Michael Schumacher has plenty of experience of these. Five times in his career he competed for the championship in the final race and on two occasions he came away with the title.
He won a further five championship crowns to become the most successful F1 driver by far. Whether Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso succeeds him as F1’s next thrice-champion they will still not be halfway towards matching his achievement.
It’s six years since Schumacher made his first ‘retirement’ from Formula One, going up against Alonso for the world championship at Interlagos.
The odds of victory were stacked against him and a penalty in qualifying followed by a puncture in the race put success far beyond his reach. But on a day when Bridgestone’s tyres suited the track perfectly he tore through the field to recover an excellent fourth place.
This time it’s Alonso who heads into the final race trailing in the championship. But although his chances of winning look better than Schumacher’s did he’s likely to need a little luck to get on terms with Vettel.
Interlagos circuit information
|Lap length||4.309km (2.677 miles)|
|Distance||71 laps (305.9km/190.1 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’11.473 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)|
|Fastest lap||1’09.822 (Rubens Barrichello, 2004)|
|Tyres||Medium and Hard|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
Interlagos falls a long way short of the exacting standards Bernie Ecclestone demands of new additions to the F1 calendar. But thankfully this marvellous track remains a fixture. It’s a superb venue for a last-race title decider.
This is an up-tempo circuit with a grinding uphill drag, two decent opportunities for overtaking and a rhythmic middle section where traffic can be a problem – as it was for Vettel with Narain Karthikeyan in America.
The quick corners and abrasive surface have led Pirelli to select the hardest tyres from their range – medium and hard – whereas last year they paired the soft and medium compounds for this race.
The stage is set for a suitably exciting conclusion to a marvellous season. We have a fabulous circuit, a crowd that tingles with racing passion, and two of the very best drivers in the world going head-to-head for the title. This should be a weekend to savour.
More on the the season finale
- What Vettel and Alonso need to do to win the title
- Which drivers will say farewell to F1 after Brazil?
Brazilian Grand Prix team-by-team preview
Mark Webber’s alternator failure in America was the third such retirement for the team this year. They will be on red alert about the possibility of a repeat which could destroy Vettel’s title chance at this late stage.
There are two reasons to expect Red Bull will be able to avoid a similar problem here. They have switched to a newer version of the component which several other Renault-powered teams have already used. And the Interlagos circuit should be less likely to provoke the fault.
Red Bull’s alternator problem is linked to how the car works in very low speed corners. Valencia, Monza and the Circuit of the Americas – the track where alternator failures caused retirements – all have several very slow bends. Interlagos, being one of few tracks left on the calendar untouched by Hermann Tilke, only has two corners taken in a lower gear than third.
Red Bull are the form team in Brazil. They arrive at a circuit where they have won the last three races in a row and scored one-twos in their last two visits. But Vettel only needs a fourth place to guarantee the championship regardless of what Alonso does.
It will be an emotional weekend for the team as Lewis Hamilton prepares to leave the team he has spent six seasons with, and who he has been part of for much longer.
As the last race showed he is entirely capable of going out on a high with a win. But the car’s fragility remains a serious question – yet another problem reared its head at the Circuit of the Americas, forcing Jenson Button out during qualifying.
Surprisingly McLaren haven’t enjoyed victory at Interlagos in seven years, when Juan Pablo Montoya won for them. Rectifying that and taking second in the constructors’ championship back from Ferrari are their goals for this weekend.
Although Alonso has never won at Interlagos he claimed both his world championships at the track in 2005 and 2006. His long wait for a third has included disappointments in 2007 and 2010, and whether it comes to an end this year does not rest entirely in his own hands.
As we saw in the USA there are no lengths Ferrari won’t go to ensure their driver gets his title. Though they will have to face the wrath of the crowd if they choose to force a gearbox penalty on local hero Felipe Massa again.
Massa’s qualifying and race pace in America revealed Alonso was not quite at the top of his game there, something which has rarely been the case this year. Massa often excels on home ground – a hat-trick of wins from 2006 to 2008 would likely have been his had he not been required to let Raikkonen win in 2007.
This year has showcased Alonso at his irrepressible best, and even with a 13-point deficit and a slower car, he cannot be discounted. The news of a cool weather front heading to the area will be of particular interest to him – wet conditions may provide the boost he needs to get within range of Vettel.
“Interlagos is the right place to round off my career because so much of the fascination of Formula One is rooted there,” he said. “I always enjoy the enthusiasm of the fans, and it’s simply a great circuit which has seen many memorable events and always produces spectacular races as the unique layout guarantees plenty of action.”
“For me, it’s also the circuit that brings back my memories of Ayrton [Senna]. My departure from Formula One
will probably be less emotional for me this time than in 2006, when we were still fighting for the championship and everything was much more intense.
“This time around, I will be able to pay more attention to my farewell and hopefully savour it too. I have had fantastic years in Formula One and a lot of support from fans around the world, and I wish to particularly thank them for that.
“Of course, I would be happiest if I could say goodbye with a strong race, and I am sure we will be doing everything we can to make it happen.”
The form of Lotus will be a concern for Ferrari: Kimi Raikkonen won in Abu Dhabi and both drivers were quick in America but Raikkonen was delayed by a slow start and pit stop and Romain Grosjean had a gearbox penalty and a spin.
Raikkonen has finished every lap of every race so far this year. He has happy memories of Interlagos despite having one of his ‘wins’ taken away from him after the event: “I have finished here every year since 2003 and been on the podium five times,” he said. “Actually, in 2003 they gave the winners?óÔé¼Ôäó trophy to me but afterwards it turned out I only got second.”
Raikkonen is third in the championship but Hamilton’s win in America has closed the gap between the two to 16 points. Although Raikkonen has previously suggested he wouldn’t mind dropping to fourth and avoiding the FIA’s end-of-season prize-giving ceremony, team principal Eric Boullier insists the team will “be going all out to make sure he keeps that spot”.
Force India look more secure in their seventh place in the constructors’ championship ahead of Williams. This will be Nico Hulkenberg’s final race for the team as he prepares to join Sauber next year.
Before then team principal Vijay Mallya is hoping he can pull off a repeat of his shock pole position on his only previous visit to the track: “We hope that Nico will be able to pull off what he did for Williams in 2010. That?óÔé¼Ôäós what is needed if we want to catch Sauber!
“Otherwise I hope we can end the season with a strong result. Two cars in the points would be nice.”
Mercedes’ failure to score in the last five rounds has left an open goal for Sauber – one which they’ve failed to take advantage of so far. But the team has produced some surprises this year and one more could be enough to lift it ahead of the Mercedes into fifth.
Sergio Perez is keen to do that in his last race for the team: “The best way to say thank you, of course, would be a great result and to beat the team in front of us. This is my target.”
There’s just two points in it between Toro Rosso’s young charges, and the final race may decide which gets bragging rights at the team during the off-season. Jean-Eric Vergne is narrowly ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, and out-qualified him in America for the fifth time this year.
Bruno Senna is one of two home drivers in the field: “I?óÔé¼Ôäóm extremely excited to go back home for the final race of the season.
“Racing at your home Grand Prix always has a different flavour to it and the energy and excitement you get from the crowd is amazing. I?óÔé¼Ôäóve only had the chance to race at home in Formula One twice, but on both occasions the crowd gave me an extra boost.”
Alonso isn’t the only person who could use some help from the elements this weekend to succeed in the championship.
Caterham need at least a 12th-place finish to move ahead of Marussia in their battle for the lucrative tenth place in the constructors’ championship. That is unlikely to happen without seven cars retiring or being badly delayed in front of them.
Uncertainty hangs over the future of HRT, who look like they are heading into their final Grand Prix. Team principal Luis Perez-Sala paid tribute to his staff ahead of the race: “We will be facing our own challenge but I know that everyone will give their best, as they have done since we started with this amazing project.
“We managed to build it from scratch in record time and we can all be proud of what we have achieved. I am really proud of every single team member that made this happen, with their effort and commitment, and I am confident that in Brazil we can have a good race.”
Marussia stunned Caterham by out-qualifying them in America. Was that a one-off result due to the low-grip surface or a sign of genuine progress? This weekend will provide another indication as they strive to keep ahead of their rivals in the championship.
2012 driver form
|Q avg||R avg||R best||R worst||Classified||Form guide|
|Sebastian Vettel||5.11||4.33||1||22||18/19||Form guide|
|Mark Webber||6||6.29||1||20||17/19||Form guide|
|Jenson Button||6.68||7.24||1||18||17/19||Form guide|
|Lewis Hamilton||4.47||5.33||1||19||15/19||Form guide|
|Fernando Alonso||6.05||3.35||1||9||17/19||Form guide|
|Felipe Massa||10.11||8.28||2||16||18/19||Form guide|
|Michael Schumacher||9.47||10.25||3||22||12/19||Form guide|
|Nico Rosberg||9.42||8.38||1||15||16/19||Form guide|
|Kimi Raikkonen||7.42||5.21||1||14||19/19||Form guide|
|Romain Grosjean||7.17||7.58||2||19||12/18||Form guide|
|Paul di Resta||11.53||9.94||4||15||18/19||Form guide|
|Nico Hulkenberg||11.74||10.06||4||21||17/19||Form guide|
|Kamui Kobayashi||11.47||9.87||3||18||15/19||Form guide|
|Sergio Perez||12.21||8.86||2||15||14/19||Form guide|
|Daniel Ricciardo||14.68||12||9||17||18/19||Form guide|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||16.63||12.53||8||16||15/19||Form guide|
|Pastor Maldonado||10.58||11.53||1||19||15/19||Form guide|
|Bruno Senna||14.42||12.11||6||22||18/19||Form guide|
|Heikki Kovalainen||18.42||16.61||13||23||18/19||Form guide|
|Vitaly Petrov||19||16.56||13||19||16/19||Form guide|
|Pedro de la Rosa||21.78||19.29||17||22||14/18||Form guide|
|Narain Karthikeyan||23.17||20.36||15||23||11/18||Form guide|
|Timo Glock||20.39||17.24||12||22||17/18||Form guide|
|Charles Pic||21.37||18.21||15||20||14/19||Form guide|
|Jerome D’Ambrosio||15||13||13||13||1/1||Form guide|
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2012 Brazilian Grand Prix
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Image ?é?® Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Williams/LAT