The penultimate round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo. The 4.309-kilometer (2.677-mile), 15-turn Interlagos circuit is the setting for one of the shortest laps of the year, but also one of the most intense.
The undulating course in Brazil’s largest city is a challenge for drivers and teams. It is run anticlockwise and consists of a twisty infield portion between turns six through 12, with three long straights between turns three and four, between turns five and six, and off turn 14 down the frontstretch before the beginning of the Senna “S” in turn one.
All drivers love racing here, despite the intense challenge it presents and HaasF1’s Mexican driver, Esteban Gutierrez is no exception.
Formula One comes into Brazil after two massively successful, well-attended race weekends in the United States and Mexico. What was your takeaway from those two race weekends and what does it say about the health of the sport and also its popularity in North America?
“It’s great that we saw two events which were crowded with a great atmosphere. I think everybody had a good time and enjoyed the race. Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t great in terms of results. Even though the results were not what we wanted, the two events were very positive because there was a lot of meaning for us going to Austin as an American team, and then in Mexico and being Mexican, it was an incredible experience.”
After showing consistent speed throughout the Japanese Grand Prix three races ago, the past two races – the United States Grand Prix and the Mexican Grand Prix – were a struggle for Haas F1 Team. What makes one weekend like Japan so good and other weekends like what you experienced in the United States and Mexico so challenging?
“It’s the difference of the temperatures and difference of track layouts. Suzuka is a track that has high-speed corners and I think it suited our car pretty well. Then Austin is a combination of high-speed corners and slow-speed corners. Mexico has slow-speed corners, and that combined with temperatures were not really great, and probably a track which is difficult to make the tires work. So that explains a little bit. We are not as strong as we would like to be in the slow-speed corners and we have to work on that. Hopefully in Brazil and Abu Dhabi we can recover the pace that we had before coming to Austin.”
Is there anything that can be learned from a challenging race weekend, or is it best to simply turn the page and focus on the race ahead?
“There are always lots of things that can be learned, even if a weekend is really bad. You have to point out the things that can be improved, and I think we had some interesting facts after the race which we’ve analyzed in our effort to try to make the car better for Brazil.”
Whenever Formula One travels to Brazil, Ayrton Senna’s legacy is prominent. Of all his races, is there one that stands out for you?
“Japan is always a race that I remember from Senna, when he was fighting the championship with (Alain) Prost. One year when they both crashed together and then the next year when they both crashed together again, but the outcome of the two was different. One championship was won by Prost and the other one by Senna.”
Interlagos was resurfaced prior to the 2014 race. How much did the track change from that 2014 race to 2015, and what do you expect this year with another year of weathering to the track surface?
“Interlagos is a track that is very nice to drive. There is no real downside to the track. It is not a very long track, but at the same time, it has pretty different corners. Some corners you can use a lot of curbs, which make it very interesting. It has quite a nice rhythm, so it’s always a very special track.”
It’s a short and intense lap around Interlagos, and it’s also one of just a few tracks that you run anticlockwise. Does the direction of a track’s lap make much of a difference to you, or is a lap a lap, no matter the venue?
“It doesn’t matter the venue. The direction of the track doesn’t really affect our feeling for it. Sometimes it just shifts a bit of the focus on tire wear from one side compared to the other, but it’s nothing that should make a difference to us or any other team.”
Interlagos appears to be a very physical track, and heat often plays a role in the performance of the car and the driver. Considering these variables, how do you attack the track?
“It’s not one of the most physical tracks, but it is quite physical for the neck, and it being anti-clockwise factors into that. The strength goes to the opposite side and all the main straight is not really one straight – it’s a whole corner. In the race I remember my neck getting a good workout.”
Last year, the top-three finishers of the Brazilian Grand Prix used a three-stop strategy. What needs to happen to make a three-stop strategy work over a typical, two-stop strategy?
“It depends on the tire compounds, but being aggressive is part of having a three-stop strategy. It’s quite a challenging track for the tires, but what we learn in practice on Friday and Saturday will determine our strategy for the race on Sunday.”
What is your favorite part of the Autódromo José Carlos Pace?
“I would say turns one, two and three have a very nice rhythm. It’s a very nice part of the track.”