The Brazilian Grand Prix Preview 22 Sep 2005
Fernando Alonso need finish only third at Interlagos this weekend - even if Kimi Raikkonen wins and his McLaren team mate Juan Pablo Montoya is second - to become the youngest world champion in the sports history. That would take his score to 117 and Raikkonens to 96, and with only 20 points available in Japan and China, Raikkonen would come up one short even if he won both races and Alonso finished neither.
Of course, a mechanical or accidental retirement for the Spaniard could open things up, but the most likely battle remains the one between Renault and McLaren for the constructors championship. Currently Renault have 152 points to McLarens 146 and have led the table since the start of the season, but had Antonio Pizzonia not taken Montoya out last week in Belgium McLaren would have been four points ahead. Then there is Montoyas fight to overhaul Michael Schumacher for third place in the drivers standings. The Colombians chances of doing that have to be good, given that the MP4-20 is currently the fastest car and that he won last years race and set the fastest lap in 1m 11.473s. Schumacher has 55 points to Montoyas 50.
Naturally, both teams are throwing everything they have at the last three races. Renault have both the latest D specification of the RS25 V10 engine, and a significant aerodynamic upgrade, while McLaren will be aiming to carry over the form that has seen them win eight of the last 11 races.
BAR will also have further revisions to the 007 that carried Jenson Button to third place at Spa, in the form of an uprated version of the Honda V10. The Englishman will also be able to forget all the speculation about his future, having just bought himself out of his 2006 contract with Williams.
Ferrari go to Brazil more hopeful that the latest Bridgestone tyre can redress some of the deficit to the quickest Michelin teams. We are expecting it to take us back to the level of performance we showed in Hungary, a spokesman said. They are locked in battle with Toyota for third place in the constructors championship, leading 90 points to 80.
Further down the drivers table, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella, with 43 and 41 points apiece, also have their eyes on Michael Schumacher, but with 30 points Jenson Button down in ninth also has the two Italians in his sights, while Ralf Schumacher (37) and Rubens Barrichello (35) are still in with a chance of improving position too. For all of them, there is still much to play for.
Williams last victory came in Brazil last season, courtesy of a departing Montoya, while Sauber led the race briefly via Felipe Massa. Both teams have lost a little pace since then but will both be hoping that inclement weather helps them to be as competitive as they were recently at Spa. Likewise Red Bull would like to pick up some more points after dropping behind BAR in Belgium. Sauber are determined to outpoint their old sponsor before Peter Saubers final race (in China) as team principal, so battle is engaged here, too.
At Williams, Antonio Pizzonia continues to stand in for injured (and BMW-bound) Nick Heidfeld, while at Red Bull Christian Klien continues as race driver beside David Coulthard.
Jordan will have three EJ15Bs on hand for the first time this season, for Tiago Monteiro, Narain Karthikeyan and Friday tester Nicolas Kiesa, while the line-up in Minardis three PS05s is unchanged.
Interlagos is a hugely challenging track, where the trick is to find the right compromise of setting the car up for minimal drag on the long straights (especially the lengthy haul out of the final corner all the way uphill to the start/finish line), yet generating sufficient grip to hustle the car through the twisty infield. The surface is also quite abrasive, so tyre wear will be a critical factor too. The track is very bumpy too, and its anti-clockwise direction places unusual strains on neck muscles honed on the more common clockwise tracks.
Then there is an additional complication introduced when the race date moved to the end of the season last year. It is early spring in the southern hemisphere, and as we saw last year that can generate the odd shower to liven things up. However, predicted temperatures are slightly lower than in 2004, when the race served as the season finale.