• Brazilian Grand Prix preview

The curtain comes down

ESPN Staff
November 21, 2013

And so, after nine long months the curtain finally comes down on the 2013 season with the traditional season finale at Interlagos. It's a far cry from the scene 12 months ago when the championship was still to be decided, with Sebastian Vettel heading to Brazil in search of a ninth consecutive victory, but there are still a number of interesting sidenotes to the race as only Mercedes can claim to be going in to the weekend with the same driver line-up it will start next season with. The last few races may have been predictable, but this is Brazil: it's rarely dull.

In form

Even with Sebastian Vettel securing another win, it was Valtteri Bottas who caught the eye with his drive in Austin. While Pastor Maldonado seemed to self-destruct during a tough weekend, Bottas was highly impressive throughout qualifying - even setting the quickest time in Q1 - and then delivered in the race with eighth place and his first points. His ability to drive away from Nico Rosberg when he came under pressure showed his talent and just how much progress Williams has made with its revised exhaust layout.

Out of form

It was a tough weekend for Felipe Massa in Austin as he really struggled to get the tyres working and dropped out in the second part of qualifying before two-stopping his way to 12th place in the race. Ultimately, his penultimate race was one to forget and shows one of his limitations compared to Fernando Alonso, who had no such issues getting the best out of the tyres en-route to a strong fifth place. Massa will be desperate to impress in front of his home fans in his last race for Ferrari, but he will need to up his game if he is going to enjoy a fairytale ending.

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One to watch

Nico Hulkenberg appears to have some sort of affinity with the Brazilian Grand Prix. Pole here for Williams in his debut season in 2010 (in changeable conditions) was followed up by a real chance of victory last year as he led for the majority of the race (in changeable conditions) but ultimately finished fifth after contact with Lewis Hamilton fighting at the front. What's the weather set to be like this weekend at Interlagos? That would be changeable…

Talking points

Webber's farewell
After 12 years in Formula One, Mark Webber will walk out of the paddock as a grand prix driver for the last time on Sunday evening ahead of his switch to Porsche's World Endurance Championship team in 2014. He stands on the verge of bowing out at the end of his first winless season since 2008, with Vettel's form and reliability ensuring that it's the sister Red Bull which has been taking all the spoils. Two poles and three podiums from the last four races highlights that Webber remains a quick driver, but he admits he has no regrets leaving: "Of course not. It's been great, but I need the next chapter now."

Driver futures
The final race of the season means the final opportunity for drivers to stake their claims for seats next year. Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado are on the lookout for new drives following announcements of their replacements at McLaren and Williams respectively pre-Austin, while the saga surrounding Nico Hulkenberg's future rumbles on. Hulkenberg's patience with Lotus and Quantum Motorsports appears to be running out and talk of a return to Force India has been getting louder. Force India is one of five teams - along with Lotus, Sauber, Caterham and Marussia - still to finalise their driver line-ups and there are likely to be lots of negotiations going on behind closed doors in the paddock.

Ross Brawn
It's not just the drivers who face uncertain futures, with Brawn the most high-profile team member potentially on the move over the winter. Brawn wants to remain at Mercedes as team principal, but it appears to be a short-term option for him as the powers that be are intent on spreading responsibility across multiple roles. That opens the door to a switch to another team - with Williams one of those rumoured - as Brawn himself says he isn't ready to leave the sport just yet.

Vettel's record
Vettel's win in Austin took him clear of Michael Schumacher's record of seven consecutive victories in a season, and he can further extend that at Interlagos. Another win would put him level with Alberto Ascari's mark of nine, which was spread over two seasons and didn't include the Indy 500 which then counted towards the world championship. It's an incredible run of form, reliability and consistency from both Vettel and Red Bull, but he could face the biggest threat to his streak in Brazil: rain.

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Trivia

  • Interlagos is the one of two circuits to have hosted a Brazilian Grand Prix, the other being Jacarepagua in Rio de Janeiro
  • The name Interlagos literally translates to 'between lakes', as the district sits between the Guarapiranga and Billings reservoirs
  • The circuit itself is named after Carlos Pace, the Brazilian who won his home grand prix in 1975 but was killed in a plane crash two years later
  • The Brazilian Grand Prix has only been won twice from pole since 2003

Fast facts

  • Drivers will be at full throttle for 16 seconds out of turn 12 until the braking zone at turn 1
  • The circuit is 4.309km long, making it the second shortest track used after Monaco
  • Interlagos is one of only five anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar. The others being in Singapore, Korea, United States and Abu Dhabi.
  • Drivers will make 42 gear changes on every lap and pull 3.5G through turn six

Circuit

Interlagos is one of the more traditional circuits on the calendar, with a relative lack of expansive run-off for the drivers to exploit and a cramped, dated paddock for the teams. Some of its challenge has been tempered by the addition of asphalt on the outside of turn one, replacing grass which punished drivers for running wide, especially in the wet. The anti-clockwise direction puts a strain on the drivers neck muscles which are used to turning right, while the close walls in the high-speed final sector are very punishing. Interlagos is 800m above sea level and the elevation of the circuit means engines lose 8% of their horsepower, with the thinner air meaning teams run high downforce configurations to get a medium downforce result. The best overtaking opportunity is in to turn one, though there is also a chance in to turn four following the long run out of Curva do Sol.

FIA driver steward

From one Brit in Austin to another in Brazil as Mark Blundell carries out driver steward duties this weekend. The former McLaren, Tyrrell, Ligier and Brabham driver first appeared in the role at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2011.

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Weather

This is quite a fun forecast because it's for rain, rain and more rain. Friday comes with a risk of thunderstorms and almost certain rain throughout the day, but we should still see running as the wet weather is also set to continue throughout qualifying and in to Sunday. The Pirelli rain tyres have yet to be used in a race this season, and while the chances are high that they'll be required at some stage, the early forecast remains just for rain in the morning, which could lead to a drying or even dry track come lights out. All with no dry running in practice. Could be interesting…

Betting

When a man has won eight races in a row, he's always going to be favourite to make it nine. A Sebastian Vettel victory won't give you much return for your money at 2/7, but you'd get a bit more back from the other Red Bull with Mark Webber at 7/2. Romain Grosjean is the favourite non-Red Bull driver and as long as 14/1, while Lewis Hamilton is 22/1 and worth a serious look given the wet weather forecast. Similarly Fernando Alonso at 28/1 could be tempting with rain in the air, and that makes Jenson Button a good outside bet for a podium at 16/1. Nico Hulkenberg - somewhat of a master at Interlagos in these conditions - is available at 11/2 for the top three.

ESPN prediction

Why end the season by going for the easy option, eh? So we're going to shirk Sebastian Vettel and back Lewis Hamilton to take advantage of the conditions to take his second victory of the season.
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