Did someone order an American triple header? With the upcoming Grand Prix of São Paulo, this is exactly what Formula 1 fans will get. We have already completed matches at COTA and Autodrómo Hermanos Rodríguez, now it is time for Interlagos, a classic. With its relatively short layout and many bends, it is a real challenge for the drivers, who generally say that they like this track. What awaits us this weekend?
Interlagos, officially called Autódromo José Carlos Pace, is the fourth shortest circuit of the calendar with a total length of 4.309 kilometers. Only Monaco, Zandvoort and Mexico are shorter. Nevertheless, it is the second fastest circuit, only the Red Bull Ring has faster lap times. This is partly due to the fact that the riders go full throttle for no less than 72 percent of a lap.
Before we discuss the circuit in more general terms, we will delve into the track map provided by Mercedes. Interlagos has fifteen corners, of which only three are in the short first sector. These bends follow each other in quick succession and this first part ends in a fast left turn, which then heralds the first DRS part. You have to be careful in turn 4, which follows this DRS zone. Just ask Charles Leclerc, who came into contact with teammate Sebastian Vettel a few years ago. ‘Mein Gott, müss das sein!’
Furthermore, turn 1 is a turn with heavy banking. This bend runs downwards on the inside, which means that the left front wheel suddenly has little contact with the asphalt. That is why you regularly see drivers braking in that corner. That is why drivers often take different lines in this bend, which also makes it suitable for great overtaking actions.
Sector 2 of Interlagos a rollercoaster ride
Sector 2, the longest sector of the track, consists of eight turns, with turns 8, 9, 10 and 11 being the most notable. These are all slow corners in which a high level of downforce is rewarded. The overtaking options are limited here, so in sector 2 the drivers are mainly concerned with making up as much time as possible compared to competitors, so that these competitors are within shooting distance at the exit of Turn 12.
That exit is crucial for drivers who want to overtake in Turn 1. Although the sector 3 straight in the form of turns 13, 14 and 15 theoretically has three turns, this is in fact a stretch where the drivers do not take their foot off the accelerator. That is why the vast majority of overtaking actions at Interlagos are placed in Turn 1. The riders conclude a round of Interlagos with the megastraight.
The setup challenge for the teams
Interlagos represents a great challenge for Formula 1 teams, because it is a track of extremes. In sector 1 and sector 3, little drag is greatly rewarded because of the long straights. However, in the middle sector you will not perform well with a very thin rear wing. Compromises must therefore be made to achieve the optimal lap time.
To achieve the fastest lap time, teams usually move more towards high-downforce, but that has disadvantages in the Grand Prix. After all, it is easiest to overtake on the last, relatively long straight stretch. If you don’t trim that downforce, you will be working against yourself and it will therefore be more difficult to overtake. That is not what the drivers want, so it remains a puzzle.
Unpredictable weather in Brazil and no shortage of safety cars
The weather around São Paulo is usually unpredictable. It could be that it is sunny and 30 degrees during the day and that thunder clouds blow over the city in the evening. This means that the weather can also change quickly around the Formula 1 sessions. For now, rain is only forecast for Friday, but these forecasts could change later in the week and several wet sessions could be on the way. Mercedes considers the chance of a wet session to be around 8% in advance.
Interlagos is a safety car-sensitive circuit. Of the past five matches, there has not been a single edition in which Bernd Mayländer was not used. In fact, in those five races the safety car was deployed no fewer than ten times. The chance of at least one safety car is also very present on Sunday. Furthermore, one drives through the pit lane at eighty kilometers per hour in about eighteen seconds, which makes a pit stop of average length, including a tire change. Last year, George Russell’s winning strategy – Mercedes’ only win of 2022 – was a two-stopper with stop 1 on lap 24 and stop 2 on lap 49.
Can Mercedes strike again?
As the end of the season approaches, we see that Red Bull Racing is less strong. This is not entirely inexplicable, because we know that the Austrian racing team is already fully focusing on the 2024 season, where competitors have continued to develop for longer. This does mean that Ferrari is often very close to Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez during qualifying.
We also know that Mercedes has traditionally done well at Interlagos. Without help, the 2022 victory did not come for the team from Brackley, but they still managed to win – indicative that this circuit suits the Mercedes. That is why we can also expect something from Lewis Hamilton and Russell this weekend. So basically we see the usual potential winners emerging for the weekend in Brazil.
That said, there is one battle that still needs to be highlighted, namely that for P2 in the world championship. Pérez currently occupies this second place, but for how long? The Mexican has been out of shape for some time, while direct competitor Hamilton is getting stronger as the season progresses. Combine this with Mercedes’ promising past results in Brazil and this could theoretically be the weekend where the Englishman overtakes Pérez – the gap is just 20 points.