The 18-race 2008 FIA Formula 1 World Championship finally reaches its climax in Sao Paulo, Brazil, next weekend. And the daunting Interlagos circuit will play host to a thrilling title decider for the fourth successive season, between Vodafone McLaren Mercedes championship leader Lewis Hamilton (94 points) and local hero Felipe Massa (87).
With each driver poised to win his first world title, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the constructors‘ championship has also to be decided; Vodafone McLaren Mercedes currently lies 11 points behind leaders Ferrari.
Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit was born out of a 1926 suburban construction programme which aimed to regenerate an area of the huge Brazilian city located between two enormous drinking-water reservoirs [Interlagos is Portugese for ‚in between lakes‘].
The venue was finally completed in the late 1930s and hosted its first (non-championship) Formula 1 race in the spring of 1972, on the original 7.96km switchback course. The inaugural event’s success led to its inclusion onto the world championship calendar the following year – a position it relinquished in 1980. After a stint at Rio de Janeiro’s Jacarepagua track, Interlagos returned to the Formula 1 calendar in 1990 in a more modest 4.3km configuration.
McLaren has won the Brazilian Grand Prix on 11 occasions, including seven victories at Interlagos.
How are you approaching this final, crucial weekend of the year?
"Fundamentally the same way I’ve approached the previous races. Obviously, my aim for Brazil is slightly different from the other grands prix: I don’t need to win the race, but that won’t stop me from going into the weekend looking to be as strong as possible. Shanghai was a good example of that: we hit the ground running on Friday morning and never looked back. Our aim wasn’t to push too hard, but we found ourselves in a position at the front and took it comfortably from there. That’s what I am hoping to achieve in Brazil – a straightforward weekend that allows me to just focus on my car and my driving."
How has your knowledge of the car and the team developed over the 2007 season?
"It didn’t take too long to find where I wanted to be with the team, but it’s taken longer to get used to the MP4-23. Sometimes I’ve pushed the set-up in the wrong direction but, over the year, I’ve found a better direction. I’ve been particularly pleased with my qualifying pace; even from the first race, I was competitive. Now I’m working hard to improve my knowledge of the tyres and everything is headed in the right direction."
MARTIN WHITMARSH, CEO FORMULA 1, VODAFONE McLAREN MERCEDES
How do you assess the balance between Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari going into the last round of the 2008 world championship?
"While Ferrari was able to out-perform us at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, we feel relatively confident that the situation will be different this year for several reasons. Firstly, looking at the trends of the season, the characteristics of our car should be better suited to Interlagos than they were in 2007. Also, the weather was exceptionally warm last year – something that tends to favour Ferrari – and the chances are that it won’t be quite so hot next week. These elements should create a very tight competition, which is good for everybody."
NORBERT HAUG, VICE PRESIDENT, MERCEDES-BENZ MOTORSPORT
The situation for Lewis prior to the final race is the same as last year: he will arrive in Sao Paulo with a seven-point advantage. Don’t you worry that it will again not work out with the championship?
"The title win is everything but a formality. For Lewis’s title contender Felipe Massa there are in Brazil only a few drivers in the field who, according to the current balance of power, are able to challenge him for the race win; Lewis and Heikki are two of them. Of course, there are races with surprising conditions or Safety Car periods which can mix up the field, like in Singapore previously, and provide unexpected results. Lewis will be as focused as the team to score the necessary points in Brazil."
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes