Science in São Paulo
The penultimate round of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship takes place on Sunday with the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo. The 4.309-kilometer (2.677-mile), 15-turn Interlagos circuit is the setting for one of the shortest laps of the year, but also one of the most intense.
The undulating course in Brazil’s largest city is a challenge for drivers and teams. It is run counter clockwise and consists of a twisty infield portion between turns six through 12, with three long straights between turns three and four, between turns five and six, and off turn 14 down the frontstretch before the beginning of the Senna “S” in turn one.
Maximum downforce would be preferred through the tight and twisting section, but in order to maximize the straights, cars need to be trimmed out with as little drag as possible. Some downforce is already lost before a wheel is even turned, as São Paulo sits 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level.
All of this puts grip at a premium on the relatively bumpy track. Pirelli has brought its P Zero Orange hard, White medium and Yellow soft tires to Brazil, with the mediums and especially the softs expected to get the lion’s share of the work.
There will be plenty of work on the docket for Haas F1 Team in Brazil. The American team has set an aggressive schedule for the weekend, well beyond the run programs that are commonplace for each practice session. The team will compare components from a new brake manufacturer, test the halo cockpit protection device, and run current GP3 Series championship point leader Charles Leclerc in FP1. On top of all that, Haas F1 Team looks to break out from the pall of two adversity-filled weekends that consumed valuable time and resources during the United States Grand Prix and Mexican Grand Prix.
Drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez had a forgettable Mexican Grand Prix, which came on the heels of a difficult United States Grand Prix. Nonetheless, Grosjean was able to rally from his 17th-place starting spot at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) to finish 10th, delivering a point to the American team on American soil.
The resiliency that was on display at COTA could not be recaptured in Mexico City. Technical problems and an overall lack of speed conspired for 19th- and 20th-place finishes by Gutiérrez and Grosjean, respectively.
As Haas F1 Team prepares for the Brazilian Grand Prix, it finds itself between the frustration of Mexico City and the opportunity available in São Paulo. The silver lining in the team’s recent difficulties is that plenty of information was gleaned, both during the weekend and in the analysis that followed. It is why the first American Formula One team in 30 years has racked up a total of 29 points with still two races remaining in its debut season. When they’ve hit the right notes, they’ve capitalized. When they haven’t, they’ve delved into understanding why. It’s science at 320 kph (200 mph), with another round of experiments coming this weekend in São Paulo.