Brazilian Grand Prix: There's still plenty to fight for in Formula One

Seeya soon… real soon: Felipe Massa waves to F1 fans on his previous ‘last’ appearance at Interlagos, in 2016

Thanks to a powercut, I’m writing this from a bar rather than my office or, indeed, a media centre.

It’s a cracking bar (Tiny Rebel Brewery, on the outskirts of Newport, since you asked) but it’s morning and the bar doesn’t open til noon. Which is probably just as well.

Still, it does beg the question: is it ever worthwhile sitting in a bar when there’s no beer to be had?

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It’s a similar conundrum with F1 for the last races of the season – is there any point in turning up for a race (even at Interlagos) once both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles have already been decided?

Of course, the anwer to both questions is Yes: there are plenty of reasons to look forward to this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, and a bar is always, always better than an office.

It’s not all about the money, money, money

Mind the paintwork: Lewis Hamilton celebrates at the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix, which he won from pole position

First up, we’ll get to see whether Lewis Hamilton can still bring his A-game to Sao Paolo even though he’s done all the hard work for this season, and earned his aviation fuel for another year.

Within the F1 world, this week’s front-page revelations that Hamilton avoided paying VAT on his £16.5million private jet thanks to some fancy accounting have not exactly caused a storm.

Everyone’s at it. Well, everyone with anything approaching proper money, and that’s most of the senior F1 fraternity. Monaco flat anyone?

The worst thing that could happen to Hamilton, if F1 fans are to believed, is that he’ll not get that knighthood now.

Which is a bit rough, given that Her Majesty has also been offshoring the odd farthing or three.

Anyway, there’s work to be done for Hamilton. His team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, is within 15 points of leapfrogging Sebastian Vettel’s faltering Ferrari into second place, and a bit of on-track help from Ham wouldn’t go amiss, especially as Bottas has played the dutiful No.2 role pretty faithfully this season.

And Hamilton’s a racer – with the championship pressure off, it will be fascinating to see if he adopts a different approach to this weekend.

Remember back in 2015, after Hamilton secured the championship at the US Grand Prix, he then seemed to go mentally AWOL and lost the last three races to team-mate Nico Rosberg … that scabby form carried into the following season.

Hamilton lost the first four 2016 races to Rosberg and killed his championship defence in the process. If only for that reason, I suspect we’ll see a very different Lewis this weekend, even if he did pick up the sniffles while taking 30 buddies to Machu Picchu the other day.

One last point – Mercedes are in full-on 2018 mode now, so they will likely be testing parts for next year’s car at the Brazilian race. That could throw a spanner in the works; of course, it could also make them even faster…

There’s still F1 glory to fight for

Podium pals: Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo celebrate success after the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix

I’ve already mentioned the 15-point gap between Vettel and Bottas in the race for second in the Drivers’ Championship.

A notch down the glory ladder, Daniel Ricciardo is only 14 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the fight for fourth.

Do they care? More than we may think – and Ricciardo in particular. Fellow Red Bull pilot Max Verstappen negotiated a hefty pay rise as Red Bull extended his contract until the end of 2020 – up from $3million plus bonuses to a rumoured $15million.

Fast as he is, Ricciardo has been bloodied by Verstappen this season and now he’s going to be earning less than the lad too – Ricciardo was on $6.5million this year.

If he’s going to jump in the shark pool with Ferrari or Mercedes (terms and conditions apply) at any point, he has to shine at every opportunity.

Ricciardo is a potential champion, no doubt about it, and we all love his driving and his personality; but if you were betting the house on which Red Bull driver was going to take the big prize first, would your money follow him?

That’s what Ricciardo is up against, and that’s why this – and every other ­– race is so important to him. Grid penalties will probably scupper his chances of a podium in Brazil but it’s the perception of his speed and racecraft relative to Max that is so important.

Foxtrot India, do you read?

By George etc etc etc… George Russell becomes the latest Briton to try out in F1, with Force India in Sao Paulo

Verstappen has fifth sewn up in the championship but, below him, perhaps the best battle on the grid is stewing away.

Force India’s tussling team-mates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon are only nine points apart, they’ve got history and, with their team having secured fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, they’ve been freed to race one another again, after being slapped down for playing bumpers once too often.

Some unkind souls have suggested Force India might actually be better off letting them crack some carbon fibre and guaranteeing international TV exposure for their sponsors, rather than playing it safe and having to pay out race bonuses when they score points.

Either way, watch out for the Pink Panthers. They can both drive, they both have points to prove, and they’ve got a decent set of wheels under them.

Oh, special mention for George Russell, making his F1 debut in Force India’s Friday session. He’s 19, he’s a Brit, he looks like Spiderman … go George, here’s hoping we see lots more of you.

Best of the rest

Forza Felipe: Massa has said he is definitely retiring from F1 this time around…

Brazil gets to say farewell to Felippe Massa for the second consecutive year, and it would be fitting, if not that likely, for him to score some decent points.

It would also help Williams secure a disappointing fifth place, and the prize money that goes with it.

Below them, another great battle continues, as Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas scrap over sixth, seventh and eighth. A mere six points separate these players and a single, solitary point is all that’s between seventh-placed Renault and Haas in eighth.

The difference between sixth and eighth-place prize money is around $10million, so it’s not to be sneezed at… it would pay the combined wages of the four cheapest drivers on the grid.

So, plenty of reasons to tune in for the Brazilian Grand Prix. And, whaddya know, the bar’s opened.

It would be rude not to.


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