Formula 1: Brazilian Grand Prix Preview

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2011

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 24:  (L-R) Brazilian F1 drivers Bruno Senna of Renault, Rubens Barrichello of Williams and Felipe Massa of Ferrari pose for a group photograph at the drivers press conference during previews to the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 24, 2011 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

After 18 races, the Formula One circus rolls into São Paulo for what will be the 19th and final event of the 2011 season.

Autódromo José Carlos Pace—or Interlagos—is one of the treasures of the calendar for me.  It's received few of the ultra-modern tweaks and alterations which have taken a little bit away from many of its contemporaries, and overtaking has always been possible here.

It's something a little different from the standard F1 offering.  It flows with the natural curves of the land, runs anti-clockwise, and there are no incidences of a hairpin followed by a long straight.

We also have an almost totally dead rubber.  The only competition of any real meaning still going on is the battle for seventh in the Constructors' Championship and a greater share of the prize money, between Sauber and Toro Rosso.  They start one point apart, in the Swiss team's favour.

At a push you could say there's still a battle for second through to fifth in the Drivers' Championship, but none of the men involved seem especially bothered about anything other than first.

And with the exception of Lewis Hamilton vs Mark Webber for fourth, a retirement is probably needed for those positions to change.

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Many teams will run developmental parts on the cars with one eye very firmly on the 2012 season.  All the front-runners took minor modifications into the first practice session, and several lesser teams did the same.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 07:  General view of the podium ceremony following the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos Circuit on November 7, 2010 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

DRS will cover the back straight only, as the main pit is considered a good passing location without it.

So with all that in mind, can we expect anything other than Sebastian Vettel on pole and winning?

It might be a different style of track, but the Red Bull has been at the very least extremely competitive at every race this year.  A decade ago we had 'McLaren tracks' and 'Ferrari tracks'... today, we don't seem to get that, not with Red Bull anyway.

Vettel is the clear favourite, and another "perfect score" of pole, fastest lap and race win is very much within his reach.

McLaren will be looking to end the season on a high to take some momentum into the winter, and their improved qualifying performances of late should give their fans some heart.  Of concern is that it seems to have come at the expense of a little race pace.

Lewis Hamilton won last time out, and Jenson Button drove a brilliant race to hold off Mark Webber for third.  Both men have a chance of beating Vettel, but they need to get ahead of him in qualifying.  The top 10 shootout will be of great interest on Saturday.

Ferrari would also love to take the victory in the final race.  But the Italian team appears to have taken up station as the third team behind Red Bull and McLaren as the year draws to a close. 

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 07:  Sebastian Vettel (right) of Germany and Red Bull Racing beats Nico Huelkenberg (2nd right) of Germany and Williams into turn one at the start of the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos Circuit on November 7
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Unless Fernando Alonso produces something special, a podium looks a more realistic target.

Mercedes are likely to come home just behind the expected top six.  They've been in their own little world for most of the season, ahead of the chasing pack but behind the three top teams. 

The real fun will be in the middle of the field.  Force India may hold a slight edge at this stage, but Toro Rosso have improved steadily and will join Lotus-Renault and Sauber in the battle for the final points-paying positions.

That eight-car scrap will, of course, contain the battle for seventh in the Championship I mentioned earlier.  Sauber have a fifth place finish to their name, so Toro Rosso will need two more points than their rivals to overhaul them.

Throw in the fact that Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta, Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Bruno Senna all lack confirmed race seats for next year and could well be driving for their F1 futures, and you have an excellent focal point away from the front of the grid.

Williams might latch on to the back of that battle.  Rubens Barrichello may well be taking part in his final Grand Prix,so he'll need every tenth he can get from his home crowd—but it probably won't be enough.

And as for Lotus, Virgin and HRT ... well, there's always the battle for 11th in Championship, currently held by HRT with a single 13th place finish.  If Virgin equal that, they'll be ahead.  A 12th place would put them ahead of Lotus for 10th.

And if that doesn't get you onto the edge of your seat, I don't know what will.

I tend to steer clear of weather forecasts, as they rarely bring what they promise.  But rain is a distinct possibility in Brazil, and BBC Weather suggests a chance of thundery showers for qualifying and the race. 

That would shake everything up, and give us a truly memorable final round of the year.

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