Interlagos, always contemporary.
The biggest renewal scheme to the Interlagos Circuit began in 2014 and enters a new phase this year. The paddock and garages have been substantially improved and are fit to host the Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix and the many other categories that race in the circuit. There have been additional improvements to the press facilities and to team and administration offices, which further contribute to keeping the São Paulo circuit amongst the best tracks in the world.
Last year’s race, which marked Lewis Hamilton’s maiden win in Brazil, was a great test to the circuit. The torrential rain forced the race to be interrupted at times and prolonged the length of the contest. It was a long, hard race, but spectators were perseverant. The track drainage system also worked and allowed drivers to eventually complete the 71 laps. Despite the immense water volume, structures were not affected.
Interlagos is unique. To win here, as Lewis Hamilton now knows it, is a remarkable feat.
The track rose to international fame in the 1970s. After essential works were completed to adequate the then 7.960 metres to fast single-seaters, Interlagos saw the rise of Brazil’s first F1 world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi. It was here that Emerson won, in 1970, the International Formula Ford Championship. In the following year, he went on to win a Formula 2 race. By then, Interlagos was ready to receive an extra-championship F1 race, which was won by Argentina’s Carlos Reutemann. Fittipaldi would eventually win in 1973, by which time the race was already part of the official calendar. He would win again in 1974, under heavy rain, and fellow Brazilian José Carlos Pace (after whom the circuit is named) would seal his only F1 win in 1975.
After a decade in Rio de Janeiro, Formula 1 returned to São Paulo in 1990. The original 7.9 kilometres were reduced to 4.3 kilometres, in accordance to new international standards. The track was now shorter, but the difficulty level remained the same. Cars began to race closer to each other, thus making it more interesting for spectators.
From the 1970s until today, Interalgos became the undisputed shrine for motor sports in Brazil, welcoming every year the sport’s elite, such as Jackie Stewart, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansel, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna.
The Formula 1 Grand Prix brought illustrious visitors to São Paulo, such as Mick Jagger, Gene Hackman, Ugo Tognazzi, Sydne Rome, Gael Garcia Bernal and several others. José Carlos Pace acted as a stuntman for Al Pacino in Interlagos for the movie “Bobby Deerfield”, directed by Sydney Pollack, during the weekend of the 1976 Brazilian Grand Prix. In 1979, former Beatle George Harrison was spotted in Interlagos in his only visit to Brazil
The chequered flag was also shown, on occasion, by famed celebrities. Football legend Pelé and supermodel Gisele Bündchen have had this honour.
And then there is folklore – one cannot confirm or deny such stories; tales of drivers and team managers who swear that engines were changed for endurance races and were thrown to the bottom of the lake so no one would find out. There is even a story of a ghost, a white-clothed lady who would haunt drivers and the “Junção” corner during night races.
So there you have it: a 78 year-old circuit, contemporary and full of tradition at the same time.