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Interlagos: strength in tradition

Tradition and maintenance are the most important elements for a circuit to host a Formula 1 race – not to mention making for great performances. Interlagos has it all. And the last few races have proven that the Brazilian circuit has paved the way for whatever the future may hold.

Last year, for instance – when Verstappen came close to winning (had it not been for the infamous incident) –, Lewis Hamilton not only won the race, but also snatched the pole position, shattering the previous track qualifying record with a 1:07.281 lap. His teammate – Valteri Bottas – broke a record himself, seizing the fastest race lap in history of Interlagos at 1:10.540. The current track design, featuring new kerbs and ideally suited asphalt, as well as additional safety measures, laid the groundwork for the Mercedes drivers to reach new heights.

In 2017, the Brazilian GP was held on a warm, clear, sunny day. But despite the pleasant setting, the race itself proved to be a test for some drivers, who were punished with grid position penalties for irregular equipment changes. One of them was Lewis Hamilton, who started from the pits but worked his way to first place and managed to lead the race for 12 laps. However, an inevitable pit stop caused him to finish 4th. You win some, you lose some, and it was Ferrari’s turn to win as Vettel and Räikkönen snatched first and third places, respectively. And before the race, Anitta – a well-known Brazilian singer – brought the crowd to its feet with her performance of the National Anthem.

The 2016 Brazilian GP – which marked Hamilton’s maiden win in the country –, however, was a true trial by fire for Interlagos. The relentless rain caused the race to be interrupted a few times, therefore, prolonging it, but attendees stayed put. The track’s drainage system worked as expected and drivers eventually managed to finish all 71 laps. Despite the massive water volume, none of the structures were affected. Interlagos is truly unique and winning there 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-seater races, Interlagos saw the rise of Brazil’s first F1 world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi. It was there 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 host 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 made its way back to São Paulo in 1990. The original 7.9-kilometre track was reduced to 4.3 kilometres, in accordance with new international standards. The track became shorter but remained as challenging as ever, and closer racing made for even more interesting competition.

From the 1970s on, Interlagos became the undisputed shrine for motor sports in Brazil, welcoming the sport’s elite, such as Jackie Stewart, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansel, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna, year after year.

The Formula 1 Grand Prix has attracted 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 checkered flag has also been waved, 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 during 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 at the “Junção” corner during night races. So there you have it: a circuit from the 1940’s, contemporary and full of tradition at the same time.