F1 Preview: 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Sport has the ability to be an escape from politics – this happened this summer in the United Kingdom and triggered this feature I wrote at the time for NBC SportsWorld – and so it can be this weekend as well, as Formula 1 returns to action this week with the Brazilian Grand Prix for the lone South American Grand Prix on the calendar.

The battle this weekend will feature race cars, not political barbs. In Sao Paulo, there’s a chance to see real-life superheroes do their thing out on-track, going wheel-to-wheel at unfathomable speeds in pursuit of glory.

The Interlagos track is aging but legendary; many a Brazilian Grand Prix has witnessed a title won and a thrilling battle at the front of the field.

And, once again, we may well see a champion crowned for the 2016 edition of the race.

2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Rosberg one win away from maiden F1 title

Nico Rosberg’s ‘one race at a time’ mentality may have been tiresome to some (this writer included), but for the first time this weekend, it can deliver him the championship. His lead may have been slashed from 33 to just 19 points in the past two races, but if Rosberg can win in Brazil on Sunday, the title is his with one race to spare.

Working in Rosberg’s favor is his track record in Brazil. The German has won the past two races at Interlagos, delivering performances that stood out in his 2014 and 2015 campaigns. They were controlled, calm and collected, soaking up the pressure applied by Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton all race long.

The first priority for Rosberg should not be winning, though. He is still in a position where one second and one third-place finish in the final two rounds would be enough for the title. While finishing the job in Brazil would be significant and sweet, in a season where he has frequently played the long game, Rosberg may want to bide his time.

Hamilton seeks inspiration from Senna to break Interlagos drought

The cards may be stacked against Lewis Hamilton, but he can take comfort in knowing he has done all he can over the past two race weekends. His wins in both Austin and Mexico were classic Lewis Hamilton, showing not a single sign of weakness and leaving the rest of the field trailing in his wake. Another two of those in Brazil and Abu Dhabi may still not be enough for the title – but he would go down with one hell of a fight.

Hamilton revealed on Thursday that he would be racing with a helmet that pays tribute to Ayrton Senna, his racing hero and an icon of F1. Senna famously won at Interlagos in 1991 with his car stuck in sixth gear – can Hamilton channel the same kind of fight on Sunday and turn the tables on Rosberg?

Sao Paulo rain to spice things up?

Something that may give Hamilton a boost heading into the weekend is the wet weather forecast. The Briton famously won his first world title in Brazil in 2008 when rain poured in the closing stages of the race, culminating with a last-lap pass on Timo Glock to get the point required to beat Felipe Massa.

Here’s what F1’s weather forecaster, UBIMET, reckons is in store this weekend:

“On Friday, the chances for a shower or thunderstorm will still be present over the city, until a southerly change in the wind will bring cooler air to Sao Paulo later during the day. The temperature will range between 23 to 25 degrees Celsius.

“Saturday will see relatively cool and cloudy conditions with a moderate chance for showers. The highs will reach 21 to 23 degrees Celsius. The southeasterly wind will be breezy at times, especially in the afternoon.

“Sunday will bring temperatures between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius and mostly cloudy conditions. Again, showers cannot be excluded with further forecast details to be provided on a daily basis.”

Hamilton will be wanting rain to hit if he is to get the turnaround in the title race he needs in Brazil.

Massa set for emotional final hurrah in Brazil

Felipe Massa’s final F1 race may not be for another two weeks, but this weekend’s race in Brazil will arguably be more poignant. At the site of his finest hour in F1, when he produced one of the most gracious reactions to a title defeat in the sport’s history in 2008, Massa will give his loyal home fans one final chance to see him in action.

F1 holds a sacred place in the heart of Brazilian sports fans, making Massa’s impending retirement hugely significant. His form may have dipped this year and Williams may not have had the same kind of fire and pace it did through 2014 and 2015, but all eyes will be on Massa this weekend to see how he fares.

The result may be uncertain, but one thing is for sure: Felipe will be a classy, dignified act as per usual.

Silly season nears its conclusion as dominoes fall

Just as IndyCar silly season is beginning to ramp up, F1’s driver market for 2017 has become much clearer. Jolyon Palmer was confirmed for another year with Renault on Wednesday, while Esteban Ocon was announced to join Force India for 2017 earlier today. The next man to move is Kevin Magnussen, who is poised to make his way over to Haas in place of Esteban Gutierrez.

With those seats filled, the next teams to make up their minds are Sauber and Manor. Sauber will most probably keep Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, the former having missed out on seats elsewhere, while Manor will be looking for a driver to partner Pascal Wehrlein. Gutierrez is perhaps the best option given his experience and F1 backing, although British youngster Jordan King and even early-season driver Rio Haryanto could come into play.

2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Juan Pablo Montoya 1:11.473 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Hard/Medium/Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:11.282
2015 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:14.832
DRS Zones: T15 to T1; T3 to T4

2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports app 7am ET 11/11
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 11am ET 11/11
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports app 8am ET 11/12
Qualifying: NBCSN 11am ET 11/12
Race: NBCSN 10am ET 11/13 (on-board, pit lane and highlights feed on NBC Sports app)

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.