Interlagos – Could it be the End?

Image courtesy of Haas F1 Team

To the heartbreak of most it is looking like that the track Autódromo José Carlos Pace or Sao Paulo/Interlagos may have seen its last Formula 1 race. Chase Carey in one of his final moves as Chief Executive of the sport before stepping aside for Stefano Domenicali looks like to have penned a deal with Rio Motorsports LLC at a new location completely from the historic circuit having held races since 1972. Brazilian President Bolsonaro has supported the switch saying that Interlagos is no longer financially viable but the location of choice is causing uproar as it is Rio’s last forested area, and environmentalists are against it, but if it gets approval by the State Environmental Control Commission Interlagos could be off the calendar and Rio will be on the provisional 2021 schedule . Hamilton has also spoken about his disinterest in the venue not only because he likes Interlagos but of the effect of the forest. Chase Carey’s final move as CEO could see one of the locations I personally look forward to each year being taken off the calendar.

Here’s a few races in my lifetime, three of the best?

Senna, The dream happens – 1991

Ayrton Senna is renowned as one of the best in the Sports history, and did so much for his country and from his debut career in 1984 Brazil was always a bogey track, 6 years and 4 retirements, with a best place of second in 1990. 1991 was the year for him albeit it didn’t come easy, lights to flag victory for the great. He was clear within the early laps but Mansell begun to close before pitstop trouble for Brit managed to give Ayrton breathing space. There were more battles with Mansell and Patrese later on though as the gearbox gremlins began for them all it was survival, Senna was hit with it first losing fourth gear. Mansell fell first though on lap 61 spinning and unable to get going again, whilst Senna battled on losing further gears. Patrese closed further only 2.9 behind from nearly half a minute, Senna stayed in sixth losing time but he held on. When the Brazilian saw the chequered flag at the 71st lap he couldn’t stop screaming, much louder than a Frenchman in 2019 out dragging Lewis Hamilton! He finally managed to win his home event, superstition? 7th time lucky? The struggle of him doing so caused him to slow and get into the medical car to drive him to the podium where he struggled to lift the trophy, he put 110% into that display that day.

Raikkonen Wins, or does he?! – 2003

The 2003 Grand Prix was held in horrid conditions, and began behind the safety car. There were several laps behind it before the track went green and fan favourite Barrichello lost the lead instantly to the disgust of home fans to Coulthard. The track began to dry except for turn 3, which had a water stream across it, which over the period of the race became a car park as 6 cars aqua planed, including Michael Schumacher! It was his first time he failed to finish since his home GP in 2001. Jenson Button in the BAR was the heaviest collision out of the six but all unharmed. Coulthard lead on worn tyres and home favourite Barrichello took the lead to the crowd’s joy on lap 45, but Rubens was to retire, a ninth time in a row! He ran out of fuel and DC retook the lead two laps later. Raikkonen and Fisichella were battling behind him as he pit on lap 52. Kimi then in his younger years with tyre wear and pressure caused by Fisichella made a mistake lost the lead on lap 54 letting the Jordan by. Webber lost control of his car behind them and hit the wall across climb of the hill on front straight, tyres strewn across the track. The safety car was deployed but the communication didn’t get across to Alonso in the Renault who hit a tyre at 170mph, and wall now known to reach 35G. With the damage to track and over 75% completion done the race was ended early. Fisichella was lucky his car was on fire but timekeepers deemed Raikkonen as the winner on countback! Albeit this was reviwed ahead of San Marino and the final result was handed to the Jordan driver of Fisichella.

2008 – Is that Glock?

Hamilton had memories of 2007 of which trouble in the race stopped him becoming a rookie champion, and 2008 was between himself and another Brazilian Felipe Massa, that country has some great talents throughout the years. Weather once more played its part this year! Massa got off well, but all Hamilton needed to do was finish P5 or higher and sat P4 from the start. In Coulthard’s final race of his career it ended at turn 2 due to collision, he was given permission to have Red Bull’s Wings for Life Charity across his car, this brought the safety car out and the track begun to dry under this, in which Fisichella pit early for tyres. This was a smart play which got him up the order which briefly put Massa in title winning position before Hamilton first pit stops happened. Massa was truly engaged he was setting fastest lap after fastest lap as the track dried further but clouds in the distance didn’t look promising. A noteable pit stop happened half distance, lap 36 by Toyota as Glock pitted for fuel and tyres until the end, and two laps later Massa pitted the first of the Championship runners albeit he was to pit again. Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen pit a further 2 laps later on laps 40-42. Hamilton was comfortably in position to win the Championship being in the top three with Massa in the lead. Vettel having an impressive second half of the season since his first win at Monza pitting on lap 51 was closing in Hamilton on fresher rubber but can afford to give him the position. Rain begun to fall 12 laps later with Vettel still over the Mclaren’s rear wing, he just can’t get by. Everyone followed Heidfield’s lead bar Glock as he stayed out as he had the fuel from previous stop to which dropped Hamilton to fifth, now in danger with Vettel on his rear wing. The Brit made an error and Vettel got by, so he now was sixth! Massa on lap 69 was in Championship winning position, but the rain begun to fall heavier. Massa took the victory and the crowd and the Ferrari crew go wild but then cameras pan to Hamilton as we see Glock go slowly due to car cannot cope as Hamilton going down the inside Juncao and the famous Brundle words ‘IS THAT GLOCK?!’ Hamilton then crosses the line in P5 and Mclaren then go crazy with Ferrari stunned, Massa was Champion for around 20 seconds.

What is your favourite Brazilian Grand Prix? Other noteable mentions for 2012 and 2019.

The first for when Vettel recovers from spin on lap 1 to win his third Championship, and it looked like Schumacher let him by handing over the baton to the new generation of drivers. Button took his final victory of the sport, but the main memory is Alonso’s face post race, a meme created to this day.

The second for which could be the final ever at the track where Verstappen takes victory and Gasly second, the first 1+2 for Honda powered cars since Adelaide 1991. No rain but three teams battled for victory in the hybrid era, Sainz took his first podium of his career.

The 2020 calendar saw a possible new track with Vietnam, so this could be the 2021 new track along with the introduction of Vietnam and return of Zandvoort, other series are beginning to reveal their plans for next year so this could be the beginning.

 

The tide is high, HMS Gasly sails again

Know what? I’m not even going to start this piece with a touching build-up. P2. A Toro Rosso, gleaming with blue, red and glorious silver in the Sao Paulo sunlight, crossed that Interlagos finish line in second place. The man himself leapt out of his machinery, lungs burst, cameras attentive, to let the world know they just witnessed reality, no mirage – his two fingers were raised to make it abundantly clear. Pierre Gasly has his name in lights again.

Anyone who knows me, is even so much as the slightest attentive to what I stand for, knows this isn’t so much an objective piece detailing a reputation rebuild for the ages as an unashamed love letter. It’s one born of anguish for a man who can cure me of my own at the drop of a blue Toro Rosso cap, joy for a fresh talent batting the jokes and speculation for six and above all else, well, it being my time to be this emotional.

Listen to the team radio, the full one. I implore you, if you already haven’t. It’s loud, it’s booming and it’s the two most poignant minutes of just what that result means to Pierre. It’s the safeguard from a trophy-less career but also so much more. It’s when the boxer has to summon up the strength among the lights of a stadium, and the imploring from a soliciting crowd to get back up. It’s the hit that brings them back into it.

For a few out there, this was probably a textbook if moment, a case of what could be possible if the right chips fell down. To me it was the inevitable, it was only a matter of when. If we’re taking this boxer analogy and running with it, Pierre’s one of the most punch-drunk sportsmen around and is still standing. He’s a warrior.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

From the moment he first came to my attention on that debut GP2 weekend in Monza, 2014, it’s been a non-stop barrage of challenges, all of which he’s risen to with aplomb. A 2015 season in the series, his first full shot, concluded with level-pegging with his DAMS teammate Alex Lynn, taking none of the team’s two wins. 2016 was a perfect retort – now at PREMA, Pierre took five poles and three out of three at the season’s end, four wins and most importantly the last GP2 championship title in history.

Then, Super Formula. Tasked with proving his mettle against sage, experienced competitors well-versed in the art of Eastern racing, Pierre was a Suzuka-bound typhoon away from potentially winning the series, only losing out by one point to then-one time champion Hiroaki Ishiura. Does ‘losing’ feel like the right word? It feels like a victory to me, given the circumstances.

And we know the story of Pierre’s first stint at Toro Rosso. That sterling drive in Bahrain, one that saw him finish fourth with an almost Prost-esque controlling drive among the midfield in only his seventh Grand Prix, kick-started a season which bestowed other stand-out results; seventh in Monaco, sixth in Hungary, more points in Belgium and Mexico all with a Toro Rosso package spearheaded by a Honda engine going through severe development gains and the spate of penalties that come with.

That was the smooth among the rough, woven together like different colours of yarn in a sewing machine. But this year is one I’ll hold above the rest as his most heart-warming, inspirational seasons – for those twelve races with Red Bull, the sewing machine was sparking, threatening to blow while the needles couldn’t be found anywhere. And once the thing finally powered down, he set about fixing it again… and he’s succeeded.

32 points in 8 races. Average finish of 8th. Points in 75% of Grand Prix, Q3 appearances in 50%. Amongst it all, Pierre has had emotional hardships to deal with that no-one should ever face – the loss of a close friend the racing community will always sorely miss in Anthoine Hubert, a man whose colours adorned Pierre’s helmet in Monza, whose memory was right up there on that Interlagos podium and whose legacy will always shine bright in his heart.

A demotion to Toro Rosso which meant Pierre had to adapt mid-season to different circumstances and changed expectations, with a mission already thought complete by 2018’s end back on the to-do list, along with such personal circumstances, has been handled with the utmost capability and dignity. Pierre’s been fighting back against the tide for months now, and that glorious Sunday in Sao Paulo was above all else the validation of his hard work.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

And that result was everything I dreamt it would be and more. Hearing the sheer unbridled euphoria of a man who’d had to stomach so much pain over the course of 2019, seeing the special bond he and his Faenza squad be beamed out on show to the world and knowing that as tough as times may get, he’ll always have that one special moment holds stratospheric meaning to me. As I stated before, this is my personal love letter and not a showing of balance – this was the time I finally got to hear the man I’ve poured my heart into for over five years utter the words ‘this is the best day of my life’.

And I felt it, because in that whirlwind of post-race emotion it honestly felt like the only words present in my brain were emanating from Pierre’s mouth. It felt like mine too. It felt like vindication, for the both of us. It felt like I’d have the most wonderful reference point to look to and remember every time I hit the hard times in life. It felt, for the want of a flashier term, so damn freakin’ good. The pain of 2019 is fading away, the belief is stronger than ever, and there’s a boatload of joy ready to be enjoyed in 2020. HMS Gasly is sailing again.

 

[Featured image – Mark Thompson/Getty Images]

Brazilian GP: Albon tops FP1 despite crashing out, as Ferrari lead FP2

FP1 – A Damp Day on Track

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 15: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Alex Albon set the fastest lap in FP1, before bringing out the red flag to end the session after crashing out on slicks in drying conditions.

He topped the session with a 1:16.142, set shortly before he hit the wall at Juncao, with Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:16.693 and Sebastian Vettel in third with a 1:17.041. However, the morning’s session looked unlikely to be representative as the session started off wet and dried out slowly, with slick tyres not being seen until the final five minutes of the session.

The adverse conditions led to limited running, with four drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – not setting timed laps. Nicholas Latifi took the place of Robert Kubica, the driver he is expected to replace at Williams in 2020, in his sixth FP1 session of the season.

The session got off to a slow and soggy start, with Carlos Sainz the only driver to set a lap time in the early stages, with Lewis Hamilton and then Charles Leclerc the first drivers to emerge on intermediates just over the half-way point in the session.

With five minutes remaining, a flurry of cars came out on slick tyres, with both Red Bulls suffering problems in the damp conditions, but several drivers found the conditions challenging. Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both suffered spin, and the session was brought to an end when Alex Albon hit the barriers.

FP2 – Ferrari on Top

GP BRASILE F1/2019 – VENERDÌ 15/11/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

By the time FP2 came around, conditions had improved, and despite reports of raindrops mid-session, the rain stayed away enough to avoid a switch to intermediates.

The two Ferraris topped the timesheets, with Sebastian Vettel in first with a 1:09.217. Leclerc, who has a ten place grid penalty owing to an ICE change this weekend, set a 1:09.238 in second. Verstappen was third, and the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively.

The midfield battle looked as close as ever, with a little over four tenths of a second separating the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in 17th.

The session was red flagged early on as Robert Kubica’s Williams hit the wall before he was even able to set a lap time, scattering debris all around and likely creating some headaches for Williams, who have been beset by a shortage of parts this season.

Verstappen set the early pace before being usurped by the Ferraris at the top of the table, while Valtteri Bottas created some hairy moments for both teammate Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, failing to move out of the way as they came past on flying laps. Bottas and Leclerc also had a close shave in the pit lane, but the stewards deemed an investigation unnecessary.

Pierre Gasly parked up with 20 minutes to go with a probable engine issue, his car exuding plumes of smoke. The other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag to end the session, with Kvyat coming to a stop in the same place as Albon in FP1. However, Kvyat’s incident was likely to be mechanical as his dash appeared to cut off, sending him off the track.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]