Will Gray

Gray Matter: Big weekend for Brazil

Will Gray

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Brazil provides Formula One with some of its most passionate fans and as the F1 circus heads there for this weekend's season-ending race all three local heroes face pivotal moments in their careers.

The nation that bred the likes of Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet currently has Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna flying its flag in F1, and all three will be looking to make a big impression this weekend for different reasons.

This weekend should mark Barrichello's 322nd start, putting him on exactly double that of Ayrton Senna, and while he refuses to entertain the idea that it could be his last event, it almost certainly will be.

The most experienced Brazilian F1 driver ever, he sits equal with Massa as the nation's fourth most successful in terms of race victories - both are on 11 wins compared to Fittipaldi's 14, Piquet's 23 and Senna's 41 - and thanks to points-scoring changes he has scored more than any of his compatriots past and present.

He became known as one of the sport's best number two drivers thanks to his treatment during his time at Ferrari and now, at Williams, he is faced with the need to bring in sponsors to secure his future.

Although he clearly has the experience, talent and reputation that many of the smaller teams would love to have, money is the market driver in that part of the grid and Bruno Senna, on name alone, offers a more attractive marketing option to Brazilian backers.

Bowing out on home ground would be a fitting finish for Barrichello but the chances of it being successful are slim. Notoriously unlucky at Interlagos, the veteran Brazilian has retired from all but seven of his 18 races there and despite starting from pole three times he has just one podium appearance, with Ferrari in 2004, to his name. Given the performance of this year's Williams, rain will likely be his only chance to make a mark on what could be his goodbye grand prix.

For Massa, who stepped into Barrichello's shoes at Ferrari, this weekend also represents a career landmark, with his 100th start for Ferrari (just two races after his 150th Grand Prix start overall). In terms of statistics, he has already matched Barrichello's victory tally and bettered his pole positions in less than half the number of races, although he has claimed just less than half the amount of podiums.

He did once threaten to step away from the number two shoes, but since his big accident in Hungary in 2009 he has struggled to perform and this weekend is not only important from an historical perspective, it's also important for his future.

It's been a disastrous year for Massa, with team-mate Fernando Alonso taking more than double the amount of points and, crucially, 10 podium finishes including a victory at Silverstone.

Massa is yet to set foot on the podium this year (his best finish so far is fifth) and if he fails to make the top three this weekend he will be the first Ferrari driver without a podium finish all season since 1992. That is not a nice record to achieve, so while it may be too late to repair the damage done by this less than average season, Massa, who has won in Brazil twice, will be desperate for a result to ensure the memories are not quite so sour.

Last but not least, Bruno Senna is perhaps the Brazilian driver facing the biggest challenge this weekend as he fights for a Renault seat that is now likely to be up for grabs for a good portion of next season following news that Robert Kubica's slow recovery means he is almost certain not to be fit for the start of next year.

With a number of top quality drivers also chasing that Renault spot, as well as Barrichello's seat at Williams, Senna will need to shine this weekend having put in a mixed performance against team-mate Vitaly Petrov since he took Nick Heidfeld's race seat earlier in the year.

He has out-qualified Petrov 4:3 but it's 4:1 against in races and Senna admits the results are poor. That said, he had limited experience of the car when he joined mid-season and he arrived at the team during a period of dramatic decline.

His comments ahead of Brazil suggest he expects a difficult weekend again with the Renault, but he is well aware of what is at stake - not only for him but also for his fellow Brazilians.

"One thing is for sure: people will remember the last race of the season and how we perform," he said. "That will be the lingering thought for many as we enter 2012, so we want to end the season on a positive note."

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