• Brazilian Grand Prix preview

Sao Paulo showdown

Chris Medland November 22, 2012
Having taken pole position, a gearbox problem cost Sebastian Vettel victory in 2011 © Getty Images
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It all comes down to this: 71 laps of the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace at Interlagos will decide the destination of the 2012 Formula One World Championship. 19 races have given Sebastian Vettel a 13-point head start, but the relentless accumulation of points by Fernando Alonso makes him a very real threat as he attempts to take advantage of any problems Red Bull might encounter. Alonso's helping hand may come from the skies as rain is forecast and, as Vettel's 2010 triumph shows; anything can happen in the final race of the season, while Lewis Hamilton's 2007 failure and 2008 success highlight that in Brazil, it usually does. Two of the greatest drivers in Formula One go head-to-head in pursuit of their third titles, with Vettel aiming to become only the third driver to win three in a row after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, with the latter retiring after the race. What a weekend in store.

On form

It seemed far from certain to happen, but Lewis Hamilton managed to secure at least one last victory for McLaren with his win in the United States Grand Prix as the car was both quick and reliable all weekend. Hamilton's outstanding performance in pursuit of Sebastian Vettel showed that none of his hunger and desire have waned as a result of the frustrations of recent failures and in the face of his impending move to Mercedes. The car was somewhat surprisingly quick in Abu Dhabi compared to Korea and India, but that competitiveness continued in Austin and there's no reason to suggest it won't do so again for the Interlagos circuit. Hamilton really should have been in this title battle going in to the final race, but he'll want to sign off six years with McLaren with a 22nd victory regardless.

Out of form

Hamilton's future employer Mercedes is enduring the worst run in its history having gone five races without scoring a point. A season that started so promisingly with pole and victory in China and second place in Monaco has quickly fizzled out to such an extent that Michael Schumacher looks set to go without a point since announcing his retirement ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix. Focus has long since switched to the 2013 car, but with relative stability within the regulations and the team's trump card - the double DRS - banned next season, it's hard to see how substantial progress can be made. Schumacher will need plenty of luck to end his decorated career with a strong result.

Felipe Massa outpaced Fernando Alonso in Austin and could again be crucial to his title hopes this weekend © Sutton Images
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One to watch

Having had such a dismal first half to the campaign, Felipe Massa has lost only 14 points to his team-mate Fernando Alonso since the summer break. While his second place in Japan came at a race that Alonso had retired from at the first corner, the zenith came last weekend when Massa outpaced his team-mate throughout practice and qualifying, only to then take a five-place grid penalty as Ferrari deliberately broke the seal on his gearbox in order to promote Alonso one place to the clean side of the grid. He was still mightily impressive to recover from 11th to fourth place and finish less than seven seconds behind his team-mate, and Massa's role will be crucial if conditions allow Ferrari to take the fight to Red Bull on track.

Taking points

Schumacher and Hamilton's landmarks
The most successful driver in the history of Formula One will hang up his helmet at the end of this weekend for the second time. Schumacher looks set to retire having failed to add to his record of 91 race victories, and he does so at the same venue in which he first attempted to bring the curtain down in 2006. On that occasion he was still locked in a battle with Fernando Alonso for the title, but this time around he admits he hopes to "savour" the moment a bit more. For Hamilton, he leaves McLaren having been synonymous with the team for the last six years but with just one world title to his name, and much like Schumacher did in leaving Benetton for Ferrari he's hoping to restore a team with a proud (if not extensive) history in the sport back to the sharp end. For both the fairytale ending would be victory, but only Hamilton can realistically target such a result.

Driver market
The final race for Schumacher at Mercedes and Hamilton at McLaren could also mark the final outing for many other drivers with their current teams. We know Sergio Perez will take part in his final race for Sauber before heading to McLaren, and Nico Hulkenberg drives for Force India for the final time before replacing Perez, but elsewhere many other drivers face an uncertain future. Bruno Senna's home grand prix could be his last as he's set to be replaced by Valtteri Bottas at Williams, while Kamui Kobayashi is similarly unsure of where - or even if - he will be driving next year. Only Timo Glock has a secure seat at Marussia out of the bottom three teams with HRTs place in the sport looking more and more precarious.

The skies
The weather forecast for this weekend has been at the forefront of the Formula One paddock's collective mind even since last weekend's race in Austin. Rain is predicted for race day, and as Hamilton's dramatic championship victory in 2008 proved that can open the door for any result. Alonso has been the quickest in the wet this year and will be hoping for an unsettled grand prix, while the likes of Caterham need similar conditions to open the door to a 12th place finish that would allow it to regain 10th in the constructors' from Marussia.

Title permutations
It's pretty simple for Sebastian Vettel; he needs to score 12 points to secure a third consecutive title, and that means fourth place or higher will be enough regardless of what Fernando Alonso achieves. If the pair finish level on points then Vettel will be crowned champion, currently having five victories to Alonso's three. For Alonso to take the championship, first and foremost he has to finish in the top three. If he wins the race and Vettel is fifth or lower then Alonso will be champion, while second place for Alonso with Vettel eighth or lower will also be enough. If Alonso is third, he needs Vettel to score no more than one point. Red Bull tied up the constructors' championship last weekend, but second place is still up for grabs with Ferrari 14 points clear of McLaren, and Sauber aiming to close the 12-point gap to Mercedes for fifth.

Lewis Hamilton will replaced Michael Schumacher at Mercedes after this weekend © Sutton Images
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Trivia

  • The drivers' championship will be decided at Interlagos for the fifth time in seven years
  • This weekend marks the 27th occasion out of 63 seasons that the title battle has gone down to the final race of the year
  • Either Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso will become the ninth three-time world champion in Formula One history
  • The biggest points difference to be overturned at the final race of the season was Vettel's 15 points to Alonso in 2010

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

Eight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen will fulfil the role of FIA driver steward for the championship finale, having also been on duty at the Australian Grand Prix in 2010 and the 2011 German Grand Prix.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Friday and Saturday should be hot and sunny, with just a low threat of rain, giving the drivers maximum track time. However, that's all set to be redundant running as the race day forecast is for rain throughout the day. The prediction of showers could mean that there are some dry periods on Sunday but it appears unlikely that they will last long enough to result in a fully dry track for the duration of the grand prix.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel remains favourite for victory but with Red Bull's recent alternator troubles and the forecast for wet weather added to him needing a top four finish he's only at 2/1, with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso joint second favourites at 11/4. Felipe Massa at 8/1 for the podium is another good bet, as is Sergio Perez at 12/1 to finish in the top three with a wet race forecast. Based on McLaren's recent pace, Jenson Button at 12/1 to set the fastest lap is also worth a look, while a safety car period is almost a certainty in the wet and offers odds of 4/9.

ESPN prediction

Having got the last prediction right we're sticking with the same tip and backing Lewis Hamilton to secure consecutive victories on his farewell weekend for McLaren. The weather forecast looks set to throw up plenty of surprises but Hamilton is the most competitive driver with nothing to lose this weekend and with that in mind, title favourite Sebastian Vettel is also the man who gets our backing to make it three championships in a row as Hamilton prevents Alonso taking maximum points.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season