Interlagos and its many charms
“In qualifying you had to take it flat. If you stayed on the road, and the lap was good, you were on pole. If you left the track there you were dead. Simple as that.”
This was Niki Lauda talking about the first corner at the ‘old’ Interlagos, or the Autodromo José Carlos Pace as it’s less commonly known, this being the daunting circuit that preceded the existing layout in the raggedy suburbs of São Paulo. Back then, the corner that is now the Senna S was a sweeping, hold-your-breath, balls-to-the-wall left-hander called, simply, Curva 1. Even now, despite several emasculations of the layout, Interlagos remains a wonderful place to go racing, for drivers and spectators alike, and the atmosphere is among any F1 campaign’s best.
Deadlines prevent us carrying news of this year’s race, the season finale, but the results are far from being the whole story. Some people love it, as I do, but others loathe it – and the same goes for Brazil itself. Suffice to say, the staging of the next Olympic Games will be a challenge for this most delightful and chaotic of nations. But locals adore motor racing and will be overjoyed at Mr Ecclestone’s recent assertion that Interlagos will continue to host the Grand Prix for “many years to come”. I hope this wasn’t one of his wind-ups.
Strangely, and despite forcing just about every other circuit to modernise facilities, Bernie appears not to mind the tiny paddock, rickety buildings and shortage of VIP hospitality facilities. This pleases me greatly because race mornings at Interlagos (and Monza) are two of the main reasons to remain involved with Grand Prix racing.
I suspect this year’s race was more of an end-of-term knees-up than usual, the F1 titles having been long ago decided. For the Paulistas, of course, only a victory for Felipe Massa is good enough, he being their only real interest since Rubinho departed the fray. Whatever the outcome, the fans make this race special, pouring in through the gates at dawn, ready to samba in the sunshine (or the rain, come to that). The grandstands move to the music as start time approaches and there isn’t an empty seat in the place. The Brazilian GP, the climax of the season, is what sport is all about. Yes, favelas form part of the backdrop and the city can be an edgy cauldron, with wealth and appalling poverty side by side, but a season without Brazil would be unthinkable. Mr Ecclestone clearly agrees.
The end of November, in the modern calendar, is a time for reflection and a time to ponder what comes next. Both of Michael Schumacher’s retirements came at Interlagos, first in 2006 with Ferrari and then again in 2012 with Mercedes-Benz. And now, at the end of 2013, we are in the midst of another period of extraordinary domination by a German racing driver.
There are grumbles about Herr Vettel having the fastest car, but that’s what they said about Herr Schumacher winning with Ferrari. The Red Bull clearly is the best car, but what intrigues us now is how cleverly Adrian Newey interprets a completely new set of rules for next year. And how long will he stay in the sport? Might he and Ben Ainslie get together to challenge for the America’s Cup in a Red Bull-sponsored yacht at some point? Red Bull enjoys the prospect of world domination and Mr Newey remains intrigued by what is essentially a Formula 1 boat. [See Letters on page 50 for an answer! – Ed]
Meanwhile, who will topple Red Bull from its perch by the time F1 reconvenes in Brazil next November? We have no idea – and that’s what continues to make this sport so exciting.