It comes as no surprise to find that Brazil keeps a special place in its sporting heart for Formula 1. With all the intrigue and twists and turns of a good Brazilian soap opera – witness the gripping documentary film Senna, which laid bare the internal workings of the circuit and its protagonists – motor sport has a head start in this country, where telenovelas (soaps) attract millions-strong ratings.
One of twenty annual Grand Prix meetings internationally, the local installment of the competition packs in enough glamour and convoluted plots to be worth a slot on prime time, and only Italy’s F1 tifosi rival the country’s motorsport fans in their ability to cheer heroes, boo rivals and lap up the intrigue emanating from the pit lane.
And on 25 November 2012, São Paulo once again has the honour of tying up the various storylines when it hosts the 41st São Paulo F1 Grand Prix, the season’s finale, held at Interlagos on the city’s southern edge.
The circuit typically serves up one of the season’s more unpredictable races, whether it's because of the aging circuit’s bumpy track, the risk of tropical downpours, or the legendary 'Senna S' chicane. The likelihood of thrills and spills on the day means fans need not feel short-changed if the identity of this year’s world champion is known by the time the F1 circus pitches camp in São Paulo, as happened last year when Germany’s Sebastian Vettel scooped the top prize in Japan four rounds before the SP race.
But this year’s see-saw battle between Vettel and Spain’s Fernando Alonso is close enough, going into the final rounds, to hold out the likelihood that the venerable old track will once again witness the climax to the year’s F1 calendar. Both drivers are battling for a third world title. Of the two, Vettel has the only first-place win here in Brazil. Vettel’s Red Bull team currently has the momentum, but driving a Ferrari means Alonso can expect the local fans to be cheering on the prancing horse, now that Ferrari has renewed for another season with local favourite Felipe Massa.
Since losing out to Lewis Hamilton for the 2008 world title on the last bend of the last lap here at Interlagos, Massa has been relegated to Formula 1’s supporting cast, and his 2012 season has once again been indifferent. But a recent second place in Japan – Massa’s first podium finish since 2010 – might just hint at a revival. If he were to confirm that with a third win on his home track, expect the crowd to go wild.
The home fans will also be looking further down the grid for Bruno Senna, nephew of the legendary Ayrton, and hoping he gets a chance to compete again next year. The rumour mill has his place in the Williams team under threat, but a strong drive could keep him in a job – or help him land a new one elsewhere.
Other sub-plots over the weekend include Lewis Hamilton’s last drive for McLaren, the team that has nurtured him since he emerged as a child prodigy, and with whom he won his sole world title.
Hamilton is off to Mercedes next year, where he’ll take over from Michael Schumacher in the driving seat. The German is calling time on a career that saw him claim seven world titles and a cockpit-full of driving records. He has tended to toil in the middle of the grid during his time at Mercedes, and a first place for the German team in his final race is a fairy-tale ending that's probably beyond the imaginations even of Brazil’s soap writers. But it is a final chance for fans to say goodbye to a driver with a fair claim to being the greatest of them all.
When the chequered flag comes down on his illustrious career, as well as on the season following the main race on Sunday 25 November 2012, it will be time for the Formula 1 crowd to head into town for that other formulaic soap tradition: the wrap party, an event likely to generate as much gossip as the season itself – and for the F1 entourage and the thousands of fans to sample the city’s famous nightlife.
Friday 23 November
10-11.30am F1 Practice 1
12-12.35pm Porsche Cup Practice
2-3.30pm F1 Practice 2
3.45-4.20pm Porsche Challenge Practice
Saturday 24 November
11am-12pm F1 Practice 3
2-3pm F1 Qualifying
3.10-3.45pm Porsche Cup Qualifying
4-4.35pm Porsche Challenge Qualifying
Sunday 25 November
9.55-10.30am Porsche Challenge
10.45-11.20am Porsche Cup Race
12.30pm F1 Drivers’ parade
2pm 41st São Paulo Formula 1 Grand Prix Race