Interlagos - Not a Pain in the Neck

Toro Rosso's Sébastien Buemi discusses Interlagos and Toro Rossos championship fight with Sauber...
Portrait of Sebastien Buemi, seen before practicing for the Grand Prix of Silverstone 2011 in Northampton, England on July 07th, 2011
Sebastien Buemi Portrait - Silverstone July 2011 © Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
By Matt Youson

There is a school of thought that says this is the first Brazilian Grand Prix to lack significance since 2004. That year Michael Schumacher and Ferrari playfully romped to the title by mid-season but since then it’s all happened at Interlagos.

Fernando Alonso clinched both his titles here, as did Kimi Räikkönen in unlikely circumstances and Lewis Hamilton in even more unlikely circumstances (Felipe Massa being champion-elect for 38.9 seconds). Jenson Button took his 2009 title here and last year Red Bull clinched the Constructors’ Championship here setting up a four-way fight for the Drivers’ title seven days later in Abu Dhabi. In those terms this weekend has nothing to prove, but further down the order there’s a battle-royal between Toro Rosso and Sauber. Sébastien Buemi talked us around Interlagos and why it’s important.

So, Sébastien, has there been much talk of the championship table and Sauber this week? How important is seventh place for you?
It’s definitely very important for us. Obviously we really want to beat them, and being one point behind with a quicker car in recent weeks, we have a good chance. There is a lot of pride at stake – but it also means more money for the team, and more money means a quicker car. However, we shouldn’t lose our focus or think too much about what Sauber are doing instead of about ourselves. If everything goes well and we don’t make any mistakes, we should be quicker than them.

You think the STR6 is well suited to Interlagos?

Yes, I do. What we’ve seen in the last few races is that we tend to be better on circuits such as Korea, India, and hopefully here, where you need a level of downforce which is quite a bit lower than, for example, Abu Dhabi. We weren’t uncompetitive in the race in Abu Dhabi, and without the failure on my car I think we would have been in a fight for seventh and eighth to the flag – but in qualifying we were definitely less competitive. But Interlagos should suit our car quite well and because of this I’m confident that we’re going to have a good weekend y’know?

There’s talk of rain for the race. Is that a plus or a minus?

Yeah it’s an interesting forecast – maybe it’ll rain, maybe it won’t! It doesn’t really tell you much, does it? Honestly I think we’re competitive whether it’s wet or dry and so it’s hard to say which would be better. Based on our experiences in practice for the Korean Grand Prix we should be good in the wet – and maybe there’s a chance for more points if it is wet, because at the moment with a perfect weekend we might be able to grab seventh or eighth if it’s dry, because nearly everybody is finishing the races and anything better isn’t possible if the top teams finish. If it’s wet then the probability of everyone at the front finishing is smaller. It’s a lottery, and you might get lucky!

And personally, do you enjoy racing here?
Oh yeah, it’s definitely one of the good ones! It’s quite a short track so you have a lot of laps here, and physically I like the fact it’s very up and down. It’s not easy to compare it with other circuits but it’s a very good experience. The second half of the lap is very narrow and it requires you to have a very good feeling for where you are as you move from left to right and take the kerb. The kerbs themselves are really big and really flat so you can get your car right up on those, which gives you a nice feeling that you can really attack the corners. It’s also a place where you can overtake because there’s a long straight on both sides of the circuit.

Conventional wisdom says this circuit hurts the neck, because you’re not used to racing on anti-clockwise circuits, so aren’t accustomed to quite so many left-handers…

Nah, it’s not so bad. It was quite hard the first year I did it, which was the last year before you had to carry a race-distance of fuel in the car. You were driving much quicker for the whole race back then – it was like a sprint race for the whole race and that was quite hard. Now the lap times are a lot slower, and because of this the load on your neck is not so big any more. I’m sure anyone who raced here in 2009 or before won’t have any problems with it now. Back then you were running the whole race at 1m12s – 1m13s, now you’re starting up around 1m18s. The speed you carry into the corners is what determines how hard it is on the neck, and currently half the race is quite slow because of the amount of fuel in the car.

And some of the engineers are talking about the difference that racing at altitude makes. What do they mean?
For the driver it makes no difference at all but for the engine it’s a big deal. Racing so high up [800m/2500ft above sea level] there’s less oxygen available so the engine loses maybe 50hp. Obviously that affects engine management and maybe makes people run a different downforce configuration to compensate for having less power, but it’s one for the engineers, not the drivers.

Sebastien Buemi racing during the Grand Prix of Germany 2011 in Nürburg, Germany on July 24th, 2011
Sebastien Buemi at Nürburg - Germany GP - 2011 © Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
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