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Brazil preview - Rosberg running out of time in title fight

06 Nov 2014

After Lewis Hamilton's triumph in the United States last weekend, Brazil represents Nico Rosberg's last opportunity to close the gap to his Mercedes team mate before the pair head for Abu Dhabi - where double points are on offer - and the conclusion of their dramatic 2014 title fight.

It will not decide the championship, but the Interlagos will determine which of Hamilton or Rosberg goes into the season finale with the points advantage. At this stage of the season, one mistake or slip could produce a crucial shift in momentum.

Even if Hamilton wins and Rosberg fails to break the top ten, the gap would be 49 points - meaning Rosberg will have a mathematical chance of denying Hamilton at the 11th hour no matter how the cards fall on Sunday. But reverse the situation, and he would suddenly be back leading the championship by just a solitary point.

For the German, now 24 points in arrears of Hamilton, the objectives are clear. "Same approach for me: fully committed, full attack, try and be on pole in qualifying and then win Interlagos and that's it," he says of his mentality heading into the weekend.

"For me, [double points are] great of course, because then there's a definite shot at the championship this year, even with the points that I'm now behind - but it's even possible to completely turn it around [in Brazil]. You never know what will happen there, so I'm sure it will be an exciting end to the season.

"I hope it's going to be exciting for the fans - that's the most important thing, that we put on a good show. I look forward to the last two races. With the car that we have, it's awesome, it really is."

Hamilton can mathematically afford to finish second behind Rosberg in the final two rounds and still clinch the world championship, with 370 points to Rosberg's 367. But he insists he isn't even considering the permutations, and that - like Rosberg - his approach won't change.

"It is what it is, and I'm not changing my mindset," he said on Sunday evening in Austin when asked about the situation of double points in Abu Dhabi. "I just want to improve, not change. I'm driving better than ever this year, and I hope that's obvious to everyone. I'm confident I'll be okay if I continue to do what I'm doing, and there are no doubts in my mind.

"It doesn't really change - same as for Nico really - because we're hunting for those points. I think during the year you have to be balanced in the risks you take and I think that so far I've not been taking too many risks. I've done what I've needed to do to get by in the safest way, in the cleanest way, which has worked all year, so I should just continue to do the same.

"After the retirement in the first round [in Australia] I got my head down and four wins happened so fast. Then I had another bad patch but after Spa I turned it up and said 'This is war!' I just reflected on it like it was an energy boost, and turned a negative into a positive."

While Rosberg admitted that an error deploying his ERS was key to Hamilton's race-winning overtake in the United States, the Briton insists his rival is not cracking under pressure, adding: "He [Rosberg] comes in and resets every race and he does some smoking laps and takes pole positions, and he's still there and he's still fighting. It's not easy driving with someone in your mirrors, but he didn't make any mistakes in Austin after he'd run wide on the opening lap. He drove really well considering he had me breathing down his neck."

Interlagos, of course, has a habit for producing the unexpected, and has thrown up three different winners in the past three seasons. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel triumphed for Red Bull in 2011 and 2013 respectively, while Jenson Button prevailed in 2012 - McLaren's last Grand Prix victory to date.

"I love going back to Interlagos, it's one of my favourite circuits and one where I have a lot of happy memories - I clinched the championship there in 2009," the Briton says. "It's a really fantastic track and up there with the best circuits in the world. When you walk through the gates you can really sense the history and the excitement from the fans - it's very special.

"I last won there in 2012, and although our results since then haven't lived up to our own expectations, it's clear that we are steadily improving our package and our aim, of course, is to build on that this weekend. Austin proved a more difficult race for us than we had hoped, but I'm focused on achieving the best result we can in Brazil and getting the most out of this great circuit."

Williams are also likely to be a force on a weekend that has taken on added significance given the addition this season of home favourite and two-time Brazilian Grand Prix winner Felipe Massa to their ranks.

"To drive at my home Grand Prix is always special and to see the fans supporting me is a great motivation," Massa says. "The track is great, although it's very small it's also very technical. Corner one and two are very difficult especially as the gradient changes so there is a specific way to drive this sector. With two straights and a very slow section from corner seven to 11 it is important to have a well-balanced car and not focus on just one of those elements."

Team mate Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, talked up Williams' prospects in Brazil, adding: "Setting up the car is not easy because of the long corners. Good balance is important but also a good straight line speed, so I think we can be competitive here."

Williams' sternest competition is likely to come from Red Bull, who have provided the fireworks at Interlagos in recent years - and not just through winning four of the last five races held there.

"In Sao Paulo I have taken part in races which we will always remember, for different reasons," Sebastian Vettel reflects. "Like in 2009, when we almost took the title in the last race of the season - in the end it wasn't enough and Jenson Button became world champion. 2010 was my first year on the Sao Paulo podium: a truly unforgettable race and thinking about Brazil 2012, I spun on the first lap and found myself at the back of the field. Suddenly the title seemed so far away. I worked myself back up through the field position by position and at the end it was unbelievable: we were world champions again. In 2013, the title was already secured, but as it was my ninth win in a row, I will always remember this race."

Ferrari come into the weekend after a low-key showing in Austin, where Fernando Alonso was sixth and Kimi Raikkonen a lacklustre 13th - the combination of which means they remain within McLaren's reach in the constructors' championship, with just 49 points currently separating the two teams.

Further down the order, Lotus will be looking to capitalise on securing only their third points finish of the season in the US, as Pastor Maldonado finished ninth - which he later admitted was a "weight lifted from my shoulders."

It could also be a crucial race for those who still face uncertainty over their 2015 F1 plans - perhaps most notably Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, who have just two races to impress other teams after Sauber announced that Felipe Nasr will partner Marcus Ericsson in an all-new line up next year.

Pirelli had originally intended to bring their hard and medium compound tyres to Interlagos, but resurfacing work led them to revise the offering, and they will instead supply the yellow-marked soft tyre alongside the white-marked medium. That choice could be academic, however - thunderstorms are predicted for Friday and Saturday, when the ambient temperature is expected to range between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, while there is an 80 percent chance of rain on Sunday, when temperatures are expected to be a more moderate 20 degrees.

"The lap takes a lot out of the tyres due to the almost non-stop succession of corners, a number of which are high-speed," Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery says. "So getting the most out of the tyres and the strategy is clearly going to be of vital importance in the race. We've seen a number of wet races in the past at Interlagos, which seems to be a strong possibility this year as well. All of this adds to the reputation of the Brazilian Grand Prix for hosting dramatic races where nobody knows what to expect, so it's likely that we can look forward to another exciting weekend in front of a crowd that is truly passionate about Formula One."

As was the case last year, the track will feature two DRS zones. The first is activated after Turn 3, with the detection point just before the apex of Turn 2, while the second is activated on the back straight, with the detection immediately after Turn 13.

There have been a number of changes to the track for 2014. The entire circuit, including the pit lane, has been resurfaced; the pit exit has been realigned further to the left to provide a run-off area around the outside of Turn 2; the pit entry has also been realigned to the left to allow the pit wall to be moved further away from the track; and a low kerb has been placed on the apex of Turn 15 to prevent cars from cutting the corner.

The race will run over 71 laps of the 4.309-kilometre (2.677 mile) circuit, or 305.909 kilometres (190.085 miles). It starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours behind GMT.