F1 Brazil: Midnight (Somewhere) Race Predictions and Fuel-Adjusted Grid

What Happens When the Weather Makes It Hard to Say

8:02pm EST — While it is a bit past midnight for Formula1 fans in Europe, and is a long way until midnight for those working on the cars in the paddock at Interlagos, it is time to stop and consider what might happen during Sunday’s Brazilian GP.  The first question about the Brazilian GP involves the weather.  With a Friday and Saturday full of rain, the weekend has been quite soggy and dramatic between the red flags.  However, being Brazil, the forecast has brightened somewhat for Sunday’s race: only 80% chance of rain for the start, with the likelihood of rain decreasing slightly as the day goes on.  Still, it is easy to surmise that the weather will make the race most interesting, though it is easier to predict a dry race.

Rubens Barrichello will start from pole, and he is quite a bit lighter than those starting just behind him.  He will attempt to storm ahead, knowing that his championship hopes are bolstered by his pole, and teammate/championship leader Jenson Button’s poor starting spot of fourteenth, and Sebastian Vettel’s starting position behind Button in fifteenth after Tonio Liuzzi’s gearbox change moved him to the back of the grid.  However, Barrichello must have a good lead from the start, since the next three starters (Mark Webber, Adrian Sutil, and Jarno Trulli) will all stop for the first time two to four laps behind Barrichello.  In a dry race, this could be easy, depending on the performance of the car.  In the projected wet or changeable conditions, particularly with the inability of the field to run any length of time this weekend, this could be a difficult proposition.  It is unlikely that Barrichello will keep the lead after the first set of stops.  Expect Webber to be quick, as he was earlier in the weekend, as well as Trulli, who is driving for a contract for next season.  Of course, the running order could change, depending on who had already set up their car for dry conditions, as it is rumored that the McLarens and Vettel’s Red Bull were.

The first round of stops could also bring a boon for (possibly) one-stopper Vettel.  His championship hopes can only be kept alive by a win in Brazil.  He is one of three, possibly four, drivers (Liuzzi, Fisichella, maybe Grosjean) who could manage a one-stop strategy during the race.  Depending on the weather and the possibility of crashes and safety car deployments, a one-stop strategy might be helpful for the German, after a disastrous qualifying session.  The Red Bull team might also attempt a daring strategy by giving Vettel a brand-new engine, take his ten-spot penalty, and start from the pit lane.  It likely wouldn’t do him too much good, but with the championship on the line, a daring strategy might be the only thing to do.

Button, meanwhile, has suggested that he has to drive like a demon, but even if he scores no points and Barrichello wins (neither guaranteed), Button would still have a four point lead over Barrichello before the last race at Abu Dhabi.  If the weather cooperates, or does not cooperate depending on the mindset, Button could be caught in traffic or behind the safety car, or he could move forward in the order because of attrition.

If the weather holds, and there are no particular surprises regarding crashes or retirements, a likely podium might be Sutil, Webber, Trulli, in that order, or with Trulli in second.  However, that will likely be too much to ask.  Brazil generally likes to throw a few surprises into the mix, with last year’s last corner championship decision as an example.  If there are issues with rain, Barrichello’s earlier pit stop might prove beneficial, but only if he gets into the pits early enough to miss out on the drama.  Of course, one ought not underestimate Barrichello’s desire to finally win his home race, and continue on in the championship hunt.  Of course, this information could change, depending on who had already set up their car for dry conditions, as it is rumored that the McLarens and Vettel’s Red Bull were.In all likelihood, the 2009 driver’s championship will continue on to the final race in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of November.


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