozen-corners track. It would definitely add some variety. I think it would be great if some newer tracks were longer and shorter as well, like Spa and Monaco, instead of all being relatively the same length. The more variety the better. It would mix up the dominance on certain types of tracks if nothing else.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st November 2010, 16:13

        Nice idea. In an absence of a real variety of tracks, it would be a good idea.

  12. chris sz said on 1st November 2010, 11:28

    that pitlane looks very long. a drive-thru penalty will be a huge punishment.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 1st November 2010, 12:05

      No it isn’t. There is a white line at the end of the pit lane that marks the point where a driver is allowed to release his speed limiter. He may then drive at speed. This is usually shortly before the pit lane re-joins the circuit, but in Brazil it’s nowhere near the point where the lane merges with the raceway. I believe it’s actually much closer to the pit building, allowing drivers to take the lane at speed. Its width and sharp corners mean it is slower than the circuit proper, but it’s not a huge disadvantage. The reason is that it’s unsafe to have the cars join the circuit through the Senna ‘S’ or Curva do Sol. Reta Oposta is the safest place for the cars to return to the circuit, but the organisers obviously don’t want to penalise people too much.

  13. David B said on 1st November 2010, 12:22

    Old one what fantastic, even if the current one is also good.
    I don’t know if it would be possible to make the original lay out safe enough…there’s no great room for run off areas, i believe.
    Anyway just observe how great Curva do sol was (they got it in the opposite direction), and how quick was the first half.
    Really a great track, absolutely great.

    In my opinion there was some really great tracks that time (Interlagos original one, Paul Ricard, Buenos Aires, Kyalami) that have been completely ruined by some refurbishment works. It would have been much better to spend money for making safe the original circuits, instead of building absurd shortcuts.

  14. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 1st November 2010, 12:40

    Best circuit on the calendar, bar none. The original format always looked interesting but I do love the track as it is today. It nearly always provides an exciting race, which is something that sadly can’t even be said about Spa or Suzuka these days.

    As David B points out above, many tracks are reprofiled and entirely ruined. I would add the Osterreichring (*spit*) and Hockenheim (*vomit*) to his list of tracks that, once changed, were a shadow of their former selves. Interlagos, by contrast, still has something amazing about it. Easily the highlight of my season, every season.

  15. Lopes said on 1st November 2010, 12:45

    I attended that very first race in the revamped Interlagos circuit in 1990 with my father (I was 8 years old). I sat in the “A” sector, which was just before the last kink leading to the pit straight. I couldn’t see Senna entangle with Nakajima, because the Bico de Pato turn was hidden from my point of view, but I still remember the huge disappointment of everybody in the stands when Senna had to come in for a new nose.

    One thing that I realized many years later was how good it was to watch the race live in Interlagos. Because it’s in a bowl you can see a lot of the track. From my position close to the pit entrance you could see the whole pit straight then almost the whole Reta Oposta with turns 4, 5, 6, beginning of 7, 9 and 11. You could definitely have a good understanding of what was going on, even without any screens at the circuit (at that time).

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