What to watch for: Brazilian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 10am ET)

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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.

Obrigado Felipe!

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

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500