A team’s preview of a Formula 1 race usually focuses on all aspects of what can be expected over the coming weekend, but there is a good reason why our look at the nineteenth and final round of the 2011 season should have a rather more specific introduction. The Brazilian Grand Prix will be especially significant for Scuderia Ferrari driver Felipe Massa and not just because of the obvious correlation that it is his home race.
When he makes the short trip from home to the Interlagos circuit on the outskirts of Sao Paolo this weekend, he will be preparing to tackle his 153rd Grand Prix and more significantly his “century” of race starts in the red race suit of the Prancing Horse.
“This will be a very important weekend for me, as it will also mark the end of the tenth year since I first raced in Formula 1, although not ten years of competition, as I was a Ferrari test driver in 2003,” says the Paulista. “Fortunately, I am still young and there is more to come, but ten years is still a landmark in an F1 driver’s career. Then there are my six years racing for the Scuderia, competing in one hundred Grands Prix for the team, which makes me one of the drivers who has raced the most for this team. Therefore, putting it all together, ten years of Formula 1, one hundred races with Ferrari and all of it at home in Brazil, makes this something really special for me. It will be an emotional time and what I would like to add to it all would be a good result come Sunday afternoon.”
Good results, or indeed the best result, is something Ferrari has achieved ten times out of 48 participations in the Brazilian Grand Prix, with wins at both the current venue of Interlagos and at Rio de Janeiro’s Jacarepagua circuit which last held the race in 1989. Massa was the author of two of those victories. “They were both incredible,” recalls Felipe. “Even the one in 2008 when I won and came so very close to winning the Drivers’ title in Brazil. And my first win at home was the realisation of a dream, because for a Brazilian to win at home is almost like winning the world championship, so for those reasons the 2006 victory at Interlagos was the best of those two.” Although Felipe’s team-mate Fernando Alonso has never won here, the Spaniard has been a frequent visitor to the podium with two second places in 2006 and ’08 and two thirds in ’07 and last year.
Following on from Korea, India and Abu Dhabi, coming to Interlagos is like stepping back in time, from the very newest venues on the Formula 1 calendar to a paddock that has changed little in the past two decades. However, the key ingredients for a great racing weekend are all there: a fantastic track, an enthusiastic, noisy and knowledgeable crowd and three local drivers on the grid – apart from Felipe, Bruno Senna and Rubens Barrichello will also be carrying the hopes of those making so much noise in the grandstands. At 4.3 kilometres in length, it’s a relatively short lap, which is why it requires 71 of them to add up to a Grand Prix distance. However, it packs a lot into its short distance, with plenty of gradient changes and sudden dips that push the driver into the floor of the car while the lateral forces on him are also high, not forgetting the fact the track runs in the less common anticlockwise direction. The bumpy surface used to be a problem for both driver and car, but regular resurfacing means this is no longer such an issue.
Pirelli is supplying its Soft and Medium tyres just as it did in Abu Dhabi and it’s probable they will have to work harder to deal with Interlagos than they did at Yas Marina. Of course, in Sao Paolo at this time of year, the rain tyres need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice as the rain can arrive both unexpectedly and ferociously.
The Scuderia Ferrari 150º Italia cars that Felipe and Fernando Alonso will drive out on track on Friday are in the same trim as seen in Abu Dhabi and, for the final time in 2011, the three hours of free practice on the first day of track action will provide a last chance to evaluate some components recently introduced and set-up solutions that could find their way onto the 2012 car. For the rest of the weekend, it will be a case of trying to secure the best grid positions and race results possible to end a challenging season in the best way possible.
“Century man” Massa sums it up succinctly: “This year has not gone so well, but we have tackled it with our usual fighting spirit and that is what we will take forward to next year, when we hope to have a very different sort of championship to this one just ending. The intention is to be competitive right from the start, fighting for the win in every race. This has not been a fantastic season for me, but neither has it been for the team. So as a driver, I have a very strong desire which I share with the whole team to give one hundred percent to improve for next year.”