A wet and wild weekend: thoughts from a soggy but memorable time in São Paulo.
After a dramatic eight hour bus journey from Rio de Janeiro with lightning on all sides the whole way, I finally arrived in São Paulo. It was a strange feeling having so many memories of somewhere I’d never been. Perhaps even more so than when I went to Monaco, Monza or Melbourne, São Paulo evokes all the emotions from the ’03 crashfest to Vettel’s ’12 comeback, Jenson in ’09, Hamilton’s ’07 heartbreak and of course that last lap in ’08. I was so excited to go to the place where they still worship their Paulista hometown hero Ayrton Senna, who won the Monaco Grand Prix the day I was born. This was what I had waited for since deciding to move to Brazil 18 months earlier. It was my 27th Grand Prix and – along with Mexico – my first back to back Grands Prix. It was also Massa’s last race, rain was forecast (I’d have been disappointed if it wasn’t for my first Interlagos experience) and I couldn’t wait.
My first impression was that the Autodromo de Interlagos José Carlos Pace was old school, atmospheric and fantastic. The blue concrete seats were crumbling and faded, the wind rattled though the decades old catch fencing and the track rollercoastered through what is essentially old swamplands, but the colours of the advertising hordings and run off areas made the circuit irresistible to look at. We were sat at the never ending last corner where the cars raced past far faster than in the stadium section in Mexico two weeks earlier. This being my first ever back to back Grands Prix, the knowledge of which driver in each team could be identified by a yellow onboard camera mounted above the cockpit and which had a black camera was fresh in my mind. We were sat opposite a TV screen which made the race easy to follow despite so much going on! The track is also far more undulating and dramatic than it looks on TV. It’s like Brands Hatch in that you can see so much of the circuit from the top of the hill but more spectacular in terms of incline. My only complaint about the event is that it is the first Grand Prix I have ever been to where there was no opportunity to buy a programme, which I usually like to collect from each race I attend.
After witnessing Lewis Hamilton take a crucial pole for the second time in as many weeks and cheering just as loudly, we headed back into town and had dinner at Bráz pizzeria, which was recommended as the best in São Paulo. Their calabresa bread and pizzas were out of this world, as good as you’d find in Italy. São Paulo is immediately more like a ‘normal’ city than Rio, with suburbs, more efficient public transport and cleaner, better constructed roads and pavements. Interestingly, São Paulo has electronic advert billboards like Rio, with time, date and temperature but also with air pollution quality levels.
Sunday dawned drizzlier and ominously the forecast said 100% chance of rain all day. What was falling from the heavens had every chance of deciding the outcome of this year’s championship one way or the other.
It was even soggier in the stands and felt like a wet day at Silverstone. We passed the time by making friends (speaking Portuguese and buying beers is the best way to make friends in Brazil FYI). When the drivers’ parade passed the support for Felipe Massa was unreal and we joined in the chants of ‘Ole Ole Ole Ole Masssssssaaaaa Masssssssaa‘. It was somewhat appropriate that Guns N Roses were guests in the pitlane as the deluge intensified and the start was delayed. November Rain indeed…
The safety car start was frustrating but soon we had action. Ericsson’s crash was right in front of us. I wonder what his Monza 2014 Swedish fans thought.
We were swapping stories from previous GPs we had been to to pass the time during the red flag. On the giant screen opposite a notification popped up reminding us to vote for our driver of the day, which after two safety car periods could only fairly be awarded to the safety car driver! We were seriously soggy by this point and after praying for rain all weekend to help Hamilton’s cause and spice up the racing, it was a case of be careful what you wish for!
Having said that, it is in my experience always those races where you battle the conditions and are rewarded with a classic race that live longest in the memory. We knew that just like a recent rule change ensures Verstappen will be the youngest driver ever, no race could be as long as Canada 2011. The four hour time limit looked like it might come into play (indeed, for a while most of us doubted the race would even run its full course) and it looked likely we would miss our bus back to Rio de Janeiro. When another message was displayed on the screen ‘the safety car will do more than one lap’, my mate Arnold astutely observed ‘yeah, he’s probably going to do all 71!’ Laps behind the safety car were something we booed initially but within a couple of hours were cheering because it was preferable to red flags and no action! Not only was that bad for the fans in the stands and watching on TV globally, it was bad for Hamilton’s chances. We needed to complete 75% of race distance for full points to be awarded (rather than half points à la Malaysia 2009). Frantically doing the maths in the stands, we had all fingers crossed that we could at least reach 54 laps.
In the end, of course, the race reached full distance and we were treated to one of the great Grands Prix of all time. There was incident aplenty, not least of all a certain young Max Verstappen stealing the show from the championship contenders upfront by overtaking virtually the entire field in the final few laps. It was a mega, memorable day and a classic race that left us soggy but smiling in São Paulo – everything I could have hoped for from my first Brazilian Grand Prix experience and more.