The final round of the 2011 Formula One World Championship is upon us, and after the recent dramas of 2010 and 2008 it's a much lower-key end to the season. The last six visits to Interlagos have seen the title either decided or able to be, but as evidenced by the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the fact that both championships have long since been wrapped up will not prevent good racing. Sebastian Vettel heads to Brazil looking to beat Nigel Mansell's record of 14 pole positions of the season, while the race for the lower positions in the constructors' championship is still very much on.
On FormOut of form for so long, Lewis Hamilton responded with victory at the Yas Marina circuit and his smile returned. While his task was made easier by Sebastian Vettel's second-corner puncture, Hamilton still had to keep Fernando Alonso at bay (who featured here last time and seems to be constantly on form at the moment). While Hamilton never pulled out a commanding lead, he never looked troubled either despite the relentless pace of the Ferrari behind him, and he secured his third win of the season to lift his spirits heading to the scene of his 2008 title triumph.
Out of formIt's been a very tough season for Felipe Massa, who is yet to finish higher than fifth in a Ferrari which Fernando Alonso has driven to victory at Silverstone and guided to a podium finish on nine further occasions. While he's received the backing of Ferrari for 2012, Luca di Montezemolo has admitted that Massa will have to prove himself in order to give himself a chance to extend his stay beyond that. Since his heartbreaking victory at Interlagos in 2008 - when he crossed the line as World Champion only for Hamilton to gain a position in the final corner to snatch the title - Massa missed the race the following year through injury, which in turn gave him some excuse for his 15th place 2010. This year, however, he will want to make a statement in front of his home fans.
One to watchOne of the sub-plots to the end of the season is the futures of the Toro Rosso drivers, and Sebastien Buemi seems to be in the most perilous position. What's worse for Buemi is that luck doesn't appear to be on his side; an engine failure when well placed cost him points in India, and then a hydraulic problem in Abu Dhabi ended his race as he was comfortably outperforming his team-mate. Buemi will know this could well be his last chance to cling on to a drive, and with the Toro Rosso's impressive straight-line speed going to be effective in sectors one and three, he should be in the hunt for a points finish.
The divide in Brazil has always been clear around the grand prix weekend, and it was highlighted last year when Jenson Button's car was approached by armed would-be assailants. Fortunately McLaren had laid on a police driver in an armoured vehicle for both its drivers and he managed to get all in the car away quickly. All drivers will now have police escorts in and out of the circuit this weekend, but they are still an obvious target and team members too will have to be wary when away from the track.
Rubens Barrichello's future
It could quite easily be one of the home drivers' last race this weekend as Barrichello's future still remains uncertain. After 18 years in the sport it would be sad to see his career end by way of a press release in December, but Williams has yet to confirm its line-up for 2012 and the likelihood of Kimi Raikkonen joining the team next year appears to be growing stronger. Barrichello says he is looking for sponsorship if that's what is required to get a seat, but he shouldn't need to with his level of experience. Expect plenty of questions on the likelihood of him being on the grid in 2012 to both Rubens and Williams.
Since the last race in Abu Dhabi we've had the Young Driver Test and the F3 Macau Grand Prix, both of which have allowed emerging talent to make their mark and impress F1 bosses. The likes of Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas have put themselves firmly in the frame for further involvement next season, for Friday practice drives at the very least. Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird did nothing to harm their reputations, with Bianchi already on the Williams radar, while Charles Pic and Dani Clos are also both tipped to end up on the grid next season with Virgin and HRT respectively. The problem is, with the likes of Pedro de la Rosa landing one HRT seat at 40 and Barrichello still looking for a drive, opportunities are getting harder and harder to come by for the new generation of exciting talent.
We've finally heard from Robert Kubica himself this week, who has confirmed he will not be ready to return to Formula One before the start of the 2012 season. It may not have been surprising news, but it's disappointing all the same. Eric Boullier had already confirmed that he wanted Romain Grosjean to replace Kubica if he wasn't to return, and after Vitaly Petrov's outburst at the team after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix there could be two seats available. Throw in the fact that Renault is in discussions with Kubica about extending his contract for when he is ready to return and there's a lot of potential permutations for the team's 2012 line-up. It's not just drivers that could change next season, we'll also be saying goodbye to the Renault team name in Brazil, and likewise Team Lotus and Virgin as they will all take on new identities in the new year.
- Interlagos translates literally as 'between the lakes', referring to the two manmade lakes that were built to supply Sao Paulo with water and electricity
- The circuit's full name is the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, and is named after Carlos Pace who won his only ever grand prix at Interlagos in 1975. He was killed in a plane crash in 1977
- The original Interlagos circuit was 7.873 km (4.892 miles) long, and held races from 1973-77 and 1979-80 before losing the race to Jacarepagua in Rio de Janeiro. A $15 million redevelopment of the track to its current layout regained the race in 1990
- The original track was completed in 1940, with the developers deciding to build the track after a combination of the Wall Street Crash and the unsuitable land prevented them going ahead with a housing development
- Juan Pablo Montoya holds the lap record with a time of 1.11.473, set as he held off Kimi Raikkonen to win but just one second back in 2004
- The circuit is 4.309 km long and is the second shortest F1 has visited this year
- Drivers will be at full throttle for 74% of the lap, with the longest section lasting for 16 seconds
- Engines lose around 10% of their power output (80bhp) due to the altitude, with the circuit being the highest on the calendar at 800m above sea level
CircuitThe circuit is a difficult one for the drivers and teams alike. For the drivers, the anti-clockwise direction puts added strain on neck muscles more used to turning right, and the bumpy surface makes it even more physically demanding (though a track resurfacing in 2007 means it is not as bad as it once was). The layout makes setup difficult to master, with sectors one and three requiring good straight line speed, but the twisty middle section calling for good balance and traction.
FIA driver stewardHaving raced in 69 grands prix, former Benetton, McLaren and Williams driver Alex Wurz makes his second appearance as the driver steward in Brazil having also carried out the role in China last season.
WeatherThere's regularly a threat of rain at Interlagos, with a wet qualifying in 2010 seeing Nico Hulkenberg take pole and Lewis Hamilton sensationally snatch the 2008 title as rain fell. This year Friday looks set to be dry, but the current forecast warns that qualifying could be affected similar to last season, while a wet race is also predicted.
BettingSebastian Vettel is (as always) the favourite at evens with Lewis Hamilton's odds shortening after his Abu Dhabi win to 5/2. Jenson Button comes next at 5/1 while Fernando Alonso is worth a look at is 13/2. Mark Webber's inability to win a race so far this season sees him out at 7/1 while Felipe Massa isn't that attractive at 50/1 with a wet race forecast. Keeping the weather in mind, aside from Button, Michael Schumacher could be a good bet at 25/1 to grab a place on the podium.