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Brazilian GP: Alonso and Vettel ready for final showdown at Interlagos


By Berthold Bouman

After 19 races the FIA Formula One World Championship will be decided at the Sao Paulo Interlagos circuit, the two remaining contenders for the 2012 title are separated by 13 points; both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are ready for the final showdown in Brazil. Both drivers won two World Championships, and they are equally eager to add another one to their tally this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull

Both drivers had their ups and downs this year, Alonso was strong at the start of the season and even won three races before the summer break, while Vettel had a slow start, won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but couldn’t impress nor dominate as he did during the 2011 season. After the summer break the roles were reversed; Vettel came back and won another four races, while Alonso was struggling with the Ferrari F2012 and also retired twice due to accidents.

But the past doesn’t matter anymore, both drivers arrived at the Interlagos circuit today, and both want to win the 2012 title, on a circuit that has been the scene of many triumphant, but also dramatic races. Both Red Bull and Ferrari are well-prepared, but Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner confirmed Red Bull will go about their business as usual.

“We just have to approach the race as we have the previous 19,” he said. “We have to go there, attack the weekend, and get the best out of ourselves; the car, the strategy, the drivers, and reliability. Anything can happen, as we have seen this season. But it is good to be going there with a lead, and we go there determined to close the job off.”

But there must be at least one thing Red Bull must be worried about: the infamous alternator, the one that cost Vettel the victory when it failed during the European Grand Prix. At first it seemed Renault had fixed it, but the problem was back in Italy, and the alternator failed again on Webber’s car last weekend.

“Unfortunately it is the third alternator [failure] we’ve had and there have been others in other cars. The new version has raced on other engine cycles and hopefully that’s what we’ll have for Brazil,” said Horner. But technical wizard Adrian Newey still has his concerns, described the alternator as ‘a ticking time-bomb’ and said, “You never know when that one is going to strike.”

Despite the alternator worries, Vettel is looking forward to the race, “At Interlagos you have a combination of passionate fans, driving anti-clockwise, bad bumps and extreme altitude. The thin air makes it tough for the engine, because Sao Paulo is located 1000m above sea level, so it costs us about 40hp. The long left turns put an extreme burden on our neck muscles, because of the centrifugal forces that are created from driving anti-clockwise.”

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Alonso is of course hoping for another Red Bull alternator failure, and he commented after the United States Grand Prix, “Today we saw Webber’s retirement: sometimes it is the water, sometimes the KERS, sometimes the alternator but always in that car, so maybe one day it happens in the other car [Vettel’s] and we need to be ready.”

Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali said about Alonso’s chances to win the title, “I know it will be very tough, but I and all of us believe we can do it.” And the Italian added, “We know that it’s not easy because Sebastian is driving very well and he has a very quick car. But that doesn’t change what we have to do. We have to focus on our job and see what’s the outcome of the race.”

But he admitted qualifying is the key to a good race, “We always say it, but we need to improve our qualifying pace. We had one of the worst qualifying sessions in Austin and we need to make sure that will not happen in Brazil.”

But … there is also the unpredictable weather in Sao Paulo, Lewis Hamilton won his 2008 title in the rain at the Brazilian circuit, while Felipe Massa lost the title on that same day as a result of the rain. Although a master in the rain, Alonso had his biggest crash ever in Formula One at Interlagos in the rain in 2003 while driving for Renault. Theoretically Ferrari would stand a better chance in the rain, while Red Bull would be faster on a dry circuit.

But not only rain, also low temperatures have been forecasted for Saturday and Sunday, and that could be a problem for Ferrari. One of their headaches is how to get the tyres working in low ambient temperatures, and low temperatures could seriously hamper their qualifying pace. To make things worse, Pirelli has allocated the medium and hard rubber compounds for this race, the same tyres that gave Ferrari so many problems last weekend.

But although he is 13 points ahead, Vettel can’t take anything for granted, as he knows Alonso will never give up before the chequered flag is waved to signal the end of the race, and in this case, the end of the season as well. “Maybe on paper that chance is not so big, maybe 25 percent,” said Vettel, adding, “But deep down, I feel it’s much more than that.”

Also 1996 World Champion Damon Hill warned Alonso still is a formidable opponent. “If he had any other opponent, I would say that Sebastian would definitely win with his 13 points advantage,” said Hill. “But you can’t write off someone like Alonso. He is such a clever and tough driver and he always seems to pull off something extraordinary. If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say the odds at 65 per cent in favour of Vettel. If Vettel wins in Brazil, then you can certainly imagine him winning two more championships — at least.”

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