It’s a shaping up to be a more relaxed weekend for F1 fans. After all, while the upcoming Brazilian Grand Prix is usually one of the highlights of the season, this year’s’ race comes after Lewis Hamilton has already claimed his fifth world title ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
But this doesn’t mean the weekend will be an anticlimax – there’s still all to play for in the land of Senna and Fittipaldi. Mercedes and Ferrari will continue to contest the coveted Constructors Championship, while a number of drivers will be looking to optimise their point’s haul for 2018.
In this post, we’ll preview the Brazilian Grand Prix and ask who is likely to prevail at the iconic Interlagos circuit.
The Drivers to Watch
It’s fair to say that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will both be licking their lips ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, particularly given the recent performance by Mercedes at Interlagos.
Not only have the team claimed the last four pole positions since 2014, but they’ve also recorded an average pace advantage of 0.363 seconds. This gives the team a considerable competitive advantage, and one that the in-form Lewis Hamilton will be keen to capitalise on.
Ferrari can take some solace from an improved performance last year, when Vettel qualified just 0.038 seconds behind Bottas and managed to pip his rival into first place.
This was the first win for a non-Mercedes driver at Interlagos since 2013, when Vettel himself secured victory for Red Bull.
Both Vettel and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen will also be encouraged by Ferraris’ penchant for outperforming Mercedes at previously dominated tracks, including standout victories at Silverstone and Spa. If this trend continues, Ferrari could finally reverse the Silver Arrows historic dominance in Brazil.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will also arrive in Brazil in fine form, having won in Mexico last time out. He’ll be keen to continue his momentum here, particularly as it’s still possible for him to secure third place in the Drivers Championship.
However, Red Bull would need to reverse their recent form in Brazil if Verstappen is to have any chance, as the team have only finished as high as third in qualifying since 2014. The issue here is a fundamental lack of horsepower, which hinders the drivers on the approach to the start-finish straight and causes serious drags throughout the course of the race.
The Key F1 Statistics
Hamilton’s recent title win has encouraged some to label him as the greatest driver of all time, and a victory at Interlagos this weekend would mark his 50th in F1’s hybrid era.
Incredibly, he’s already the fifth most successful driver of all time thanks to his post-2014 wins alone, so one more here would represent yet another step towards greatness.
As for Mercedes, they’ll start in Brazil needing to lead for just 16 laps to make some history of their own. They’ll join the ‘5000 laps led’ club in F1, becoming the fifth team to achieve this unique and unheralded feat.
On the subject of laps lead, Ferrari’s Vettel will also be looking to achieve a small slice of comfort after a disastrous second half of F1 the season. If he manages to lead for a minimum of 11 laps at Interlagos, he’ll overhaul the great Michael Schumacher’s record for the most laps led at the circuit (this currently stands at 236).
If either Vettel or Raikkonen can lead for seven laps or more, they’ll also help their team to break the record for the most laps led by a single constructor in Brazil. This is the polar opposite of Red Bull’s recent record here, with the team having led for a grand total of zero laps at Interlagos.
What About the Circuit and the Tyres?
We’ve already touched briefly on the Interlagos circuit, which is one of the most popular and widely-used F1 tracks in the world. It also provides one of the more curious challenges for F1 drivers, thanks largely to its unique anti-clockwise layout and steep slopes.
Since its 1990 redesign, the track has become shorter and punchier, while retaining the slope that leads into the start-finish straight. The track also has an iconic banking (named after Brazil’s favourite racing son Ayrton Senna) that leads into the S bends, before plunging downhill into a tight Turn 4 and looping back into a helter-skelter infield section.
With a number of similarly tight and uncomfortable corners located throughout the circuit, Interlagos provides a direct challenge to drivers while also favouring those with raw, natural ability. This may well favour Hamilton, although both speed and control are required to prevail here.
In terms of the tyres, Pirelli have selected a relatively tough range of options for Brazil. This includes medium, soft and supersoft tyres, which should help teams to cope with the taxing and winding nature of the track while also making it easier to formulate a winning race strategy.
This range should also help drivers to deal with the build-up of traffic that always seems to occur at Interlagos, thanks to the high energy generated by fast corners and the sweltering heat.
All things considered, Hamilton will start the race as a clear favourite, particularly if he continues his recent form in Brazil and claims the all-important pole position. However, this could actually lead to a win for Hamilton’s teammate Bottas if he performs well, with the Brit keen to return the favour extended when the Finnish driver allowed him to pass to claim victory in Sochi.