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

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78 comments on Changing tracks: Interlagos

  1. David B said on 1st November 2010, 12:46

    RIght, may be I forgot to mention Osterreichring and Hockenheim because the pain is too strong!!! :-D

  2. Dan Selby said on 1st November 2010, 13:24

    Good news for you Osterreichring lovers:

    The Red Bull Ring will be opening in time for next year’s DTM season. It will combine the first sector of the A1 Ring, turn left before the right at the top of the hill (T2), come back on itself, then end up at the old Bosch Curve (I believe) of the Osterreichring. There’ll then be a horrid right/left/right hairpin combination, then it’ll go back on to the A1 Ring as from after the old T2.

    The thing is, I would have thought the advertisers would love some slightly longer and shorter tracks. They offer different business opportunities. A company with alot of money could afford to plaster most of their product across a longer track. However, a smaller track would offer opportunities for slightly smaller businesses. We all love tracks like Spa because they can play in to the favour of other teams that may not usually fight at the front (Force India/Jordan). Also tracks like Paul Ricard did the same (Leyton House anyone?). Variety throws up some very interesting scenarios. As much as this season has been great, i’ve been a bit fed up trying to explain to people how I know (almost for fact) that Red Bull will lock out the front rows this weekend, just because it’s a “Red Bull circuit”.

    I read an interesting piece (may have been on here, actually… Usually is) that showed the average laptimes and distances of the newer tracks, and they’re nigh-on identicle.

    I just don’t see the logic or reasoning for NOT having variety?

    Also, a few tracks I can think of that would benefit from displaying/using various layouts:

    *Bahrain – I really like this idea. I’ve already said before I think it’d be a nice ‘gimmick’ (if you will) for Bahrain. It’s been pretty heavilly slated by the press, so why not say “Ok – we’ll be the first circuit to offer 3 different alternating layouts for each year”. They’d have the 2004-2009 layout, the 2010 layout, and the outter track that’s generally very fast. But this doesn’t mean it’s suddenly “dangerous”. This track was built with safety at the forefront of the design. Bahrain would suddenly become one of the quickest and more unique challenges on the calendar.

    *Silverstone – I’d love to still see the 80’s track still lying around. Surely it wouldn’t have made too much difference to leave the tarmac there? All the run-offs are tarmac anyway…

    If Barcelona’s (of all places) done it, why no one else..?

    • David B said on 1st November 2010, 16:31

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A1_Red_Bull_Ring.svg

      Here is what you mentioned, thanks Dan…at least it should have some quicker bends, and be pretty longer. It seems to be better than current A1 ring, but not really like the glorious one.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st November 2010, 16:39

        Thanks for posting that. It looks pretty good, depending on which configuration you use (that U bend doesn’t impress me!). Then again it’s likely F1 will never race there so I guess there’s little to be concerned about.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st November 2010, 16:35

      The 1980s Silverstone was a real gem but at least now we have the Maggots-Becketts series of corners to make for it. I still detest Luffield though and I wish we could have the old Club or better yet a second Stowe.

      One thing I’ve never liked about Silverstone is its short run to the first turn and in a way it disappoints me that the start’s going to be moved to the Abbey straight because it doesn’t really solve that problem; the Hangar Straight would have been a much better choice. I swear there’s a conspiracy from Bernie for circuits to all have a slow final corner so they can milk that TV shot of the winner coming through it.

  3. This circuit never fails to provide us with entertainment whether that be a 130 000 people screaming or they become pin drop silent.One of the best race of the season. All the last 5 World Title were decided on this race track can’t help to think it may happen again.

  4. I wasn’t able to see any races at old Interlagos so I can’t comment on that (I was born during the years when race was held at Rio)

    But regarding changing tracks, since the circuit returned to calendar in 1990, this hasn’t changed at all I think. Or if it has, it’s very minimal changes. The surroundings like the tarmac runoffs have changed, but the circuit layout is very similar.

    One thing I also look forward is that the circuit is very short one so there will be lots of laps around. Didn’t feel that short when I started following, as there were tracks like Adelaide in the mix. Hungaroring was also much shorter than nowadays.

  5. David B said on 1st November 2010, 16:28

    Short tracks are often preferred since they let the people see the cars more times in fron of them.
    But in Interlagos case it was pretty good before, even. Being in a bow you could see the cars for most of thei running…

  6. The old track layout would have really suited the Red Bulls. Probably would have been 5 secs a lap quicker than the kids.

  7. Dan Selby said on 1st November 2010, 18:34

    Actually I think it’d be a McLaren circuit (if we’re talking Silverstone). Efficient f-duct and a Mercedes engine would be dominant down those straights.

  8. King Six said on 1st November 2010, 20:47

    I was looking at the area around it in google street view, looks like a standard Brazilian neighbourhood. Not some countryside in the middle of nowhere or a posh seaside resort or something, just a racetrack bang in the middle of a suburb, great stuff.

    Would be interesting watching the F1 trucks make their way through all this to the track!

  9. rmac923 said on 1st November 2010, 21:02

    Interlagos is probably the best circuit on the schedule. Kind of Mickey Mouse, but it almost always produces great racing.

    Quick note to my fellow American F1 Fanatic users, how little things have changed here in 20 years(in regards to our commentators).

    • DeadManWoking said on 2nd November 2010, 4:22

      Except that instead of actually being at the track, Varsha and Hobbs (and Matchett) now sit in a studio in Charlotte watching the race on TV and Computer screens.

      • Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan said on 2nd November 2010, 10:20

        I always thought that they travel there but I notice they do formula 1 debrief like the day after :P lol

  10. dianna said on 1st November 2010, 23:15

    There is a possibility of another very wet Grand Prix.This could be another Korea? Well perhaps not that wet.
    That should favour Ferrari and Maclaren….Anyway,as long as the Red Baron is on form our family will be happy.

  11. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 2nd November 2010, 7:47

    Thanks for this Keith. This is the first time I have seen what the old track was like. It looks almost over-the-top with its doubling back on itself nature, but it must have been quite fast. They have been clever in rediesgning this track, as they have utilised the existing race track rather than completely rebuilding it, like the A1-Ring (nee Ă–sterreichring), hence they have retained much of the character. I always look forward to this race, and I hope this year delivers, like it does every year! :)

  12. “Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace” (pronounced par-chay): it’s a italian name, so is more correctly pronounced “pah-see” or “pah-tee”

    • JCCJCC said on 2nd November 2010, 10:17

      It’s an italian name, but the guy was brasilian, so the brasilians pronounced josĂ© carlos pass.

      Great circuit. Probably the circuit where passing is easier in all calendar?

  13. Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan said on 2nd November 2010, 10:17

    I like Interlagos for me here in Canada we also dont have outstanding outer shell but we know whats most important and it is on the circuit : D Brazil knows this too and they have such nice circuit there. I think prices are ok these days but can be better because some people who arent fortunate enough cant see formula 1 its too much :(

  14. YES YES YES YES YES said on 3rd November 2010, 3:28

    Laguna seca:
    Lets go there

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