ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 13 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Technical Preview:
Brazilian Grand Prix

Click here for a track map of Interlagos by Will Gray, England

Formula One's teams and drivers are preparing for one of the toughest races on the Grand Prix calendar this weekend as the circus moves to Brazil for round three of the 2001 championship.

The Interlagos circuit, which will host the race, has the perfect combination of factors to create the ultimate challenge for everyone. Once again, one of the most important areas of concern for the teams is driver fitness, and although the heat and humidity is not expected to be as intense as in Malaysia, the overall conditions in Brazil could be seen as even worse.

The drivers will now be slightly more comfortable with the energy-sapping conditions in which they will have to perform, but this is just the start of their physical challenge.

Interlagos is one of only two tracks on the 17-race Formula One calendar to run anti-clockwise (Imola being the other, disregarding Suzuka's figure-of-eight layout), and one of the biggest difficulties in the race will be coping with two hours of the unusual forces this creates.

It seems strange to suggest that the ultra-fit drivers may struggle to cope with the punishment their bodies will take, but several of them, including Jaguar's Eddie Irvine, have spoken of their concerns coming into the race.

Drivers are used to running clockwise, and their neck muscles developed through testing and training are inherently built to cope with forces that generally push their heads to the left. This time the cornering G-forces will be creating a strain on the opposite muscles.

The Brazilian race will be the first time most drivers have run on an anti-clockwise circuit since last year's Imola race, but those who spent pre-season time at the South African circuit of Kyalami may be at an advantage. Like Interlagos, the Kyalami circuit runs anti-clockwise, so the BMW-Williams and BAR drivers who spent one week's solid testing there, may have built up more strength to cope with the forces.

On top of this, however, they also have to cope with the gruelling bumps for which the Brazilian circuit is notorious. The circuit organisers have re-surfaced the track several times since its re-introduction to the Grand Prix calendar in 1990. But their last effort brought dissatisfaction from the drivers, and the surface is still not even close to smooth.

The vibrations are so intense that last year Ralf Schumacher complained of a headache after just a few laps of the race, and the teams are not willing to compromise the car's performance for the comfort of the driver by using a very soft suspension set-up. So they just have to suffer.

Car set-up is, however, a big art of compromise in Brazil, and more significantly so than most other circuits. The combination of two very high speed straights and a tight and twisty complex area means a distinctly different set-up is required for qualifying than that used in the race.

A high downforce setting is required for qualifying to improve grip and get the best performance out of the car in the slow turns of the complex. With more downforce comes more drag, and this slows the cars on the straights. But it is in the corners where most time can be gained on a single lap, and that is what defines the qualifying set-up.

In the race, overtaking is important, and that demands high speeds to allow passing into the corners at the end of the straights. To achieve this, teams will use lower downforce levels and hope to block their rivals behind them in the slow corners.

Overall, the track requires a lower downforce set-up than the season's first two races, and that could see a few changes in the midfield as the more efficient aerodynamics packages are brought into play. Because of the new limits on front and rear wings the teams have had to run some of the highest levels available in the first two races. Williams have complained of not having enough downforce for the first two races, and this could even off some of the differentials between the teams.

Another leveller could be the tyres, and Brazil may be the first event to see a controversy develop over the black rubber. The track is notoriously hard on tyres, and teams could find themselves wearing tyres down to slicks during the weekend. It is believed there is no performance advantage from this, but protests could be put in if teams let their grooves get too low. Power is also very important on the circuit as the long straights and circuit undulations put high demands on the engines. And with that come demands on reliability.

Interlagos is a recognised car-breaker, not only because of the demands on open-throttle power, but also because of the bumps. The vibrations not only shake the drivers to pieces, but they can also prevent the cars' systems, such as electronics equipment, from functioning properly. Teams can measure the vibrations caused by the bumps, but there is only so much they can do to protect the systems from the unusual conditions the circuit creates.

Brazil, then, is a tough challenge for both car and driver in standard conditions, and with a high possibility of rain as the clouds hug the hills of Interlagos, the race could see a lot of retirements. It is hard to see anyone stopping Michael Schumacher's run of victories, but if there is anywhere that gives the rest of the field a good chance it is Interlagos.

Will Gray© 2007
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