Brazilian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Saudações! The final stop in the 2013 Formula 1 Championship takes place at the iconic Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo Brazil. The circuit is 4.309 km in length, runs anticlockwise. Drivers must snake their way up through a curving second sector, before making the final climb to the third sector. This circuit is all about a package favouring downforce and grip. The long back straight offers fantastic overtaking opportunities, while the unpredictable weather promises a fantastic race. Vettel once again secured pole position, ahead of Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. The session began with rain drizzling over the middle sector of the track, sending the field out on wet tyres. Deteriorating conditions through the session saw drivers struggle for grip and heat in the tyres.

Unsurprisingly, Vettel took his final pole position for the season on the intermediate tyre. It appeared all too easy for the German to knock Grosjean off the top of the time sheet once the RB9 switched from full wets to inters in Q3. Eager to qualify in the best possible position, Webber was the first out on track in Q3. Despite success during the final practice, Webber’s eagerness to get out in Q3 didn’t translate into fastest lap times. Also on the intermediate tyre, Webber missed out on the front row of the grid by 0.47s behind Alonso and Rosberg, and will start P4 for his final Formula 1 race.

Mercedes got it half right in qualifying, with Rosberg delivering an impressive performance throughout tricky conditions. Rosberg had superior pace to his team mate, while managing to keep his car on track. Despite success for himself and the team, the F1 W04 was no match for the RB9, setting a best lap time 0.623s behind Vettel to start P2. Hamilton appeared to struggle in the wet conditions, not quite finding the right set up for his F1 W04. The Mercedes preferred the drier conditions in Q1, setting the fastest lap time. However, as the conditions deteriorated, Hamilton noticeably lacked grip, and despite having a reasonably competitive pace could only manage P5.

The wet conditions played right into the hands of Fernando Alonso, managing to secure P3 on the grid. The Ferrari may have been able to secure a slot on the front row of the grid had he not lost time going off the track in his final flying lap of Q3. Despite his team mate’s success in the rain, Massa couldn’t find the same pace out of his F138. In his last race for the Scuderia, and in front of his home crowd, Massa’s best time was only good enough to start P9 on the grid.

A quick thinking Grosjean switched to the inters early on in Q3, a move that briefly saw the Lotus driver sitting on the top of the time sheets. The Frenchman appeared controlled on track, where others were struggling for grip, the E21 got it right. However, as the track continued to dry, and more drivers switched to inters, Grosjean’s best time was only good enough for P6. Kovalainen couldn’t match is team mate’s pace during in qualifying and was unlucky to just miss out on running in the final session, starting P11.

It was a fantastic session for  Toro Rosso, with both drivers making it through to Q3. In his final qualifying with the team, Ricciardo was consistent throughout all three sessions, setting a flying lap a fraction of a second ahead of Vergne to line up P7 on the grid. In deteriorating conditions, Vergne appeared to struggle with his tyres and traffic, falling into the drop out zone of Q1. After a brief stay in the pits, the Toro Rosso ventured back out on to a clearer track and a new set of warm inters. The tricky initial session for Vergne luckily didn’t follow through to Q2 and Q3. The Toro Rosso will start just behind his team mate in P8.

A late surge Hulkenberg in Q2 managed to secure the Sauber driver a place in the final session, to the expense of Lotus’ Kovalainen. P10 on the grid was the best that Hulkenberg could manage during Q3 after appearing to struggle in the conditions on track. Team mate, Gutierrez struggled for grip in difficult conditions during his qualifying, and unluckily found himself in the drop zone in the final moments of Q1. The Sauber driver will start a lowly P18 on the grid.

Di Resta appeared to favour the first sector, though the VJM06 visibly struggled for grip during the windy middle sector. Despite the Scot’s best efforts, di Resta couldn’t make it past Q2 and will line up P12 on the grid. Sutil suffered similar issues to his team mate, setting a decent first sector, though not being able to keep the pace through out the rest of the circuit. The Force India’s best lap time was only good enough for P16.

Williams driver, Valtteri Bottas put in his best effort during qualifying, but the wet conditions didn’t seem to favour the Finn. Bottas couldn’t make it out of Q2 and will start P13. Maldonado’s final qualifying session for the Williams Team was disappointing for the Venezuelan, failing to make it out of Q1. Once again, out qualified by his rookie team mate, Maldonado will start from P17.

Neither McLaren could make it out of Q2. Perez was strong through qualifying, visibly pushing his MP4-28 to the limit. Though the Mexican’s final qualifying for the team was cut short after losing grip and careering into the barriers during the his final lap in Q2. Despite his crash, Perez still managed to out qualify his team mate in P14. It was the usual story for Button as the McLaren struggled for heat in his tyres, and resultantly will start P15*.

Both Caterham and Marussia will be battling for tenth in the constructors championship. Though, neither Caterham nor Marussia made it out of Q1, putting their goal of a driver finishing P13 or higher all the more difficult for tomorrow.

Pole position is not a crucial for tomorrow’s race, though it certainly will assist Vettel in trying to secure a record breaking ninth consecutive win. The weather in Sao Paulo offers a high chance of rain, giving slower teams the opportunity to compete with the front runners, and often shakes up the pack. It is Webber’s last chance to reach the top step in Formula 1. While it is unlikely his team mate will move aside, Webber has promised not to lift, and put in his best effort for his final race. With several drivers still waiting for a confirmed 2014, the Brazilian Grand Prix promises a spectacle of teams drivers pushing to the limit, and a truly unmissable race.

– Alex

* As a result from his excursion into the barriers, McLaren have replaced Perez’s gearbox resulting in a five place grid penalty.

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