The fight for the 2016 Formula 1 world championship may come to a close on Sunday in Brazil as Nico Rosberg bids to clinch his maiden title.
Rosberg has enjoyed the strongest season of his racing career in 2016, and is now just one win away from being crowned F1 champion.
Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton has kept the title race alive with victories in the USA and Mexico in recent weeks, but must end his winless run at Interlagos if he is to realistically take the fight to the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton enjoyed the edge in qualifying on Saturday, finishing 0.1 seconds clear of Rosberg in Q3 to pick up his 11th pole position of the season. However, as we have seen so many times this year, everything can change in a matter of seconds on the run down to Turn 1.
You can watch the Brazilian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 10am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.
Here is what to watch for in today’s race.
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – What to watch for
What tactics will Rosberg use in Brazil?
Rosberg’s ‘one race at a time’ mentality may have grated on some, but Brazil acts as the first point where it actually could result in the world championship. If he wins, he’s champion. To quote the German: “That’s it.”
Rosberg was clearly second best in both Austin and Mexico, but he heads into the race at Interlagos with a good record at the circuit. He was won the past two Brazilian Grands Prix, and both in very convincing fashion in a straight fight with Hamilton. Completing a hat-trick will yield even greater rewards today.
His tactics will be crucial. With a variety of strategy options on offer (we’ll come onto that shortly) and rain forecast (likewise), there are so many variables that could either play into Rosberg’s hands or crush his dreams.
Will he take a podium so that another top-three finish will be enough in Abu Dhabi? Or will he go out to seal the deal on Sunday?
Hamilton out to write the next great chapter in his career
Lewis Hamilton’s career has featured a number of ‘flashpoints’; defining moments where he has stood out as one of F1’s all-time greats. Brazil could offer another chance for Hamilton to stand out from the crowd, take the race by the scruff of the neck and get his title bid back on track.
Victory at Interlagos has eluded Hamilton throughout his F1 career, yet he has been in the fight on a number of occasions. With the bit between his teeth today, it would be short-sighted to doubt his chances in light of his failure to win in Brazil up to now.
Should rain strike, Hamilton would be in his element. We saw in Monaco just how good the three-time champion can be in the wet (and how poor Rosberg can be). The 19-point gap between the Mercedes drivers could be wiped away today.
Interlagos rain to throw a spoke in the works
Wet races have been few and far between in F1 this year, but we’re poised to enjoy one today in Brazil. Rain has fallen throughout the morning and more is forecast through the afternoon, throwing all strategy calls out of the window and possibly bringing the field closer together.
As mentioned above, Hamilton has excelled in the wet this year, his Monaco victory being masterful (albeit fortunate). Rosberg, on the other hand, struggled for the entire race, even losing a position on the final lap in the dash to the line. If rain hits, the German will need to offer a performance significantly better – or his title bid will be in serious doubt.
Rain today is inevitable. And being Interlagos, it could strike anytime, anywhere, and have huge repercussions.
Tire calls all the more important
Strategy options were vast before rain became a factor in Brazil, given the high levels of degradation experienced at Interlagos. With hard, medium and soft tires to choose from, the teams were braced for a possible three-stop race.
Throwing rain into the mix as well, strategy will be changing lap by lap, calls being made on the fly. The biggest question here is whether Rosberg and Hamilton will be made to mirror each other’s strategies – and if they are, will either defy Mercedes and go their own way?
In a championship of such fine margins, a lap here or there could be decisive in deciding which driver comes out on top.
Felipe Massa will make his final home start in Brazil on Sunday as he prepares to call time on his F1 career following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of the month.
Massa has been an icon of Brazilian racing in the post-Senna era, coming within 20 seconds of the world championship on home soil in 2008. He may not have won a race or reached such lofty heights since then, but Massa has remained a popular, well-loved figure in F1.
After qualifying down in 13th, Massa will have to fight his way back up the order if he wants to pick up some points, but with rain on the cards, he could give the home crowd one last memorable moment.
For the final time in Brazil: obrigado Felipe!
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
6. Daniel Ricciardo Ferrari
7. Romain Grosjean Haas
8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
9. Sergio Perez Force India
10. Fernando Alonso McLaren
11. Valtteri Bottas Williams
12. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
13. Felipe Massa Williams
14. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Jenson Button McLaren
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault
19. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
20. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
21. Felipe Nasr Sauber
22. Esteban Ocon Manor*
* three-place grid penalty