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Brazil preview - can Massa add to his record home trophy haul?

12 Nov 2015

Mercedes may be favourites for victory at Interlagos, especially after their dominant one-two in the similarly rarefied air of Mexico City, but the biggest cheers this weekend will undoubtedly go to local favourite Felipe Massa. The Sao Paulo native is well versed in raising his game on home soil - in fact none of his countrymen, not even Emerson Fittipaldi or Ayrton Senna, can match Massa’s record in Brazil. A two-time winner and a five-time podium finisher, the Williams racer always seems to come alive at Interlagos - and he’ll be hoping 2015 is no exception.

“Your home Grand Prix is always the most important race for a driver,” says Massa, who is targeting a third podium of the season in front of his fellow Paulistas. “For me to race at home where I started my career - first on the other side of the wall at the kart track, then onto the race track - there is always a big expectation to perform in front of your home crowd. I love the track, it’s one of the best tracks for me and I’ve always had good results there. I’m really looking forward to hopefully achieving another amazing result this year.

“Last year we managed to finish on the podium. It was a race with so many things happening – I had a five-second penalty and even stopped in the wrong garage - but we still managed to have an amazing race so it’s important to look back on what we did last year to try to repeat it and have a very strong weekend once again.”

It’s a similar situation for Sauber rookie Felipe Nasr who, whilst from the capital Brasilia and not from Sao Paulo like Massa, can’t wait to experience his first race in his homeland.

“Last year I drove in FP1 for Williams, which was a nice feeling," he says. "But racing in Formula One in front of my home crowd is a dream I have always had. Considering our motorsport history, it is not only a pleasure and honour, but also a moment to remember. I am sure there is going to be a lot of energy around the track from all the fans.”

He may not be Brazilian, but Lewis Hamilton has always enjoyed strong support in the South American country, in part because he - like them - idolised Ayrton Senna. With the championship already in his pocket, the Mercedes man goes to Brazil determined to add the one classic victory missing from his illustrious CV.

“This was the home race for Ayrton, so it was a dream of mine to race in São Paulo when I was younger and I always feel his presence when I'm here,” the recently crowned triple champion says.  “He was such a huge hero in Brazil and it's humbling that I always get such a warm response. It's amazing to think that it took Ayrton eight attempts to win this race and it's one of the few I haven't yet won myself. If I can change that this weekend it would be a salute to him and another highlight to add to this amazing year, so I'll be going all out to make that happen.”  

Hamilton’s task won’t be easy here though. Team mate Nico Rosberg beat him here last year to keep his title hopes alive, and he is dead set on winning again at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace after his success last time out at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

“I'm really pumped to get to Sao Paulo and get back out on track after a great weekend in Mexico,” he says. “For a start, Interlagos is one of the classic races on the calendar. It's a tricky circuit that's a really good challenge for a driver, with plenty of overtaking opportunities and crazy weather that always makes for an action-packed race. I have good memories from Brazil, too. I've usually been pretty quick there and last year was a good battle with Lewis, when I came out on top.

“Standing on the top step after a hard-earned win, following in the footsteps of so many great drivers who have won there and with the passionate Brazilian crowd cheering on - that was a great feeling. I'd love to experience that again, so the aim is to put on another good show for the fans and to carry my form from Mexico into this race. It's always a great feeling to head into a weekend on the back of a win, so I'm confident of a strong performance.”

Sebastian Vettel has less happy memories from Mexico, after his least impressive performance of the season, and is determined to make amends on a track on which he and team mate Kimi Raikkonen - both previous winners in Sao Paulo - should be competitive in their Ferrari SF15-Ts. A fourth victory of the season for the Prancing Horse? It’s probably more likely to happen here than in Abu Dhabi.

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However Interlagos, with its long drag up from the final corner to the pit straight and 800m elevation, is not likely to favour either of the Renault-powered teams – Red Bull or Toro Rosso - or McLaren with their Honda unit. The former have yet to assess the latest version of Renault’s powertrain and may feel it’s worth taking the ensuing penalties here in readiness for Abu Dhabi, while McLaren look forward to a race from which they hope to be able to start in the position in which they qualified after the mountain of penalties that Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso received in Mexico.

The whole F1 circus meanwhile will be looking forward to assessing long-awaited revisions to the paddock, which have been designed to bring it more in line with current standards.

The weather looks very unsettled, with thunderstorms expected on the first two days and showers during the race, but for dry running Pirelli will provide their white-marked medium and yellow-marked soft compound tyres which have been the most common this season and will be used for the ninth and final time.

The high-downforce lap at Interlagos is relatively short but intense, and runs anti-clockwise. The right-rear tyre does the most work but the lateral and longitudinal loads on all four are high here. That increases temperature and this favours the driver able to manage his rubber carefully.

“The changes to the asphalt at Interlagos last year altered the pattern of tyre behaviour, so it will be interesting to see how that affects tyre usage this year,” says Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery. “Traditionally, Interlagos is quite a high-energy circuit for tyres, so we would expect to see two or three pit stops for the majority of competitors. As always though, we will only have an accurate picture of the real situation after the opening free practice sessions on Friday.”

Last year Rosberg won with three stops, while Raikkonen, the first two-stopper, was only seventh…

Aside from the paddock, there have been no other changes at Interlagos, and again two DRS zones will be in operation. The first has a detection point at Turn 2 with activation just after Turn 3, while the second has its detection point after Turn 13 and its activation point on the pit straight following Turn 15.

Sunday’s race will run over 71 laps or 305.909 kilometres (190.083 miles), and will start at 1400 hours local time (1600 GMT).