Alarm bells ring as track wears thin

Sun isn't everything, especially when the air conditioning isn't working any better than the telephones. But where Silverstone is constantly the subject of lambasting by the FIA, the sport's governing body, on account of a few waterlogged fields and the inevitable traffic congestion, the Interlagos circuit near São Paulo lives happily in its own squalor. Year in, year out, Formula One treks back here and everyone bravely tries to ignore conditions which would see pretty much any other circuit struck from the calendar.

Sun isn't everything, especially when the air conditioning isn't working any better than the telephones. But where Silverstone is constantly the subject of lambasting by the FIA, the sport's governing body, on account of a few waterlogged fields and the inevitable traffic congestion, the Interlagos circuit near São Paulo lives happily in its own squalor. Year in, year out, Formula One treks back here and everyone bravely tries to ignore conditions which would see pretty much any other circuit struck from the calendar.

The pits are a disgrace, the paddock has all the appeal of a favela. Running F1 here is like booking a backstreet pub in Neasden for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The shadowy figures who live beneath the strip of road that leads to this fading monument named after the 1975 victor, Jose Carlos Pace, would doubtless disagree, but the place survives as if by magic.

Yet for all the faults of its infrastructure, Interlagos is a special track. Not, it's true, as special as once it was in the days when it was a five-mile test of a driver's nerve, when Pace's success brought his countrymen screaming to their feet the way that Ayrton Senna's later triumphs here would. But it is different to Melbourne and Malaysia, and it poses special challenges.

There are two long straights ­ one on the back of the circuit, where Eddie Irvine, Martin Brundle and Jos Verstappen danced a dramatic automotive samba back in 1994, and the long, long climb from the last corner all the way to the finish line. But also there is the tight infield complex between the two.

Going fast here is all about striking the right compromise between downforce and speed. In qualifying you need lots of aerodynamic downloading to handle the infield, but for the race you need high top speed to give you the chance of overtaking on the straights. Suspension set-up is also critical to handle the bumps. Last year, these were so appalling that they literally shook some cars to pieces. This year, parts of the track have been resurfaced for the umpteenth time, with qualified success. "It's better on the main straight," the Sauber-Petronas driver Nick Heidfeld reported, "but everywhere else they're just the same."

Last year, qualifying was interrupted when overhead advertising hoardings fell on to the track as the slipstream of the cars dislodged them. "This year," an official joked, "they are spring-loaded so they bounce back up." Instead, a heavy moving camera fell into the Jaguar pit on Friday when it was derailed from its track. Somehow, no one was harmed.

On the streets, Minardi's team manager, Tony Lees, was deprived of his wallet at gunpoint as he left a bank, while four Williams team personnel similarly arrived at the track lighter than when they had set out.

To some, Interlagos has become the symbol of a decline in the promotion of the sport. The Benetton-Renault chief, Flavio Briatore, went on the attack with scathing criticism. "Some time when a business goes well, the big mistake is not improving the business," he said. "There's a lot of competition in sport. There's a lot of good events worldwide. The pits were pretty dead today. This is the best event for Brazil and there were only the mechanics there and nobody else. We need to improve our image, and at this moment we are doing absolutely nothing to do so."

The theme was taken up by Eddie Jordan, too. "It's very easy to be complacent when things are going OK," the team owner said. "And you get confused by the figures you see and the big interest in Formula One. Every car is properly sponsored, but I remember when you had to crawl on your knees to find a sponsor. This doesn't seem to happen now because all the teams have good sponsors, but complacency can be an incredibly dangerous situation... We need to be on our guard, I promise you."

Anywhere else, it would have been hard for them to make such comments. In the opulence of Malaysia's Sepang circuit a fortnight ago they might have been unthinkable, but in the crumbling decadence of Interlagos, somehow it seemed an apposite time to sound a verbal alarm.

And as if to signal possible change in the sport, there were developments on the track, too. After showing promise in Melbourne and Malaysia, BMW-Williams began to realise it yesterday morning. On his Michelin tyres, the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya pushed the McLaren-Mercedes drivers, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, and the Schumacher brothers, out of the limelight.

"This is a chance to show what I am capable of," Montoya said. "I know that I need to improve in qualifying because I've been pretty much giving away my first run, giving too much time away. I have been cautious and I need to overcome that."

Unfortunately he pushed too hard and slid off the road on his first run. As he ran back for the spare car, Michael Schumacher was already busy restoring the status quo.

The McLarens also look better here than they have all season, while Schumacher's brother, Ralf, rose to the challenge for BMW-Williams to push within three-tenths of a second, but failed to repeat Montoya's fastest time from the morning. With a grid that reads Ferrari, BMW-Williams, McLaren, BMW-Williams, McLaren, Ferrari, F1 got a much-needed shot in the arm.

The odds still favour another victory for the world champion, but the opposition is catching up at last.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition