F1 circus heads to Brazil hoping to put toxic Red Bull 'cheating' fallout to one side

Jose Carlos Pace Autodromo is beloved track known for producing epic races

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Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix should be a cathartic return to the racing after the poisonous mud-slinging and political infighting that has overshadowed the last few months.

Red Bull are certainly looking forward to getting back on track having battled wounding accusations of “cheating” for breaking costcap rules as fans on all sides have taken social media into melt down.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has called for calm over “sustained toxicity” which could “destroy the sport”.

If it’s calm you are looking for F1 has come to the wrong place. Sao Paulo is a seething, sprawling, party city of 22 million fanatical about F1 with a beloved track that makes this one of the paddock’s favourite weekends.

And it rarely fails to produce an epic Grand Prix, especially if it rains.

Jose Carlos Pace Autodromo has ‘only’ been on the calendar since 1973 so is not considered one of the immutable, irreplaceable, venues such as Silverstone, Monza or Monte Carlo that have protected historical status – but it should be.

The long curving drag uphill to the finish line, the plunging dive into the Senna Esses, the high speed double left-hander Descida do Logo as well as the endlessly snaking hinterland and the impossible right-hander called Bico do Pato and finally Juncao, make it a racers’ delight.

It’s one of the few tracks to run anti-clockwise and rewards bravery and precision while still allowing plenty of overtaking.

If it rains one sand trap or another can quickly become the world’s most expensive scrapyard.

As if that challenge were not enough this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix includes the final sprint race, compacting the schedule with qualifying Friday and an extra 100km race on Saturday. Plenty of chance for jeopardy.

Interlagos has been the scene of many dramatic championship finales, but not this year. Max Verstappen wrapped up his second successive title three races ago and Red Bull became constructors champions in Austin.

Sergio Perez is hoping to make it a Red Bull 1-2 in the Drivers' Championship for the first time. Getty

But behind that, just five points separate Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc battling over runners-up spot. Red Bull are looking to finish 1-2 in a championship for the first time while Ferrari’s man will probably see second place as scant consolation for a title challenge gone so far astray.

In the Constructors Championship, Ferrari are 40 points ahead of Mercedes with everything to play for over runner’s-up spot.

Just seven points separate Alpine and McLaren in the battle for fourth and tens of millions more in prize money.

Few cities have as fanatical an F1 following as impoverished Sao Paulo where grandstand seats cost $490 – half a month’s salary for some – but are still snapped up.

South America's biggest conurbation echoes to the sound of the samba drums and the enduring sunshine mean a party is never far away. Throw in the infamous national cocktail, Caipirinha, and the mix is as deadly as the city itself.

And then of course the ghost of Ayrton Senna, Brazil’s greatest driver killed at Imola in 1994, looms over everything. He lies in Morumbi cemetery, passed by everyone heading daily to the racetrack.

Senna’s link with the city, the people as well as the sport give added piquancy to the battle for victory – especially for Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes ace arrives fresh from the capital where his talent and idolatry of Senna have made him an honorary Brazilian citizen.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates after the winning the 2021 Brazilian Grand Prix. AP

While Verstappen aims for a record 15th victory Hamilton fosters an obvious emotional cause as well as determination to avoid this becoming the first winless season of his career.

In fact this race marks a winless 12 months, the worst run of his career despite finishing second in the last two GPs.

This track has seen some of his finest moments with an epic victory from last in 2021 and a championship victory in 2008 as well as the title missed by one point the year before.

Now, though, he has three wins like Sebastian Vettel, while other epic figures such as Fernando Alonso, a racer made for this challenge, remain unfulfilled through two world titles, 356 Grands Prix, 32 wins and 22 years of competition.

Although it’s hardly a priority Hamilton will also want to avoid the indignity of ending the season behind his new teammate George Russell who heads him by 15 points in the battle for fourth.

Behind the scenes, F1 boss Stefano Domenicali has arrived from Barranquilla in Colombia where, rumour has it, a Caribbean Grand Prix is being plotted.

Updated: November 09, 2022, 2:25 AM
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