The Brazilian Grand Prix Preview 19 Oct 2006
Ferraris Michael Schumacher says that the drivers world title is lost, but you can bet that the German will be doing all he can to win an eighth and final championship as he faces his 250th and last Grand Prix at the Autodromo Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo this weekend.
The German has a mountain to climb. Renault's Fernando Alonso is 10 points ahead and therefore needs only one point for eighth place, regardless of what Schumacher achieves, to retain his crown. If, however, Alonso fails to score and Schumacher wins, they would again be equal on points but the Ferrari driver would win on the basis of eight race victories in the season to Alonsos seven.
Things are less clear cut in the constructors chase. Renault are back in front with 195 points, but Ferrari have 186 and are still very much in the picture with 18 points up for grabs. Further back, BMW Sauber and Toyota are separated by only one point in the fight for fifth, so there is still a lot at stake this weekend.
Ferrari will be going flat-out for a 1-2 result and are said to be taking tweaked versions of their V8 engine which revs over 20,000 rpm. The thinking appears to be that they have nothing to lose and potentially everything to gain, so why not risk going out in a blaze of glory.
Alonso also says that he wont be taking it easy. He will doubtless remember what a tough job Schumacher made of finishing eighth in Suzuka in 2003, when all he needed was a final point.
Firstly, I dont think it is over at all, said the Spaniard. Until the final lap, when you know you are champion, anything can still happen and we are taking nothing for granted. So we know that there is still a job to do, and we are focused on it. I think our aim has to be to do a normal weekend, to get the maximum from the car without any big risks, and to finish the job. If we have our usual performance, fighting at the front, then we will achieve our targets.
The race will be a bitter-sweet affair for Alonso as it marks the end of his career at Renault. I think it makes this a very special weekend for me, he admitted, and gives me extra motivation to do the maximum for all my friends and team-mates. It is also the last race for Michelin in this period, and both Renault and Michelin have done so much for me in the six seasons since I started in F1. I think it is impossible to give back to them everything they have given to me since 2001. The only way I can try is to have a fantastic final race and to win the title so we can finish our relationship in the right way, with a celebration.
Its hard to see anyone else getting in the battle for victory, but McLaren and Honda will be trying their hardest as usual, and also want to reward outgoing Michelin for all their effort. McLaren will retain their line-up of Kimi Raikkonen (who will be racing for the team for the last time) and Pedro de la Rosa, rather than giving upcoming Briton Lewis Hamilton his chance to make his Formula One race debut.
At Honda, Brazilians Rubens Barrichello and Gil de Ferran would love to finish strongly. "My home race in Brazil is very special to me and always gives me a little bit of extra motivation, said Barrichello. I was born very close to Interlagos and whenever I dream about racing, it's always around this track. The first race that I saw there as a spectator was in 1980, when Rene Arnoux beat Elio de Angelis, and I've wanted to win it ever since. It is frustrating that I've never won at home, especially as I should have in 2003, but there was a problem with the fuel. I had such a robust car that year, yet it decided to let me down in my home race!
"The track is physically very tough because it's left-handed and quite bumpy. Some people say it's easy, but that's not the case because you need to have a good compromise between the low and the high-speed corners. You can't concede straight-line speed for extra grip through the slow corners, otherwise you will be overtaken.
"Away from the track, there are many advantages to racing in my home city. I have my family around me and I can go home every night and sleep in my own bed - all of that is a huge plus. The race weekend itself always goes by so fast because it is really hectic but it's one of the most enjoyable weekends of the year for me."
Team mate Jenson Button says: "It's great to be heading into the final race of the season with a run of solid points finishes under our belts. It really goes to show just how much progress we've made in the second half of the season. I know no-one is thinking too much about 2007 yet but it's always important to end the season on a high note as it's a great motivator as the team prepares for next year's campaign.
"I think we can expect the same level of performance in Brazil that we have enjoyed in the past few races. The engine was looking strong in Japan and I think the car will be well suited to the track. It's a circuit I enjoy, and it can be tough because of its anti-clockwise layout and notoriously bumpy surface. It should be a great climax to the season."
Elsewhere, besides the BMW Sauber/Toyota duel, Mark Webber prepares to say farewell to Williams and wants to do so on a high note, while at Spyker MF1 GP2 racer Ernesto Viso will make his Formula One debut as Friday driver.
With a generally overcast weekend predicted, tyre performance will be as crucial as ever.