Brazil might be noted for football but don’t underestimate the historical love for Formula 1. Welcome to Interlagos!
Officially known as the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Interlagos first opened in 1940. The track has hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix since 1972, albeit this event was not a World Championship race – the first of these was hosted in 1973. Interlagos hasn’t always hosted F1 – duties at one point were shared with the now-demolished Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet (also known as Jacarepaguá), but aside from pandemic-related issues, Interlagos has an unbroken history of hosting Formula 1 since 1990.
At one point Interlagos was one of the first tracks on the calendar, and produced a memorable race for Ayrton Senna in 1991. The local hero won despite being stuck in sixth gear for the final few laps, and upon crossing the line he screamed his delight at finally winning his home Grand Prix, then nearly passed out from pain and exhaustion. In 2012 Interlagos hosted a dramatic and wet finale to a tense season, with championship leader Sebastian Vettel fighting through the field after a first-lap spin, to win his third World Championship.
In context of my game career, I did not expect much. On my F1 2009 career I secured the title at Interlagos with a fifth-placed finish. For this race I’d start 20th, following a 25-place grid penalty for changing engine parts. The only reason I didn’t start last was due to penalties for others! As a result of the penalties I didn’t bother with qualifying, preferring to keep fresh sets of soft tyres in my arsenal. I also started the race on mediums, which put me on an alternate strategy to virtually everyone else. At the start of the race I kept my nose clean and gave the pack ahead plenty of room, but soon began to catch and pass the cars in front, one by one. I quite enjoyed the pace and nature of the circuit – getting hooked up nicely through turns 1 and 2 felt good – and there was something satisfying about turns 8 and 10. In fact these corners became happy hunting grounds, with many a dive down the inside seeing me make my way up the order. When the cars ahead started to ditch their original softs, I was able to continue at a good pace on my mediums, and when I switched to softs I started to pump in several fastest laps of the race. Before long I had put myself into a comfortable points-scoring position, and the car felt as smooth to drive as it had all season.
Without the benefit of a safety car I eventually found myself in third, and I was catching the Mercedes of Bottas, albeit I was some way off. Then the heavens opened, and I made sure to time my switch to inters to match Hamilton’s stop. As Hamilton had stopped first Bottas was forced to do another lap on slicks, and by the time he stopped the gap between us had been reduced to five seconds. I’d carry on closing in, and even got to around a second, but Bottas was too quick down the pit-straight, and as we reached the final set of corners my car inexplicably slowed. I had to settle for third, but given where I’d started, this definitely counted as a great result! Oh, I held on to the fastest lap point too.
The consequences for the title race? Hamilton’s sixth win of the season moved him 12 points clear of Bottas, with three races to go.