Vettel and Alonso take it down to the wire as Schumacher bows out

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix preview

Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Buddh International Circuit, 2012The contest for the 2012 drivers’ championship title reaches its nail-biting conclusion in the final race in Brazil.

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 track data in full

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

Brazilian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2012Mark 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.

McLaren

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.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2012Although 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.

Mercedes

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2012Far from being in contention for the world championship as he was when he first retired, Mercedes’ recent form indicates a points finish is the best Schumacher can hope for in his last race.

“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.”

Lotus

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? 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

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Circuit of the Americas, 2012Force 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?s 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.”

Sauber

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.”

Toro Rosso

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.

Williams

Bruno Senna, Williams, Circuit of the Americas, 2012Bruno Senna is one of two home drivers in the field: “I?m 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?ve only had the chance to race at home in Formula One twice, but on both occasions the crowd gave me an extra boost.”

Caterham

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.

HRT

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

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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Over to you

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And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Image ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Williams/LAT

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56 comments on Vettel and Alonso take it down to the wire as Schumacher bows out

  1. jonnypwtf (@jonnypwtf) said on 22nd November 2012, 20:24

    How do the constructor standings work for teams that do not score any points? Are the highest finishing positions of both teammates taken into consideration? I.e. Even though Glock scored his 12th place earlier in the season, if Heikki finishes 12th in Brazil, will Caterham finish ahead of Marussia because Petrov’s highest finish was 13th versus Pic’s 15th?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd November 2012, 21:12

      @jonnypwtf That’s basically it, the combined non-scoring performances of the two drivers in each team are taken into account.

      At present Marussia are ahead because their best finish is a 12th place (one) and Caterham’s best finish is a 13th place (three). If Caterham draw level with them on 12th places, they will move ahead because whatever happens they will have more 13th places (Marussia have none).

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