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Rencken: 2013 Brazil GP preview

2013-11-21 10:38

THE LAST SONG: The 2013 Brazilian GP marks the end of the season on Sunday. It will also be the last time F1 will see V8-powered engines race on a track. Image: AFP


Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix will see the end of the 2013 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season after 19 long, arduous rounds. But, it’s also the end of F1’s naturally-aspirated era, in 2014 the 2.4-litre ‘old iron’ V8 gives way to 1.6-litre ’eco-friendly’ hybrid units drawing on a mix of energy recovery and turbocharging to produce around 522kW (versus the current 560kW) on 40% less fuel.

Couple that with numerous cockpit changes such as Kimi Raikkonen returning to Ferrari, Felipe Massa heading to Williams and Pastor Maldonado’s Venezuelan millions going begging - in turn leaving a raft of openings in their wake. There’s also the retirement of Mark Webber after 215 grands prix and numerous drivers have every reason to push to the last lap of F1’s last V8 race.


The race also marks Cosworth’s last GP for the foreseeable future, for the engine company, second behind Ferrari in the all-time engine win list with 176 victories – the last incidentally coming in Brazil in 2003 – has decided to withdraw from F1 ahead of the new regulations.

The race at Interlagos situated in a Sao Paulo suburb of the same name – meaning, literally, ‘between the lakes’ - is, of course, an absolute classic, having over the years featured thrilling races and epic title showdowns such as 2012’s nail-biting finale between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, which saw the German take his triple World title.

It was the sixth time the title had been decided at Interlagos since the race moved to the back end of the calendar in 2004. Fernando Alonso (2005/06) Kimi Raikkonen (2007), Lewis Hamilton (2008) and Jenson Button (2009) all sealed titles at this circuit, although only Raikkonen marked the occasion with victory.

The unbridled passion of Brazilians brought up on the exploits of Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet Snr and the late, great Ayrton Senna, endow the event with an atmosphere like no other, while the circuit’s amphitheatre-like setting provides a unique vista.


Add in unpredictable weather which invariably features rain at some point during the weekend; statistical 70% chance of Safety Car interruptions; tight, 15-turn (10L/5R) anti-clockwise layout; shortest lap of the season in terms of lap time (a quick lap here being under 72 seconds); and, at 4.3km, the second-shortest lap after Monaco, and chaos is virtually guaranteed.

The circuit itself is split into three vastly different sectors, with the first featuring the tight but overtaking-friendly downhill Senna S and a long, open back section, while the second has enough twisty bits to provoke dizziness. The final blast will see cars on full throttle for 13 seconds (almost 20% of each lap) while brakes are used for 16% of time, pointing to the circuit’s varied set-up challenge.

Compounding the issue is Interlagos’s 800m altitude, meaning the air is thinner than at any other current venue, which not only robs engine power – albeit less of a factor with 2014’s turbocharged units – while reducing vital downforce.

Interestingly, the race has been won from pole position just ten times in 30 races, with the only driver to have managed the feat this century being Felipe Massa – twice, in 2006 and 2008. 

Although weather forecasts for this tropical region are fickle, thunderstorms are predicted for Friday, with an outside chance of rain on Saturday and dry but cloudy 22C skies on race day. However, the climate is known to turn unexpectedly, and when it rains it surely does, with massive drops falling with little advance warning. Thus teams will at least factor the chance of rain into their strategies


Sole tyre supplier Pirelli has specified its Medium (white sidewalls) and Hard (orange) for this race – a surprisingly conservative choice as used last weekend in Austin, and we know how drearily that race ran out.

However, Pirelli justifies its choice on the basis that the surface, although not abrasive, is uneven (caused mainly by sediment due to the watery surrounds) despite having been re-macadamised regularly in recent times. This causes traction issues, in turn leading to graining. That said, in 2012 a mix of Soft/Medium was specified without issues, and one wonders whether Pirelli has grown tired of prolonged criticism over wear rates… 

As per current convention two DRS zones will operate at Interlagos, with detection point for the first at the apex of Turn 2 and activation shortly after T3, with Zone 2 detection point 30m after T13, permitting long drags all the way up the arced main straight and into the Senna S.

With both titles done and dusted for the fourth successive season in favour of Vettel/Red Bull Racing and Fernando Alonso confirmed as runner-up (for the third time in four years) after Raikkonen elected to undergo surgery to a recurring back injury ahead of his move to Ferrari, only the constructors’ title holds any interest, for final placings decide the teams’ share of the ‘Bernie Money’ pot.


With 43 points left to play for (25 for first and 18 for second) and the difference between second and fourth being worth between R60m and R80m, and Mercedes (348), Ferrari (333) and Lotus (315) being in the running for best of the rest behind the Red Bull steamroller, this promises to be a fraught fight.

However, last-named is hampered by Raikkonen’s decision, with compatriot Heikki Kovalainen replacing the Finn, while Alonso freely admits to an uphill task ahead of Ferrari, which in the last race lost ground to the Three Pointed Star. That said, Romain Grosjean has lifted Lotus’s spirits with some sublime performances, so nothing can be taken for granted.

Finally, word about Webber, two-time winner here and anxious to leave the sport for Porsche and sports cars, on a high: Forget any notion that team-mate Vettel will make it easy for the Australian, for relations between them are fractious and the German aims to stretch the record set by him in Austin by taking nine wins in a single season. Thus, either Red Buller can expect the other to be his biggest

Saturday's qualifying and Sunday’s 71-lap start will be at 6pm SA time. Thereafter the shrieking V8s, which served the sport so well, will forever be silenced.

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Brazilian GP weekend.


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