It should be the venue for the climactic race of the season. Instead, Brazil’s Interlagos has been relegated to the penultimate slot in favour of an untried venue already beloved of the F1 establishment – but which still needs to win over fans.
A tenser race than we saw last year – with the world championship won by a single point on the final corner as the runner-up’s camp celebrated wildly and mistakenly – cannot be imagined, and will not be repeated this year.
That’s F1’s loss. But there are still some similarities. Once again we are expecting a wet race, and a Briton has the chance to take the title. Button would thus become part of the nation’s first back-to-back pair of winners since Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart in the sixties.
There’s been plenty of talk about whether Button can do it, or whether his team-mate and nearest title rival Rubens Barrichello will – for once – play a blinder on his home circuit and take it down to the wire.
A fine drive by Sebastian Vettel in Japan has kept him in the hunt and lead to widespread speculation that he could ‘do a Raikkonen’ and snatch the title at the last gasp.
We think Vettel is a superb driver and a future world champion. But this is not his year and he is not yet as good as Kimi Raikkonen at his peak. The German youngster’s error-strewn season has shown that he will have to tighten up his act considerably before he gets to lift the trophy.
With a maximum of 20 points available Button must score at least six points to put the championship beyond Barrichello’s reach, by taking his own score from 85 to 91.
It’s a funny thing with sportsmen and women, but sometimes they do much better when they are facing a very simple goal.
So maybe Interlagos will get the race it deserves this weekend after all – even though it might not produce the result that the Interlagos fans want to see.
And so to the track. The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace sits between two man-made lakes that supply water and electricity to Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
It first hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1973 and is a famously atmospheric venue thanks to its central location and the passionate fans that make up its crowds.
The 2.7-mile circuit is the highest of the year at 800m above sea level and one of four anti-clockwise circuits on the current Formula One calendar.
Brawn: Trying to focus on its race performance
Brawn GP appears to be pursuing its season-long strategy of putting the big picture out of its collective head this weekend and concentrating on the race. And, with the complexity of possible outcomes that it faces, who could apportion blame?
Ross Brawn said in his team’s preview: “With the constructors’ and drivers’ championships still to be decided, the Brazilian Grand Prix should be a fascinating and exciting weekend for the fans at the circuit and viewers around the world.
“Interlagos provides a great challenge for the teams and drivers with the high-altitude location and the notoriously bumpy surface as two of the key considerations when setting up the cars for the weekend.
“The reduced atmospheric pressure causes a loss in engine power and aerodynamic performance while the cars have to run with an increased ride height to cope with the bumps which are particularly noticeable in the braking area for turn four, the Descida do Lago.
“Interlagos is a great venue and the lap is characterised by long straights with flowing left-hand corners and a twisty infield section.”
He said that its changes in elevation give the circuit “an almost three-dimensional feel” and make for a spectacular race when coupled with the electric atmosphere generated by the Brazilian fans.
And he acknowledge with wry understatement the extent to which the result might be out of the teams’ hands: “The weather has been known to play its part in races at Interlagos over the years so we will be keeping a close eye on the forecast for the weekend.
“Brazil will be an important race for the team and our drivers and we’re looking forward to getting the track action underway.”
Button added: “This year will be the first time for a while that we’ve been to Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Grand Prix when it hasn’t been the final race of the season but it’s still going to be such an exciting weekend. There’s always a great atmosphere at Interlagos and the Brazilian fans are so passionate about motor racing and particularly Formula One.
“Interlagos is quite an unusual circuit and it’s an enjoyable challenge for the drivers. The anti-clockwise direction, changes in elevation and bumpy surface all keep your attention fully focused and the high-speed left-hand corners add an extra physical challenge.
“It’s an important race for me and for the team in terms of the championships and we will be working hard to get the best results possible from the weekend. It’s going to be a challenge but one that we are all looking forward to.”
McLaren: It’s all about the constructors’ championship
McLaren’s whole goal now, with the drivers’ title out of its reach, is to best its old adversary Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: “Nobody on our team will ever forget the dramatic final laps of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. They are memories that will live with us forever.
“Of course, the defining moments of the last two world championships have both taken place in Brazil and, as a result, the race has become an unusually colourful and intense occasion for us.
“Travelling to Sao Paulo this year with our focus solely on achieving the very best result will allow us to attack the race weekend without any additional considerations, and we are very much looking forward to that challenge.”
Lewis Hamilton added: “It will be the first time I’ve travelled to Sao Paulo without being in contention for the world championship, and I’m actually looking forward to taking in a bit more of the city and relaxing and enjoying the experience of driving on one of the world’s greatest racetracks.
“My highlights are turn one, braking into the long left-hander which bends right and takes you out onto the back straight; Ferra Dura, which is a fast right-hander where your body is squeezed hard into the side of the car, and the main straight – you accelerate hard uphill and you can even hear the crowd and the Brazilian drums playing in the grandstands.
“One of the greatest things about racing at Interlagos is the crowd. There’s such a great atmosphere; the fans have so much energy and life. It’s a party while you’re working, and it’s great to see everyone happy.”
Mercedes: Looking forward to the double
Norbert Haug, Mercedes’ vice-president of motorsport, indicated that he still has high expectations for a team that his company is rumoured to be parting company with in the next year or two.
He said: “Lewis has been the most successful driver of the last two grands prix, which took place within the space of one week in Singapore and at the Japanese Suzuka circuit.
“During those eight days, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes scored more points than any other team, a trend that fortunately has continued for the last six grands prix since Lewis’s first 2009 victory in the Hungarian GP.
“We started the season and had to make do with a minimum of points, so it’s pleasing to see the upward trend we’ve had since our home grand prix at the Nurburgring in the middle of July.
“We try to continue this trend with Lewis’s two wins and two additional podium places in the last six races – a gain which hasn’t been achieved by any other driver in this period of time.”
Speaking about Mercedes-powered Brawn GP, he noted that Hamilton beaten Button four times in six races, adding: “The world championship fight is open and electrifying – I know from my own experience what I am talking about when I say that with a 16-point deficit of Sebastian to Jenson, nothing has been decided yet.
“With regard to the constructors’ world championship, Brawn GP should have already done it with half a point still missing.”