Brazil preview - Sao Paulo set for last roll of the 2012 dice 23 Nov 2012
So here we are, at the title-deciding finale in Interlagos to a wonderful Formula One season. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso going mano a mano for the drivers world championship.
Circumstance favours the former, with his 13-point lead, as the advantage means that Vettel only needs to finish fourth to guarantee the championship regardless of what Alonso does. But Red Bull are very aware of the alternator failure that stopped Mark Webbers car in Austin, and will be taking steps to avoid a repetition. The possibility of unreliability remains a spectre, however.
Team boss Christian Horner says that the team will carry on as usual, without trying to second guess what might or might not happen on that score, or what Ferrari might do.
"We just have to approach the race as we have the previous 19," he says. "We have to go there, attack the weekend, and get the best out of ourselves; the car, the strategy, the drivers, and reliability.
"Anything can happen, as we have seen this season. But it is good to be going there with a lead, and we go there determined to close the job off."
Alonso is pinning his hopes on upgrades which he believes will make his Ferrari more competitive in qualifying. The F2012s race pace has always looked good in the second half of the season.
"Pragmatically speaking we know that the result has to be better, team principal Stefano Domenicali says. We have to be in front of Sebastian and we need some drivers in the middle, without thinking of the worst-case scenario. And this is the approach that we have to have. We know that it's not easy because Sebastian is driving very well and he has a very quick car. But that doesn't change what we have to do. We have to focus on our job and see what's the outcome of the race.
"We have seen that Mark had a reliability issue in Austin and that can happen every time. But I want to stay concentrated on the job we have to do, and prepare the car in the best way we can.
"We always say it, but we need to improve our qualifying pace. We had one of the worst qualifyings in Austin and we need to make sure that will not happen in Brazil."
What it boils down to is this:
Vettel will be champion if he finishes in the top four, even if Alonso wins; if he finishes fifth, sixth or seventh if Alonso doesn't win; if he finishes eighth or ninth if Alonso finishes third or lower; or no matter where he finishes (or doesnt finish) if Alonso fails to make the podium.
Alonso will be champion if he wins and Vettel is fifth or lower; if he is second and Vettel is eighth or lower; or if he is third and Vettel is 10th or lower.
The race will also mark the second retirement of Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamiltons last race with McLaren. It will also settle the close fights in the constructors championship between Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus; Mercedes and Sauber; Force India and Williams; and Marussia and Caterham.
"My departure from Formula One will probably be less emotional for me this time than in 2006, when we were still fighting for the championship and everything was much more intense," says Schumacher. "This time round, I will be able to pay more attention to my farewell and hopefully savour it too.
"I have had fantastic years in Formula One and a lot of support from fans around the world, and I wish to particularly thank them for that.
"Of course, I would be happiest if I could say goodbye with a strong race, and I am sure we will be doing everything we can to make it happen."
Meanwhile, Austin winner Lewis Hamilton says: Ive had some great experiences racing in Brazil - I won the world championship here in 2008, of course, but I can also remember having strong races here, especially in 2009 when I finished on the podium.
I think we showed in Austin that we have an incredibly quick car, particularly in race-trim, and Id love to have a clean weekend, a trouble-free qualifying and then have a good run at scoring some strong points on Sunday. Traditionally, its not been a circuit where weve been at our strongest, but I think this years car has often been strong at tracks where we wouldnt normally have been up there, so I think we have a chance to go for the win.
Of course, Brazil will be the backdrop for the championship showdown - and its a great track upon which to end the season on a high. Im not putting my money on anybody, but I hope we have a fantastic contest and may the best man win.
For the first time in its history, Pirelli will approach the final round of the season with the championship yet to be decided. They are bringing their P Zero Silver hard and White medium tyres.
At 4.309 kilometres (2.677 miles), Interlagos is one of the shortest circuits on the calendar but its also one of the most technically challenging. The wide variety of high- and low-speed corners, along with the big elevation changes and high altitude above sea level, mean that it is quite difficult to find the correct aerodynamic set-up and, once more, a good medium-low downforce compromise is needed. The last sector of the lap is one of the most important when it comes to the eventual lap time, so this tends to get prioritised in terms of set-up.
The different surface variations mean that generating optimal grip and downforce is vital, particularly as there are a number of camber changes as well. Turn 14 - the slowest corner of the track - is a good example of the technical challenge, as drivers brake hard while heading uphill and then turning into the corner, before managing wheelspin carefully as they exit the turn.
Complicating the issue further, the teams will also be given two extra sets of next years prototype tyres for Fridays free practice sessions, in order to give them an idea of the characteristics of the 2013 rubber. The compounds and construction of the slick tyres will be different, so this will be a valuable opportunity for teams to prepare for next year. With the title fight so closely balanced, however, some may elect simply to concentrate on this race; thats just one of the many crucial strategic decisions that they will have to make over the course of the weekend.
Paul Hembery, Pirellis motorsport director, says: With no testing until February otherwise, this will be an extremely valuable opportunity for teams to see what our new tyres are like as they finalise their 2013 cars - so lets hope that it doesnt rain on Friday! Both the compounds and construction will be different, which means that the characteristics of the new tyres will be altered, with a wider working range and some compounds that are slightly more aggressive. Weve yet to finalise where exactly all the compounds will sit in relation to each other, which is why we are calling the tyre to be used in Brazil a prototype rather than giving it a specific nomination, but it will be very representative of our general design philosophy next year. Were looking forward to hearing the feedback from the teams about it.
Speaking of the 2012 tyres, Bruno Senna says: Interlagos is a tough track for the tyres because you have quite a few traction zones that put lateral loads on the tyres and most of these are coming from low-speed corners. At the same time some of these corners are just flat-out where you use the DRS and KERS at the same time, so that definitely gives the rear tyres a hard time. The front tyres have a very easy time in Interlagos: they really dont do much work. The severity also comes from the fact that the track is bumpy, so they slide even more. So all these things together put a big stress on the tyres and normally make the race more than a one-stop race because the tyres slide so much.
One or two-stop strategies are most likely here, depending on how well a car and driver combination can use their tyres, though last year on different tyres winner Webber adopted a three-stop strategy to win by 17 seconds.
The weather could be another critical variable this weekend. Forecasts suggest it will be relatively settled, but ambient temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius on Friday and Saturday are expected to plummet to nearer 20 on Sunday, with a chance of showers.
There have been only minor changes to the circuit since 2011. New debris fences have been installed on both sides of the track between Turns 3 and 4. A kerb has been installed on the apex of turn 15. And tube inserts have been placed in the tyre barrier on the end of the wall at the pit entry. The track's single DRS zone remains on the back straight, with the detection point at Turn 2 and the activation point at Turn 3.
The Formula 1 Grande Premio Petrobras do Brasil 2012 will run over 71 laps, or 305.909 kilometres (190.085 miles), and starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours behind GMT.
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