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)

Texas starting lineup: Felix Rosenqvist back on pole; Scott Dixon qualifies second

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FORT WORTH, Texas — For the second consecutive year, Felix Rosenqvist will lead the NTT IndyCar Series starting lineup to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Arrow McLaren driver is hoping the third time will be the charm at the 1.5-mile oval, where he has run extremely well but has only a career-best 12th in five starts.

“We’ve always been good here, but this is a whole different confidence level compared to last year,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Let’s try to wrap it up (Sunday).”

In 2020, Rosenqvist was competing for a podium when he crashed with 10 laps remaining at Texas.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for speeds from Saturday’s time trials

INDYCAR AT TEXASSchedule, start times, how to watch on NBC, Peacock

Last year, he started first on an oval for the first time in his career but finished 21st because of a broken halfshaft.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks, and naturally, I’ve always been OK here,” Rosenqvist said. “It was the first oval that made sense to me. Every year I’m building on that. But looking at the results, they don’t represent the speed I normally have.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I hope tomorrow is going to go a bit better and some luck our way would be nice. It’s been feeling super good. Arrow McLaren has been mega every session, so just keep it rolling.”

Arrow McLaren qualified all three of its Chevrolets in the top five, building on a second for Pato O’Ward and fourth for Alexander Rossi in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The March 5 season opener was a disappointing start for Rosenqvist who was squeezed into the wall by Scott Dixon on the first lap.

Dixon, a five-time winner at Texas, will start second Sunday, followed by Rossi and Josef Newgarden. O’Ward will start fifth alongside Takuma Sato, who will start on the outside of the third row in his Chip Ganassi Racing debut.

During nearly four hours of practice and qualifying (including a special high-line session), Saturday’s lone incident involved Conor Daly.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver spun three times but stayed off the wall and in the frontstretch grass. Aside from a front wing change and new tires, there was no damage to his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet during the incident midway through the 30-minute session in which drivers were limited to the high line.

“I hadn’t really had a moment before, but it snapped really aggressively,” Daly told NBC Sports after final practice. “Not ideal, but I do know my way around correcting a spin it seems like. I drove NASCAR last weekend and that seemed to help a little bit. I drove in the dirt a lot in USAC Midgets and seemed to be able to save something but not ideal or what we wanted to have happen.”

Daly will start 25th of 28 cars alongside teammate Rinus VeeKay in Row 13. Carpenter qualified 18th.

“Our three of our cars were clearly looking for something. Mechanical grip is for sure what we need. Qualifying we actually expected to be a lot better, but we found an issue there. We’ll see what happens. This race can change a lot. I’m confident in the team to hopefully figure some things out for tomorrow.”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


ROW 1

1. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 220.264 mph
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 219.972

ROW 2

3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevy, 219.960
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 219.801

ROW 3

5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 219.619
6. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 219.508

ROW 4

7. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 219.480
8. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 219.355

ROW 5

9. (18) David Malukas, Dallara-Honda, 219.256
10. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 219.184

ROW 6

11. (28) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Honda, 219.165
12. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Dallara-Honda, 219.146

ROW 7 

13. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Dallara-Chevy, 219.100
14. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevy, 218.892

ROW 8

15. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevy, 218.765
16. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 218.698

ROW 9

17. (77) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevy, 218.427
18. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 218.375

ROW 10

19. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevy, 218.367
20. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 218.227

ROW 11

21. (06) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 218.196
22. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 218.103

ROW 12

23. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Dallara-Honda, 217.676
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 217.611

ROW 13

25. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 217.457
26. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 216.880

ROW 14

27. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Dallara-Honda, 216.210
28. (30) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 216.103