Thrilling season finale expected at Interlagos
After he had won the Japanese Grand Prix Michael Schumacher let it be known that Rubens Barrichello could expect no mercy as the 2004 world championship draws to a close in the town of Barrichellos birth.
But the Brazilian Ferrari racer is determined to put behind him the bad luck that has twice seen him recently robbed on home soil, and build on his recent strong performances to give his countrymen what they want. With luck, we can expect an all-out fight between the two red cars that will bring things to an exciting conclusion.
The first and second placed men in the championship will be staying with their team in 2005, but elsewhere Brazil will be a time for farewells. Jenson Button may have been expecting to say goodbye to BAR, but will now be staying with the team, as opposed to going to Williams, following this weeks Contract Recognition Board (CRB) verdict.
BAR are virtually certain of second place in the constructors championship, and Button and Takuma Sato will once again run with the latest potent V10 offering from Honda. Despite the prolonged CRB dealings, the team have been on the crest of a wave recently, having bagged 33 points in the past three races.
In a great season, the one thing the team are missing is a win, but Button is cautiously optimistic. Interlagos is a circuit where our car will perform very well, better than in Shanghai and Suzuka I feel. This is the last chance we have of a win this season and probably the best chance over the last few races. You need good braking stability at Interlagos because a lot of the time you're braking and turning in at the same time. I think we have that and so we are looking strong."
Renault face a tough task to beat BAR, for Fernando Alonso and Jacques Villeneuve must between them achieve a first and third, with neither BAR finishing, in order to exceed their points tally. BAR have 116, Renault 100. Villeneuve in particular has a hard job on his hands to bring himself up to the same level as his Spanish team mate, before he heads to Sauber next season.
At the same time, Williams and McLaren battle over fourth place, and again the odds favour the better placed team. Williams have 74 points, McLaren 61, so the latter must score at least 13, with neither Williams finishing, to equal their score but take the place on the strength of Kimi Raikkonens Spa victory. Like BAR and Renault, both teams tested well in Jerez last week, where Renaults Franck Montagny was fastest ahead of Antonio Pizzonia (Williams), Ricardo Zonta (Toyota), Alexander Wurz (McLaren), Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren).
This will be the last outing with Williams for both Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, before the German switches to Toyota and the Colombian to partner Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren. And much as he is still seeking a berth for 2005, this may be David Coulthards last Grand Prix. It will also be his 150th for McLaren, and no driver in history has ever driven more Grands Prix for the same team.
This will be a crucial race for Felipe Massa, as he competes for Sauber on his home ground. A much more experienced driver than he was the only other time he did that, in 2002, he is hopeful of scoring points. Likewise, team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, last years winner, would like nothing better to finish his dramatic and career-saving season with Peter Saubers team by putting the C23 on the podium.
While Saubers sixth place is perfectly safe, Jaguar and Toyota are locked in battle for seventh position, with 10 points to nine. This is psychologically important to both teams, Jaguar because this may be their last-ever race, Toyota because seventh is a whole lot better than eighth when you are spending as much as they are.
This will be Mark Webbers last race for Jaguar before moving onwards and upwards to Williams for 2005, while Christian Klien faces an uncertain future. Now that Olivier Panis has retired this will be the first race without a Frenchman on the grid since 1967, for Ricardo Zonta will take part in what is likely to be his last Grand Prix, at the wheel of a Toyota, partnering new signing Jarno Trulli.
Jordan, too, face uncertainty as they return to the scene of Fisichellas stunning 2003 victory in the rain. I treasure that day because anyone would say it is impossible at the moment for a private team to win a race, Eddie Jordan says. We proved that anything is possible, and Im proud. Our hard work isnt rewarded with great results very often these days, but that doesnt stop us from fighting every race as if we could win.
Minardi, as usual, will be fighting hard too.
The 4.309 kilometre (2.67 mile) Interlagos is another of the great Formula One tracks, and like Imola is one of few to run anti-clockwise. It presents special challenges via its variety of difficult corners, with a combination of two long straights followed by the infield complex. This can make it difficult to achieve the right compromise on set-up: the straights demand low downforce to promote the best maximum speed for overtaking, but you also need good grip and traction on the infield, which means high downforce. Interlagos is also notoriously bumpy, which means teams doing a lot of homework in their factories on the seven-poster rigs in order to achieve a good baseline mechanical set-up by means of spring, anti-roll bar and damper settings.
Another factor is that the track lies 800 metres above sea level, which means that everyone will suffer around an eight percent power loss due to the low air density.
Rubens Barrichello took pole for the 2003 race on 1m 13.807s, and set the fastest lap of the race (in difficult conditions) of 1m 22.032s. This year's 71-lap race is the 18th and final round of the championship. It will begin at 1400 local time (1700 GMT).