As you hit the final kilometre of the journey into Brazil’s iconic Interlagos circuit, you’ll find countless eye-catching artworks on the sides of apartments, restaurants and bars characterising drivers and key personnel from Formula 1’s rich history.
Brazil has long had a love affair with Formula 1 so while both championships may have already been decided, that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the country’s fans as the series rolls into town for the penultimate round of the campaign.
The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace is one of F1’s great circuits and has delivered some incredible on-track moments over the years. Former Ferrari driver and home hero Felipe Massa has been part of many of those, the most dramatic coming in 2008.
The Brazilian crossed the line to win his home race for the second time – and in doing so, thought he had clinched the world title. But moments later, Lewis Hamilton passed Timo Glock and that was enough to snatch the title away from Massa.
I headed out on a pushbike with Massa for a track guide, which you’ll be able to see in Sunday’s pre-race show on F1TV, and the 11-time race winner admitted that he still thinks about that moment – where he had one hand on the crown – often.
But while the pain will always be there, as that was the closest he ever came to achieving his racing dream, his overwhelming memories of Interlagos will be happy ones – the Brazilian embraced by a nation which made him feel like a hero every time he turned a wheel.
They won’t have a Brazilian driver to cheer come Sunday, but they have got the tantalising prospect of the third Sprint weekend of the year. And if it’s anything like last year, when Lewis Hamilton delivered arguably his greatest ever performance, fighting from the back to fifth in the Sprint and then climbing from 10th on race day to seize victory – it could be a cracker.
Repeating the trick this year will be a difficult feat for Hamilton – who this week was made an honorary citizen of Brazil, so loved is he by the South American country – because while Mercedes have closed the gap to the front in recent races, it is the Red Bull which will likely be the most formidable car this weekend.
Two-time world champion Max Verstappen has been in scintillating form this year, the Dutchman winning a record 14 races already. Should the conditions remain stable, it’s difficult to see how anyone can stop him adding to that tally on Sunday.
Ferrari are expecting to be better in Brazil. Though the track is at altitude, around 800m above sea level, it’s 1,500m lower than it was in Mexico – where they struggled in the thinner air and ran the engine at lower power levels as a precaution. Charles Leclerc reckons they should be in contention for pole on a layout that does encourage great racing.
It’s a circuit of two extremes, the first and third sectors demanding a low-drag set-up to make the most of the long straights – but the middle sector is twisty and requires a heap of downforce to get the most lap time.
Turn 1 offers the best shot at an overtake, the left-hander banked heavily which unloads the front-left tyre and causes lock ups. But to even have a shot here, you need a good exit out of Turn 12, as it’s full throttle from there for 1.2km to the first corner braking zone.
You’ve got a shot at Turn 4, too, this corner the scene of many a notable incident, most recently last year when title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen got very up close and personal.
There’s plenty of elevation change – something which is tricky to see on television. There’s a drop of around 40 metres from the start-finish straight to Turn 4. Then an elevation change of 33 metres from Turn 12 to the first corner.
And finally there’s the weather to consider. It’s cooler and rainier this time of year in Sao Paulo, with the forecast suggesting there could be wet stuff on all three days of action. That should spice things up on a weekend when the Sprint format means there’s less practice – and thus less data – to work with.