Wild Brazilian Grand Prix weather could scupper Mercedes final win chance

Luke Murphy
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton embrace at the end of the 2023 British Grand Prix.

With records continuing to tumble for Red Bull and Max Verstappen in Mexico, can the formidable combination prolong their success at one of Formula 1’s most renowned venues at the Brazilian Grand Prix?

The fan-favourite Interlagos circuit frequently combines an old-school circuit with festival atmosphere and changeable weather, and has become one of the most highly anticipated races of the season.

With many hoping that the circuit’s history for great racing can open the door for a toppling of the mighty Red Bull team, we take you through what the teams and drivers will face at the Brazilian GP…

How has the circuit changed for 2023?

Originally a 7.96km behemoth of a track, the Autódromo José Carlos Pace – named after Brazilian F1 race winner Carlos Pace – used to feature 26 turns and drivers would take around two-and-a-half minutes to complete a lap.

The original circuit, located in Sao Paulo, was on the F1 calendar for most seasons between 1973 and 1980, before losing its place to the Jacarepaguá circuit in Rio for several years after safety concerns.

However, F1 returned to the rightful home of the Brazilian GP for the 1990 season and, despite the track losing some fearsome high-speed corners, the shortened track has been a successful fixture on the calendar ever since.

The Interlagos venue has faced numerous calls for upgrades during its time on the F1 schedule, and has undergone various renovation works to the track surface, pit buildings, barriers and pit lane, which has been tweaked a few times on safety grounds.

Fortunately, the track layout itself remains fundamentally unmodified from the overhaul for the 1990 race, much to the delight of drivers and fans.

What are the characteristics of the Interlagos track?

Now only 4.3km in length, the anti-clockwise circuit is one of the shortest on the calendar, and features some of the highest average speeds of the season.

Officially, there are 15 turns at Interlagos, combining slower, cambered corners with full-throttle, sweeping curves. However, in the often-seen wet conditions, many of the flat out, high-speed corners turn into knife-edge areas of the track that require precise throttle control.

At reasonably high altitude, it’s a track with some of the highest elevation changes of the season. The various sharp changes in gradient throughout the lap can help or hinder a driver, and the car will need to be set up to survive the bumps of the classic track.

The three sectors are likely to provide strong insights into car setup. Sectors one and three are two of the most ‘full throttle’ of the season, and will indicate which cars are eking out the straight line performance.

On the flipside, sector two is a lower-speed, higher-downforce section which features the majority of the corners on the circuit. Teams will face the dilemma of extracting as much cornering performance out of their cars without them being sitting ducks on the straights.

The main overtaking spot comes at Turn 1, which is the entry to the famous ‘Senna S’ sequence of corners. If unsuccessful, drivers will often have another chunk of DRS allocation before a second attempt into Turn 4, Descida do Lago.

Heat will certainly be less of an issue than it was in Mexico City, despite temperatures expected to be around the mid-20s (Celsius), with tyres and brakes generally taking less punishment at the Interlagos track.

Who is expected to do well at the Brazilian Grand Prix?

Mercedes surprised themselves in 2022 by taking a remarkable sprint-and-grand prix double victory, which was their only success of an incredibly turbulent season for the team.

Ahead of the concluding races of 2023, the team tentatively picked out the races in Mexico and Brazil as likely their best chances of avoiding a winless season. After Brazil, F1 goes to an unknown, wildcard event in Las Vegas before ending the season in Abu Dhabi, a track which Mercedes believes will be slightly less suited to them.

Combine the usual sprint setup dilemmas with the prospect of heavy rain at various parts of the weekend and the Sao Paulo GP has an increased chance of becoming a lottery event. Under normal circumstances, Mercedes will be hoping their recently-upgraded car will come good in the higher-downforce aspects of Interlagos.

Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid in Mexico and demonstrated their usual combination of one-lap performance and race pace drop-off. Whilst their strategy was undone by the red flag in Mexico, they were somewhat content with the pace they managed to extract from an often difficult car.

The Italian team believed that their difficulty in keeping life in the tyres hurt their race pace in Mexico, so they will be hoping a slightly more controllable environment in Brazil might help them stay in contention for longer.

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Lando Norris’s recovery from the back of the field showed that he perhaps had the pace to achieve a podium finish in Mexico, a race which wasn’t earmarked by many as one which would favour the team. This increasing roundedness provides hope for continued competitiveness in Brazil.

With freefalling Aston Martin seemingly now in an unimportant race-by-race battle with Alpine, the more intriguing battle is between this season’s backmarkers.

AlphaTauri made a late surge away from the foot of the table with a remarkable performance in Mexico, which the team suggest has been overdue since the car was heavily upgraded in recent races. More might have been achieved without the red flag and Yuki Tsunoda’s errors in combat and the team will be hoping it won’t be the last of their points finishes in 2023.

The team pointed to the car’s strong mechanical grip as one of the reasons for their Mexico performance, which could suggest that an increased importance on aerodynamic load might bring them back down to earth a little bit in Brazil.

This weekend will be an important one for AlphaTauri to determine if they can keep up the fight with Williams, who still managed to score points in Mexico despite struggling again to handle higher temperatures.

Haas have still struggled to make the leap in performance necessary to threaten to score more points, and may pin their hopes on wet weather, sprint race chaos, and their two drivers who have both had career highs at the Interlagos track.

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