The Slipstream: Battleground Brazil

Bevy of beauties at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix

Bevy of beauties at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix

Nov.3 (Geoffrey Hunton) Hello and welcome back to the Slipstream. With the end of October and the holiday season nearing, it appears Formula One fans are in store for a true gift.  In recent memory there have been several narrow world title fights in the aftermath of the first retirement of Michael Schumacher and this title fight might top them all as the first decade of the 21st Century comes to a close.

Jarno Trulli (ITA) Lotus  Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday 27 February 2010.

Jarno Trulli has been checking out the Nascar scene

The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were in action this past weekend at the infamous Talladega track.   It should be noted that former Jordan F1 driver and the first Indian grand prix competitor Narain Karthikeyan finished 13th from starting 14th in a challenging race at the wheel of a different machine than he might be used to. Narain raced at the front of the field for most of the day and was in contention for a top ten finish at one of racings most dangerous and fastest tracks.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been a development area for many drivers looking to break into the higher levels of American stock car racing.  Lotus driver Jarno Trulli has tested a race truck and has been mentioned in the press as considering a drive in the series if he does not return to Lotus Racing next year.  Jacques Villeneuve and Nelson Piquet Jr. have also tested or raced in the truck series as well.

Left: Nelson Piquet (BRA) Williams FW11B, 2nd place; centre: Ayrton Senna (BRA) Lotus Honda T99, winner USA Grand Prix, Detroit, 21 June 1987

Brazilian heroes Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna on the podium after the 1987 USA Grand Prix in Detroit

The nation of Brazil is a nation on the rise.  For a majority of the next decade, Brazil will be the host for a World Cup, Special Olympics, and the Summer Olympic games.  An emerging economic super power, the country has played a big role in F1 for many decades and being home to several world champion drivers.  Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Nelson Piquet have all claimed ownership of the world title, some several times.

Felipe Massa was world champion for just a handful of seconds in 2008 and has been a lighting quick Ferrari driver during his tenure with the Scuderia, partnering Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, and currently Fernando Alonso.  F1 iron man Rubens Barrichello has represented his nation with pride and has been in strong contention for world championships as recent as last year while racing for Brawn GP.  To put it simply, Brazil and Formula One share a unique past, and a promising future.

(L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari shake hands at the drivers end of year photograph. Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Brazil, 22 October 2006. DIGITAL IMAGE

Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher shake hands on the eve of the 2006 Brazilian GP

When the Brazilian Grand Prix became the final race of the season in 2006, which has continued until last year, the track became host to memorable title finishes.  With the stage set for a noble retirement, Ferrari driver Michael Scumacher was building momentum towards the race and was favored to capture an eighth world title from a Renault team in decline at the hands of Fernando Alonso.  A catastrophic engine failure in Japan prevented Schumacher to mount a serious challenge and prevent Fernando Alonso from winning a second consecutive world title.

What became important about the race was the drive and resolve of Schumacher.  If Michael could not win the world title, he was not going out without a fight.  Several brilliant passes going into the sweeping down hill Turn One became a definitive period on a spectacular career in Formula One and world motor sport.  Michael’s final race for Ferrari is a lesson to all aspiring race drivers and any competitor about how to show your best in the face of even the lowest of odds for victory.

Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari with Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari and Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes on the podium Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 21 October 2007.

Kimi Raikkonen on top step of the 2007 Brazilian GP podium

The 2007 season finale would become more about who lost the title more than who could win it.  Rookie driver Lewis Hamilton had failed to win the world title in China and was showing the signs of pressure from double world champion and team mate Fernando Alonso. Tension crept across the grid as qualifying failed to provide either McLaren driver with an advantage against the Ferrari’s of Raikkonen and Massa.

Again, Massa would be regulated to a support role as Raikkonen was still in mathematical contention for the world title.  The stress and pressure from one of the most controversial and conflict filled years in recent Formula One history would become very apparent as Kimi Raikkonen came back from a distant third to come from behind and win the world title from the two McLaren drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen won the 2008 World Championship by a single point

Kimi Raikkonen won the 2007 World Championship by a single point

This season was the first of the “Post-Schumacher” era and the entire grid was attempting to find the heir to Schumacher’s throne, several would emerge that day in Brazil including the man that took his seat winning the world title from underneath the McLaren rivals.   Alonso’s exit from McLaren was imminent and the stage would be set for Felipe to finally have his chance to fight for what he has been forced to defend for two consecutive seasons.  Raikkonen would win by just a single point.

In the final year of the old rules, the cars were at their fastest and the rivalry between McLaren and Ferrari did not miss a beat.  2008 was a year of change in Formula One.  With the grid still trying to cope with the loss of Schumacher and Alonso regulated to a mid-grid contender at Renault, Brazil would prove to be, for the third year in a row, the backdrop for a world title fight, set up again in China for a fight between McLaren and Ferrari.  Massa had come into his own that year as defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen failed to come to grips with the F2008 but managed to be a good defender as Lewis was forced to cope with a new team mate.  As the field took to the grid, drops of rain fell upon the Ferrari of Felipe Massa and the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton.

Race winner Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 2 November 2008.

So near yet so far for Felipe Massa in 2008 at Interlagos

An entire nation waited with baited breath as Massa took the lead and never let it go.  As the event played out, the world title shifted several times from Massa to Hamilton.  Felipe crossed the finish line supported by the roar of his homeland, and Massa lifted a single finger in the air in a celebration of triumph.  It appeared for a few seconds that he had done the impossible and McLaren had let another world title slip by on the Brazilian asphalt.  As Massa went on his cool down lap, Hamilton passed Timo Glock for 5th position the bare minimum of points needed to become world champion.   What happened after the race was a showcase of sportsmanship.  A visibly upset Massa pounded his chest and soaked in the tears and well wishes of a defeated home crowd, cheering loudly for their almost champion.  Hamilton would win the title by just a single point.

The eyes of Brazil would shift from Felipe to Rubens Barrichello as the senior F1 driver tried to prevent Jenson Button from claiming the world title on Brazilian soil.  Rubens has never had the opportunity to win in front of his countrymen, and this year was his best chance in half a decade.  Starting from pole, Barrichello would rocket off to the lead but a puncture would cost him a chance at victory and eventually, his world title chances would fade away as Jenson Button won the title by finishing 5th like Hamilton before him a year earlier and once more, a classic title fight would come to a close.

Fernando Alonso smiling on his way to Brazil

Fernando Alonso no doubt smiling on his way to Brazil

Alonso now has the potential to become world champion for the third time.  Only Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton stand in his way even though Vettel is still mathematically eligible the young German will be expected to provide cover for his senior teammate.  The fight for the world title continues on and the stakes are so very high once again in Brazil.

We have been gifted with a world title fight that will be remembered for years to come.  This year has been all a race fan could have asked for.  On track drama coupled with masterful drives from all the top contenders has allowed the sport to firmly solidify itself in this, the post Schumacher era.

Here are The Slipstream predictions for the 2010 Brazilian GP and beyond:

Predictions for qualifying at Interlagos
1. Felipe Massa
2. Mark Webber
3. Fernando Alonso

Predictions for Brazilian GP podium
1. Fernando Alonso
2. Felipe Massa
3. Mark Webber

Prediction for 2010 World Driver’s Champion
Fernando Alonso

The Slipstream predicting Fernando Alonso to take the title

The Slipstream predicting Fernando Alonso to take the title

Ferrari will want to wrap up the driver’s title in Brazil to ensure that they can go into Abu Dhabi with just the race on their mind.  The Yas Marina track suits the Red Bull more than it does the Ferrari and the opposite is the case in Brazil.  How Alonso will win the race will be very interesting, if what is predicted does happen.  Do not expect anything like what happened in Germany to take place in Brazil.

If Alonso is to make the pass it will be either on the first lap, or if the team is playing it safe, it will come down to tire management and when Felipe will be called in for service.  This is how Raikkonen won his world title, on the final pit stop of the season, and this is how I believe Alonso will win this race and potentially, the world championship.

The next broadcast edition of the Slipstream will be at 11pm EST on Monday November 8th.  We recently topped 250 listens and I would like to thank everybody for listening and for reading the print edition here on  See you next week.