Changing tracks: Interlagos

Brazilian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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