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Six key questions ahead of the race in Brazil

13 Nov 2016

Can Williams fight back to give Felipe Massa a last home race to remember? Will the weather go Daniel Ricciardo's way? And, of course, will the title be decided? We consider the key talking points ahead of this afternoon’s Formula 1 Grande Premio do Brasil 2016…

What must Rosberg do?

To become champion, that is. The answer is simple: win. If he does that, even if Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton finishes second he would have a 26-point heading into Abu Dhabi, where only a maximum of 25 are available. Job done.

If he can’t win, the German will want to a) stay out of trouble and b) finish second or third, to keep himself in a strong position for the season finale in two weeks’ time.

Rosberg, second on the grid after narrowly losing out to Hamilton for pole, fell back on his favourite response when asked about his prospects, as usual missing out the odd word here and there.

“I don’t think of anything in terms of most to lose at the moment. I just look forward, and whatever comes, comes. We have a great car in either condition, in the dry and in the wet, so it will be exciting.

“I’m looking forward; I’m going to try and get Lewis into Turn 1. That’s the plan. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy and the run to Turn 1 is very short here so that doesn’t help, of course but I’ll try everything I can, definitely.”

For a full rundown of the permutations that could see Rosberg crowned king, click here.

What must Hamilton do?

To stop Rosberg taking his crown here, that is. The reigning champion’s situation is more complex. He effectively has to win - just as he did in Texas and Mexico City, and then he must do it again in Abu Dhabi. But if Rosberg finishes second in both races, or even second and third, Hamilton will still lose his crown.

So he needs a bit of luck. Or rather, some bad luck must befall his team mate, in terms of either a non-finish - which would turn things completely on their head - or finishing fourth or lower. That would then throw Hamilton a lifeline and set up a mighty showdown for Abu Dhabi. Clearly, however, the dice are heavily loaded against the Briton.

Brazil brought Hamilton his 60th pole position, and he’s proud to be starting from prime slot wearing a Senna tribute helmet. But is he going to make it his way, the way Senna might once have declared ‘Tomorrow it has to be my way.’?

“Of course that’s the plan. It’s what we’ve been working towards all weekend. But this is an incredible circuit, even though it’s so short, it’s incredibly technical and the smallest time makes the biggest difference. It feels a little bit like Brands Hatch, where you can be so close, it’s such a short track.

“To have that many pole positions is a true showing of incredible teamwork from everyone. This is the best that I could have hoped for really, coming to Brazil. I think this is only my second pole here. It’s always a track that I’ve struggled at, so I’m really happy to be up at the front.

“Tomorrow I hope that, whatever the weather brings, we are prepared as a team and I can give it everything I’ve got. As far as the weather is concerned, I don’t really mind. I’m ready for whatever.”

Can Ferrari spring a surprise?

Ferrari showed some decent form in practice, but Kimi Raikkonen’s sudden leap to third place on the grid took many by surprise.

“I struggled the whole qualifying, in a few corners in the middle sector,” he revealed. “To be honest, the last lap was pretty average from my viewpoint. I struggled the first two corners with the tyre warm-up a bit. Even in the middle I wasn’t really happy. I think we’re lacking a bit of downforce overall there, comparing maybe to the guys in front of us, but the car’s been behaving today pretty good, and I’ve just been struggling on the tight corners to turn the car in and there’s been a bit of front-locking, so obviously it’s been a bit guessing whether we can turn it in or not. It was not ideal, the lap, but it was good enough for third place and even making a perfect lap it wouldn’t have been fast enough for Mercedes today. But I don’t mind. We’ll see what we can do.”

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel, fifth fastest, said his final run in Q3 hadn’t been ideal.

“I think third position was possible, but I was probably a bit conservative around the last corner. All in all, though, I think it was a good session: the car was behaving well, but maybe in the end I could have pulled a little bit more out of it. Yesterday on a single lap we were not particularly strong, we struggled a bit, but I think that in the long run we were quite good: so for tomorrow, if it's dry, we should be in reasonable shape. Mercedes looked very fast also yesterday in the long runs, so obviously we'll try to stay with them but our main rival I guess will be Red Bull, which had similar pace to us today. In the race I think we're usually a little bit faster, so hopefully we can get the job done. If it rains it will be the first time for everyone this weekend: but it is what it is. And I think we have enough rain tyres...”

So what’s brought about Ferrari’s resurgence against Red Bull?

“I think it’s been very close most of the year and obviously sometimes we’ve been a bit behind, sometimes in front, but I think we’ve done a very good job in the recent races as a team and improved in certain areas, trying new things,” Raikkonen suggested. “We’ve learned some positive things and as a team we’ve worked very well in recent months and I think it’s helping us to get back to where we were at the start of the year. It’s all about learning from what we’ve done and improving things. All of us have been pushing in the same direction and it seems to start paying off a little bit.”

Why are Red Bull hoping for rain?

Red Bull were disappointed with fourth and sixth in qualifying, but Max Verstappen said he wasn’t surprised to lose the third place he’d held after the first runs.

“I was just a little disappointed with my last lap, I was expecting someone to jump ahead of me so Kimi being in front wasn’t a big surprise.

“It was an odd session; Q1 and Q2 felt good but then I wasn’t very happy with the grip of the new set of tyres I got. We need to look into this as the rear felt slick in Sector 2. We have ended up very close to third position which realistically is the best we can do in dry conditions, so today’s result is still pretty good. We have split the Ferraris, which means we will have a fun race on our hands tomorrow, especially if the weather changes. It was a bit of a shame the rain stayed away for qualifying.

“It’s supposed to rain more tomorrow, so let’s look forward to that. With some wet track condition our level of grip compared to other cars should come up a bit.”

Daniel Ricciardo admitted to feeling so-so about sixth place.

“I felt we made progress from Q1-Q2 and then in Q3 I was a little bit disappointed with my lap. Probably didn’t get the balance right in myself. It’s a tough track and it’s quite a short lap, so if you make a mistake in one corner it’s very hard to make up that time.

“I had a good first sector but was probably a little bit conservative in a couple of corners where I was trying to not make a mistake more than trying to gain some time. We knew quallie would be tight with Ferrari in dry conditions, and it is close. I think that’s what makes it a little frustrating.”

The forecast suggests that Sunday will have the highest chance of rain, which delighted the Australian.

“Hopefully that’s true, just to spice things up a bit. And if so, then we’ll try and make it exciting for everyone else and give the fans an opportunity to see a good race. If it rains it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

How did Grosjean pull it out of the bag for Haas?

After two tough weekends recently, Haas were delighted when Romain Grosjean pulled the team’s best qualifying performance out of nowhere.

He’d been 12th fastest in Q1 with 1m 12.893s, then ninth with 1m 12.343s in Q2. But his eventual 1m 11.937s, from a single run in Q3, took everyone by surprise, as he finished seventh.

“It’s good to be back in Q3, especially after the last two races where we were out in Q1 and really struggling,” the Frenchman said. “Here we’ve been trying some new brakes, focusing on making them work as well as we could. The feeling was good right from the beginning and the cooler track conditions today really helped us a lot. There are still plenty of margins to improve for the future. We’re always learning more about what we need to do, but we really weren’t expecting to be in Q3 today.

“Generally though, when we do get things working well together, we’re quite fast, which is encouraging.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner was both happy, and relieved.

“We did a good job in FP3 to end up with a car that worked well for both drivers in qualifying. We seem to have ups and downs, but we always come back out on top. Last race weekend we were out in Q1 and now we’re in Q3 with one car and the other finishing 12th. Achieving our best result in qualifying with seventh place for Romain - it’s thanks to a lot of effort from the whole team. Starting in seventh and 12th, our aim will be for a points finish. It’s difficult to attain here, but it won’t be from a lack of trying.”

Can Williams recover for Massa’s last home race?

Starting his last home race from 13th place on the grid was most definitely not what Felipe Massa had in mind, when the FW38 seemed to have plenty of pace and was mixing it again with Ferrari and Red Bull on Friday. But somehow, all that pace slipped away from the Grove cars when it really mattered.

Valtteri Bottas’ single run in Q1 was enough to progress to Q2 in ninth place. Massa ran twice, his second run sending him through in eighth.

Valtteri was seventh after his first run in Q2, but as the field closed up his second run wasn’t enough to progress into Q3; he failed by a tenth of a second.

Massa improved on the second lap of his first run of Q2, and was eighth. But others went quicker and understeer prevented him from improving.

“When we needed to put the laps together, they just didn’t come off,” said a glum head of performance engineering, Rob Smedley. It’s unfortunate because we were just a few tenths off Ferrari, right up until the time we needed to get the important laps in, and they didn’t come.”

“Basically, the front tyres just stopped working,” Massa said.

His consolation was the reaction of the crowd as he prepared to race in front of his countrymen for the final time.

“It was absolutely amazing to get out of the car and feel the support from the crowd, and to feel the love I have for these people as well as the love they have for me. I will try everything I can tomorrow to give them a better result, especially as it’s my last race here in Brazil.”

In one of those nice moments that occur every so often in sport, Nico Rosberg said: “I wish that the fans go crazy tomorrow to wish Felipe a farewell here, and that we get an awesome atmosphere, that would be cool. He deserves that after all that he’s achieved in his career and all that he’s also done for the Brazilian people, the pleasure that he’s given them over the years.”