This weekend Formula 1 heads to Brazil for the nineteenth and final race of the 2011 season – just days before people up and down the country prepare to open the first door of their advent calendars, this long campaign that began back in March will finally reach its conclusion.
And Interlagos is a fine place to end any season. The circuit may have the worst facilities on the calendar, and located in a dangerous neighbourhood (just ask Jenson Button, who had his highly-trained police driver to thank last year after narrowly escaping an armed gang), but on Sunday there will be a carnival atmosphere amongst the fans as they welcome F1 on its annual visit to Sao Paulo.
The championships may have been settled many races ago and there is little chance of a Brazilian winning their home race this weekend, but still this final Grand Prix will still be worth watching as the loose ends of a frantic season are tied together, scores are settled, and teams try to send out a message for their rivals to take away over the winter.
McLaren will be one such team hoping to end the year on a high. They have been looking more competitive in the latter part of the season and will be hoping that either Lewis Hamilton or Button will score a second consecutive win for the team. This will surely give them extra momentum as they head into the winter break, helping them to design a car that can topple Red Bull in 2012.
Sebastian Vettel will be desperate to stop that happening though. The puncture suffered by the German in Abu Dhabi last time out deprived him of a chance to match Michael Schumacher‘s record of thirteen wins in a single season but Vettel will still be fighting for the victory, eager to get a result in the final race that can reflect his dominant season. Fernando Alonso will also be one to watch, although the Spaniard has surprisingly never won at this track.
There are other drivers who will be desperate for a result at Interlagos, just to ensure their 2011 cannot be regarded as a complete write-off. Mark Webber will want a victory just to avoid a completely win-less season, especially as his team-mate has managed to stand on the top step of the podium eleven times already.
Felipe Massa would probably just be happy with a podium to avoid the 2011 season going down as the first since 2005 in which he failed to pick up a trophy. In fact, the Brazilian has not actually even managed a fourth place yet in 2011 but, as a two-time winner of his home race, maybe Massa will give his critics something to think about on Sunday.
Schumacher, a four-time winner here, would probably like to overcome the seven point deficit between himself and team-mate Nico Rosberg to assert himself as top dog at Mercedes. The seven-time world champion has claimed a number of good results this season, despite starting from some lowly grid positions. Some of these drives have been reminiscent of his final race at Ferrari in 2006 when, after dropping down to the back of the field at the start of the race, he so skilfully fought his way up to fourth place. It was not enough to give him the title that season, but it was nevertheless a great send off for the German.
At Renault and Toro Rosso, both drivers will have one last chance to convince their team bosses that that they are worthy of a race seat next season. Vitaly Petrov is thought to have a contract with the team, and attracts some Russian sponsorship its way. However, after his outspoken comments towards the team last week, Eric Boullier may be tempted to move him on. Bruno Senna is far from guaranteed a seat next season, with Romain Grosjean waiting in the wings and the chance, albeit one that is becoming increasingly unlikely, that Robert Kubica might return.
At Toro Rosso, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have impressed in the second half of the season, and probably deserve another year together in the Red Bull junior team. Alguersuari has definitely become a much improved driver in the second half of this season, and sits thirteenth in the championship with 26 points. However, with a raft of young drivers waiting in the wings, including Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, Helmut Marko might decide to that time is up for one or both of the current drivers. They will be hoping to impress in Brazil.
Force India should, hopefully, announce their driver line-up for next season sometime this week, with Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg (who was on pole in a Williams at this event last season, but will only be in the car for FP1 this year) still the expected choice. The team will be looking to secure sixth place in the constructors’ table in Brazil, and have a healthy fifteen point cushion to Sauber.
Sauber, who confirmed some time ago that Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez will be retained for 2012, will probably not be too focused on chasing Force India for sixth place on Sunday, but will be concentrating more on defending seventh position, given a fragile lead of one point from Toro Rosso.
This race could also mark the end of the road for Rubens Barrichello, the most experienced driver in the history of the sport. The Brazilian looks unlikely to be retained by Williams for next season, and it is hard to see where else he could end up. Barrichello is still hopeful of securing a drive over the winter, but a 20th season in the sport for the 39-year-old is looking doubtful.
It will be a shame to see Barrichello bow out of the sport. By all accounts he is a very friendly, happy and enthusiastic driver who will no doubt be missed by many in the paddock. However, many would argue that it is time for him to move on and allow some new blood to take his place. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he has normally been pretty unlucky at Interlagos, with eleven retirements in his eighteen previous visits, and only one podium finish – third in 2004.
Brazil could also be the final race for Jerome D’Ambrosio, with Virgin Racing expected to announce Charles Pic alongside Timo Glock for next season, and who knows what will happen to Vitantonio Liuzzi now that Pedro de la Rosa has been confirmed in an HRT race seat for next season. It is likely that the other driver in that team will need to be bringing in plenty of sponsorship money.
- Qualifying for the final race of 2011 begins at 16:00 GMT on Saturday, with the race starting at the same time on Sunday.
- There will be reports and reaction to all the events in Brazil throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk
- Be sure to look out for our mammoth four-part F1 2011 Season Review which will be published in December