THERE are a couple of sideshows in Sao Paulo this weekend – an emotional Lewis Hamilton will race for McLaren for the final time, while Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher will end his career for the second time – but, really, tomorrow’s Brazilian Gran Prix is all about Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
After trailing championship rival Alonso by 44 points at the end of the German Grand Prix in July, Vettel has reeled in the 31-year-old Spaniard with a stunning run of dominance. In a Red Bull again firing on all cylinders, Vettel has taken 133 points from the last 150 on offer to lead Alonso by 13 points going into their title-deciding showdown at Interlagos.
Bearing in mind Vettel has finished second and first at the last two races in Sao Paulo, and given his current form, it is hard to look beyond the 25-year-old German for a third world title. Certainly, he’s in confident mood and does not believe he could be in a better position ahead of tomorrow’s race.
“The circuit seems to have suited our car in previous years,” explained Vettel. “We need to confirm that for this weekend, so all eyes will be on practice, to start the weekend, to get into the groove.
“We can be as confident as possible at this stage. Obviously we know there is a lot ahead, but we are in a great position.”
The great unknown, that could throw a spanner into the works, is the unpredictable Sao Paulo weather at this time of year. There is time for it to change yet because at present rain is forecast for Sunday, with temperatures 14 degrees lower compared to today.
“Weather-wise, it’s Sao Paulo,” said Vettel. “It’s the same as if you go to Spa where you know things can happen quickly and the weather can change a lot.
“I spoke to some locals and there was heavy rain three days ago which wasn’t expected.
“On Sunday, there’s some rain on the way, but then again you don’t know how much and when. I asked Pirelli yesterday if they have all the containers here with the rain tyres, and that’s the case, so I don’t think we have to be concerned.”
From Alonso’s perspective, in a Ferrari severely lacking in one-lap pace compared to the Red Bull, so compromising his qualifying but able to compete on a Sunday in race conditions, it is simply a case of drive and hope for the best.
“We need to try to have a normal weekend, to score as many points as we can,” said Alonso, who has to at least finish in the top three to have a chance of claiming his own third world title. “Obviously it will be good to be on the podium and score a minimum 15 points, and when we cross the line we will see where Sebastian is and do the math after that.”
It will be the sixth time since 2005 that the F1 season will be decided at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Alonso won both of his titles at Interlagos in 2005 and ‘06 but he added: “The first priority is to be in the podium, which gives us the chance of overcoming the 13-point gap, but it is not in our hands. We don’t have much to lose, we only have the possibility to win something and we will try to do our best.”
In addition to crowning the champion, this year’s Brazilian GP also marks the end of Schumacher’s career for the second time. F1’s most successful driver, Schumacher retired with Ferrari in 2006 and returned with Mercedes in 2010, unable to be competitive and managing only one podium finish, this year.
The seven-times world champion lapped 11th fastest for Mercedes in the first practice session yesterday but was sixth in the second. The 43-year-old German had a special message for his fans on his helmet: “Life is about passions, thank you for sharing mine.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, prepared for an emotional farewell to McLaren with the fastest time in practice. The Englishman, who took his 2008 Formula 1 title at Interlagos and arrived in Brazil after winning the US Grand Prix in Texas last Sunday, lapped the anti-clockwise layout with a best time of one minute 14.131 seconds in sunny but hazy morning conditions. The 27-year-old, who joins Mercedes next season, then lapped in 1:14.026 in the heat of the afternoon.
Vettel was second fastest in both sessions. He was just 0.009 off Hamilton’s pace before lunch and 0.274 slower after the break. However, the 25-year-old German set his morning time on this year’s Pirelli tyres while Hamilton’s came in a test of next year’s prototype rubber.
Ferrari’s Alonso was fifth on both timesheets – 0.261 and 0.566 slower respectively than the quickest McLaren.
How Vettel will win
• If he finishes in top four
• If he finishes 5th, 6th or 7th and Alonso is 2nd or lower
• If he finishes 8th or 9th and Alonso is 3rd or lower
• If he finishes tenth or lower (including not completing the race) and Alonso is off the podium
How Alonso will win
• If he wins the race and Vettel is 5th or lower
• If he finishes 2nd and Vettel is 8th or lower
• If he finishes 3rd and Vettel is 10th or lower
What happens if they’re tied on points after the race?
The crown goes to Vettel on the basis of more race wins.