by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Brazilian F1 Grand Prix 2013: Preview, Free Practice and Qualifying Reports from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

I. Brazilian F1 Grand Prix 2013 Preview

The 2013 FIA Formula 1 World Championship draws to a close in Brazil this weekend. The season finale takes place at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, one of the oldest and most atmospheric venues on the calendar, and a track at which McLaren has enjoyed much success over the years.

The circuit is named after Jose Carlos Pace, who raced under the shorter name of Carlos Pace for Surtees and Brabham in the 1970s, winning his home grand prix in a Brabham in 1975. He was killed in a private aircraft accident in 1977, and had been a great friend of fellow Brazilian racer Emerson Fittipaldi, to whom Interlagos also means a huge amount: he won his home grand prix in 1973 (in a Lotus) and 1974 (in a McLaren). Emerson won McLaren’s first ever F1 world championship in 1974.

There have been several iterations of the circuit since it was built in the Sao Paolo precinct of Interlagos in 1940. The current anti-clockwise layout dates back to 1990 and, despite being resurfaced regularly, the marshy topography results in its being decidedly bumpy and therefore physically demanding for the drivers.

From a technical point of view, the circuit’s 800-metre altitude has a detrimental effect on car performance. Engines lose seven percent of their power compared with sea level, and aerodynamic addenda are less effective, which shortfall places even greater emphasis on mechanical grip.

As was the case at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix, where Jenson Button and Sergio Perez both finished in the points, Pirelli will take their Medium and Hard compounds to the race.

Jenson has good memories of racing in Brazil. He scored his first world championship point at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in 2000; he clinched the world title at the track in ’09, and he scored his most recent victory there last year. Both he and Checo will be looking to end this season on a high.

Race distance - 71 laps (190.092 miles/305.909km)
Start time - 14:00 (local)/16:00 (GMT)
Circuit length - 2.677 miles/4.309km
2012 winner -  Jenson Button (McLaren MP4-27), 71 laps in 1hr45:22.656s (174.179km/h)
2012 pole - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren MP4-27), 1m12.458s (214.088km/h)
Lap record - Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams FW26), 1m11.473s (217.038km/h)

McLaren at the Brazilian Grand Prix

- Wins: 12 (1974, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1993,1998, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2012)
- Poles: 11 (1974, 1976, 1977, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2012)
- Fastest laps: 9 (1973, 1977, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2012)

Car 5: Jenson Button
- Age: 33 (January 19 1980)
- GPs: 246
- Wins: 15
- Poles: 8
- FLs: 8

“Obviously, I have some extremely happy memories of racing in Brazil – it’s where I won my world championship, back in 2009, and it’s where I took my most recent grand prix win, last year for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

“This year has been a tricky one, though, and it’ll be tough heading back to Sao Paulo knowing that the team hasn’t taken a victory since race day last year, but to be honest that only makes me more determined to end the season on a positive note

“Finally, Brazil will be my final race in Vodafone overalls. I’ve won eight grands prix in our title partner’s famous rocket-red colours, I’ve driven some of the best cars of my F1 career during my association with them, and I’ve done some incredible things with them too – like driving an F1 car around Mount Panorama, one of my lifelong ambitions. Vodafone has played such a major part in the success of our team over the last seven seasons, and, while I’ll be sad to see them leave, I’ll always be proud of the successes we enjoyed together.”

Car 6: Sergio Perez
- Age: 23 (January 26 1990)
- GPs: 55
- Wins: 0
- Poles: 0
- FLs: 2

“My final race for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will be the second successive race in the Americas, so it’ll be another weekend in front of my fans from Mexico and Latin America, and also another opportunity for me to show my abilities before the winter break.

“I love Interlagos because it’s such a racer’s circuit – you attack the whole lap. The first corner is a fantastic place for overtaking, and you can pretty much race side-by-side with someone all the way down into Turn Six, which is incredible. The infield section is tricky, because it has a range of elevations and cambers, but it’s a fantastic feeling when you get it right. Finally, Juncao is a tough little corner, because you’re often outbraking yourself on entry, simply because you want to maximise your speed through the corner in order to maintain speed along the long, top straight.

“Every lap is a challenge and, when you’re racing, an absolute thrill. I love it around here and I’ll be giving it everything to make sure I finish the season in style.”

Martin Whitmarsh
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“There are few more satisfyingly challenging venues at which to conclude a long Formula 1 season than Interlagos, the home of Brazilian motorsport and one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring racetracks in the world.

“The race will bring the curtain down on the sport’s current set of technical regulations, and will immediately send us busily into the winter as we start to prepare for a new era of turbocharging and energy recovery. It’s an exciting time for the sport – but also a nerve-wracking period for every team as we come to terms with a daunting array of new variables and permutations.

“For everyone in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, the Brazilian Grand Prix marks the end of another era – it will be the last grand prix of Vodafone’s title partnership with us. Vodafone will step away from that title partnership after having spent seven fantastic seasons with us – during which time we won one world championship and 34 grands prix together, and also took 30 pole positions and 24 fastest laps.

“We also take home a lot of wonderful shared memories, some of which we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives. Speaking for myself, I’ll certainly never forget the emotional rollercoaster that I found myself on, sitting on the pitwall here at Interlagos, five years ago, as we won the world championship on the very last corner of the very last lap of the very last race.

“Thank you, Vodafone. Power to you!”

A #mclaren50 memory
Brazilian Grand Prix, March 24 1991

After winning the season-opener at Phoenix, Ayrton Senna arrives In Brazil hungry for more success. He’s never won on home turf, despite starting from pole position four times in the last seven years.

Once again he sets the pace in qualifying. In the dying moments of the session he completes a blistering lap in front of his adoring fans that’s 0.3s faster than Riccardo Patrese and more than 1s ahead of his McLaren team-mate Gerhard Berger.

But the race turns out to be anything but easy for Ayrton. He leads into Turn One, but Nigel Mansell takes up the chase ahead of Patrese. After 20 laps the gap between Ayrton and Mansell is just 0.7s, and just as the Williams driver looks set to challenge for the lead, he dives into the pits. A slow pitstop by the Williams team, which takes more than 14s, gives Ayrton some breathing space – and when Mansell is forced to make an unscheduled second stop due to a puncture, Ayrton switches his attentions to second-placed Patrese.

By this stage of the race, Ayrton has issues of his own because his gearbox is playing up. First he loses fourth gear, then third and fifth gears, and he’s forced to drive the latter stages of the race in sixth gear. To make matters worse, rain starts to fall with a couple of laps to go.

But Ayrton is faultless and he takes an emotional home win at the eighth time of asking. He crosses the line 2.9s ahead of Patrese, with Gerhard coming home third in the second McLaren.

II. Friday's Free Practice Report

- MP4-28A-02
- FP1: 1m25.391s (+0.606s), 17 laps, 4th
- FP2: 1m31.770s (+4.464s), 6 laps, 22nd

“It was very slippery out there today – we even had high-speed aquaplaning along the straights, which was unusual.

“Fortunately, we got a lot of miles under our belts in this morning’s session – we felt the conditions were consistent enough for us to conduct some running on the Intermediate tyre. We did a longer run on high fuel, and also did a single-lap run on lower fuel – on each occasion, the car seemed okay.

“The afternoon session was more about waiting for the weather to settle down enough for us to continue running on Inters. That would enable us to back-to-back our morning run in order to measure the changes we’d made between sessions. We got some useful information.

“In these conditions, it would’ve been nice to have more tyres to play with – the wet weather presents more of an opportunity for us, but it’s also more of a risk, so we’ll see how the rest of the weekend pans out. Typically, the forecast suggests that it will be unpredictable for the remainder of the weekend.”

- MP4-28A-03
- FP1: 1m25.946s (+1.165s), 15 laps, 7th
- FP2: 1m30.748s (+3.442s), 8 laps, 17th

“It’s very difficult to know accurately how our car is performing – I didn’t do too many laps in either session, and those that I did were done in different conditions from our rivals.

“I’m not perfectly happy with the set-up – but, at least by doing some running, we have an understanding of what we can change for tomorrow. If the conditions stay the same for tomorrow, I think we’ll take a step forward.

“If the weather stays dry, we know where we’ll probably end up; but if it’s wet, we could have a stronger race. Our current forecast says it’ll be wet for qualifying, and that it’s 50:50 for the race.

“But you just never know in Sao Paulo…”

Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“You can take nothing for granted at Interlagos and this place once again showed its capricious side by hurling the elements at us during both of today’s free practice sessions. It’s something we’ve come to expect – and even enjoy – from such a mighty racetrack.

“As such, while we were able to complete a useful number of laps – particularly during the lighter rain that fell this morning – we still don’t have a conclusive read on pace and performance ahead of Sunday’s race.

“Still, I’m sure our engineers were kept busy collecting data during both sessions, and we’ll put that information to good use tonight as we leave no stone unturned in our efforts to refine our cars’ set-up for qualifying tomorrow.”

III. Saturday's Qualifying Report

- MP4-28A-03
- FP3: 18th, 1m32.731s (+4.840s), 4 laps
- Qualifying:
- Q1: 11th 1m26.741s (on Intermediates)
- Q2: 14th overall 1m28.269s (on Intermediates)
- Q3: -

“It’s hard to know for sure, but I think we made the correct decision to run in qualifying when we did, but the car wasn’t responding properly. I think perhaps we got the tyre pressures incorrect because I couldn’t find enough grip out there.

“My accident in Q2 looked bigger than it actually was – as soon as I lost the car, I went over the grass and hit the wall – but it was only a slight hit, and the car wasn’t too badly damaged.

“It’s a pity, but I was giving it my all. I knew it was my last opportunity to set a time; it was getting wetter, and I was pushing right to the limit, because I knew the car wasn’t responding well. I was trying my hardest, in other words.

“In similar conditions, I still think we can make up some positions tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the race – I hope we can end the season on a high.”

- MP4-28A-02
- FP3: 21st, No time, 1 lap
- Qualifying:
- Q1: 7th, 1m26.398s (on Intermediates)
- Q2: 15th, overall 1m28.308s (on Intermediates)
- Q3: -

“We sat out most of FP3 in order to save tyres, which felt like the right thing to do at the time, but in retrospect maybe it wasn’t the right call. After all, we hadn’t run in wet conditions on the Intermediate tyres before qualifying, so we weren’t prepared for the problems we then encountered. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“We were running a low-downforce configuration, which probably didn’t help either. We felt that set-up was working for us yesterday, when it wasn’t as wet, but it probably hurt us in getting pressure into the tyre.

“Still, we were good in Q1 – I ended up in P7 – but, when it rained harder in Q2, I couldn’t get enough temperature into the tyres.

“Hopefully, we can mix it up a bit tomorrow – although the weather on Sunday is supposed to be a bit drier. Hopefully, though, we’ll have some good racing, and we won’t spend too long behind the Safety Car!”

Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“Obviously, to qualify 14th and 15th for the last grand prix of the year is very disappointing, even if what caught us out were the very unpredictable weather conditions

“In Q1, however, we were 7th and 11th – which, albeit not stellar, represented a more accurate reflection of our ambient pace relative to our opposition.

“In Q2, though, the timing of our runs wasn’t quite perfect, and as a result we struggled to switch the tyres on when we needed to. In wet-dry conditions such as those we faced today, the art is always in finding that sweet-spot moment in which to be on the track the optimal time, and you can’t always get it right.

“Having said all that, although the weather is forecast to be less rainy tomorrow than it’s been yesterday and today, it’s unlikely to be dry and sunny all afternoon. That being the case, there’s no doubt that both Jenson and Checo can make good progress from their poor grid positions when the five red lights go out on the startline gantry and the race begins.”

~ Official photos and reports courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ~

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