Formula 1 in 2007 has seen everything - on-track thrills n' spills, intrigue and controversy away from it, a new wonder kid in Lewis Hamilton, a double world champion falling out with his team in the most spectacular style, allegations of cheating, the biggest fine in sporting history and a three-way title battle right the way down to the wire.

Just seven points separate Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen heading to Brazil, and the backdrop could scarcely be a more spectacular one. One of the most popular tracks on the grand prix calendar, Interlagos has been an F1 fixture since 1972 - and home to the Brazilian Grand Prix every year since 1990. World champions Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi all triumphed there en route to the crown, and this weekend will offer either Hamilton, Alonso or Raikkonen the opportunity to follow suit.

Though the Briton may be the favourite on paper - holding a four-point advantage over the Spaniard and seven over the Finn - he is the only one of the trio never to have raced at the demanding anti-clockwise track before, and arrives there under some pressure following his costly retirement from the Chinese Grand Prix a fortnight ago. As 22 F1 engines get ready to roar into life one last time this year, all bets are off.

FIA F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NEWS

The biggest talking point since Shanghai has undoubtedly been the FIA's decision to designate an Interlagos official to keep a close eye on what goes on inside the McLaren garage throughout the Interlagos weekend.

Following suggestions by a furious Alonso that moves were made to disadvantage him during the latter stages of qualifying in China - when he was more than half a second adrift of Hamilton - a formal request from the Head of the Spanish Federation of Motoring, Carlos Garcia, has led to the FIA taking this unprecedented step, to widespread criticism from key figures within the sport who claim the governing body is overstepping its remit and setting a dangerous precedent.

"This is not a police state," former triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart told international news agency Reuters, the Scot still at odds with FIA President Max Mosley who last month accused him of being 'a certified halfwit'. "Are we to be told by Big Brother how those people have to function? I don't think it is the governing body's job to interfere with private enterprise and how somebody runs their company. That is not correct. I think the governing body has to be very careful how it goes about its business. The manner in which many elements have been dealt with this year I don't think is appropriate. I think Max Mosley has probably done a very good job for some 16 years, but maybe it's time for a change."

In a further twist, it has now emerged Garcia is to be investigated by the FIA over comments he allegedly made to Spanish newspaper El Publico suggesting English people are racist, an accusation he fervently denies. The plot thickens...

NEWS FROM THE TEAMS:
McLaren - Fernando Alonso (#1), Lewis Hamilton (#2):

McLaren's duo may be heading into the final round of the 2007 World Championship in the driving seats as far as the drivers' crown is concerned, but both remain well aware nothing will be over until the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoon.

Williams drivers Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, after all, entered the last race in Adelaide back in 1986 lying first and second in the championship, but against all the odds bad luck conspired against the pair and it was Alain Prost who came through to pinch the title, ironically for McLaren. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso will want to make very sure history does not repeat itself this weekend, to allow outsider Kimi Raikkonen to steal the championship from underneath their noses.

"China was another valuable lesson for me this season," remarked Hamilton following his failure to finish two weeks ago that dashed his hopes of wrapping up the title early, "and an incident I will take from and try to develop as a driver. I moved on from the disappointment pretty quickly though, and since leaving Shanghai my sole focus has been on Brazil.

"Interlagos is one of those circuits that everybody talks about. I understand it has a fantastic atmosphere, the fans are crazy for the sport and the track lends itself to great racing. It is another new circuit for me, and there has been a lot of talk by other people about how it is tricky to drive. That's why I see it as a special challenge. and when I arrive at the track I will study it hard with my engineers and start to get an understanding of it.

"I've had some great races with the team this year, and I hope to have another one in Interlagos. Whilst I might be ahead by four points, this championship is still very open. I will do what I can to score the points I need, and the rest is out of our hands."

Alonso - whose post-qualifying outburst made the headlines more than his second place finish last time out in China - is bidding to become only the third driver in the sport's history to clinch three championships in a row. Though he lies four points adrift of his rookie team-mate in the standings - and thereby needs to finish at least two places ahead of the Briton in Brazil - S?o Paolo is a happy hunting ground for the 26-year-old, and he is clearly aiming to make it three-out-of-three.

"Interlagos has a lot of great memories for me," the Spaniard affirmed, "having won both of my two world championships at the circuit. They were both quite different races, but that is a characteristic of the track. It is very bumpy - you have to have suspension that allows you to drive hard whilst not being too uncomfortable. There are some great corners that you really get to attack, and all the elevation changes make it interesting for the drivers.

"I am sure we are going to Brazil with full equality across the team and two cars capable of fighting for victory in the race and the championship. Although I am now only four points away from Lewis, I still need for there to be a lot of circumstances in my favour for me to win the drivers' title that are out of my control, but for sure I will be doing everything that is under my control to make it happen. I have to do my bit and then hope everything else falls into place."

"The Brazilian Grand Prix is an appropriate cliff-hanger of a race for what has been an extraordinary Formula 1 season," added McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh. "Following Fernando's strong second position in the difficult weather conditions in China, McLaren-Mercedes has both Lewis and Fernando still challenging for the 2007 World Championship.

"There have been well-publicised suggestions of there not being equality for both Fernando and Lewis, however we can categorically state they will be given the exact same opportunity to win the race and the championship. Every single member of the team is pushing hard for the victor to be one of our two drivers. It is a fantastic end to the season, and we hope to have a fantastic race for the fans."

Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug echoed Whitmarsh's sentiments about parity of equipment and opportunity for both drivers in the wake of Alonso's remarks and the FIA's intervention, and insisted the number one priority is to make sure the pair retain the top two positions in the drivers' standings, as they have held since almost the beginning of the campaign.

"Twelve years ago at Interlagos we started our first Formula 1 race with our partner McLaren," the German reminisced. "Because this is obviously currently an issue for some, I would like to point out that since then all our drivers have had the same pre-conditions, technical and support-wise, and this will not be any different in the 2007 season finale.

"The surface at Interlagos offers good grip but it is often pretty bumpy. Regarding the set-up, the team has to find a good balance for the car so that it handles well over those bumps, particularly under braking. Two years ago we achieved a one-two victory here, and we have won here a total of four times since the beginning of our partnership. Hopefully that is a good omen for this final race.

"The Brazilian Grand Prix will be the end of a great Formula 1 season, which brought the most extreme challenges for the team, who have replied with optimum performances. I cordially thank every single team member for this. We have already clinched this important victory over all influences from outside the team, and we will work in the final race as focused as before to achieve the world championship title, with one of our drivers taking first and the other one hopefully as runner-up in the overall ranking.

"After the final chequered flag the points table ideally should look like it has done for the last six months - either Lewis ahead of Fernando or Fernando ahead of Lewis, following a tough and fair fight on and not off the track."

Renault - Giancarlo Fisichella (#3), Heikki Kovalainen (#4):

Renault head to Brazil with their third spot in the constructors' title chase assured, but with Heikki Kovalainen still entertaining a slim hope of overhauling BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica for sixth spot in the drivers' standings.

The Finn has had an impressive second half to his rookie campaign in the top flight, but ninth place in China brought to an end his run of seven consecutive points-scoring finishes that have seen him vault more experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella in the championship battle. Though he has never raced at Interlagos before, it is a challenge he is clearly relishing.

"It's a very physical circuit for the drivers," said the inaugural GP2 Series runner-up, who will turn 26 in the build-up to the weekend. "The surface is bumpy, and it runs anti-clockwise which means it is hard for the whole body but especially the neck, so I have been training hard to prepare for it and I will be in peak condition for the race.

"In terms of set-up I think the suspension is one of the most important factors. The car needs to ride the bumps well, and also the kerbs in the slow middle sector which we use quite a lot. If you can find a good suspension compromise to give a smooth ride and good mechanical grip, then it is a big plus in terms of lap-time.

"This is our last chance of the year to show what we can do, and that gives me extra determination. You are only as good as your last race in Formula 1, so it is important to score a good result to take into the winter and hopefully give the team some momentum too. This has been a tough year for everybody at Renault; we have made progress in the last few weeks but we have not been able to show it in dry race conditions.

"I have finished every race this year, and that's something we are all proud of. Brazil is a circuit where the team has had a lot of success in recent years, and while that doesn't mean anything for 2007, maybe it can bring us a bit of luck. I hope we can have a normal race, take the fight to BMW and finish the season with a strong, aggressive drive."

Fisichella, in stark contrast, has only scored once in the last seven outings, as his season has nose-dived to almost the same extent that Kovalainen's has flourished. The Italian - who may be beginning his last race for the r?gie this weekend should Fernando Alonso indeed return to the squad - is well aware he needs a good showing to preserve his F1 future.

"This is one of the special circuits in Formula 1," the 34-year-old enthused, "and I am really excited to be going back there again. We have won championships there in the past two years, and for me it was the venue for my first-ever F1 win in 2003.

"It's a very challenging circuit. It's twisty, with a good mix of slow and medium-speed corners. There is a lot of gradient change as well, and of course the anti-clockwise direction makes it hard physically. It is never easy to find the right set-up, because the two halves of the circuit need opposite things from the car - you want good speed on the long main straight, but lots of grip in the slow-speed infield section with the hairpins. Add in the bumpy surface as well, and you have a real challenge for the engineers to find the best compromise.

"I enjoy the country, I enjoy the city and I like the circuit - there is always an amazing atmosphere there. Hopefully we can have another good experience in 2007."

Renault registered both pole position and race victory in Brazil back in 1980, and two years later Alain Prost achieved the rare 'triple crown' of pole, race win and fastest lap. From 1992 to 1997 Renault engines would be unmoved from pole position in Interlagos, and with six triumphs, 20 podium finishes and eleven pole positions in the country, team chief Flavio Briatore knows the French outfit has a proud tradition to maintain this weekend as it bids to set itself up for a far more successful 2008.

"This year has been a disappointment," the flamboyant Italian admitted, "but it has been a lesson for next season, when we will come back even stronger. In many ways, our lack of performance was the result of the year we had in 2006 - we had to push even harder when the mass damper was banned, which meant we started late with our 2007 car and we had trouble adjusting to the Bridgestone tyres. That left us on the back foot, and we never caught up.

"Once we knew the championship position [against BMW] was gone, we put all our resources into 2008. That has been our focus for two months now. The team hasn't forgotten how to make a quick car, and I have a good feeling that we can climb back to our normal position next year."

Ferrari - Felipe Massa (#5), Kimi Raikkonen (#6):

As one of the three drivers still in world championship contention in Brazil, Kimi Raikkonen is bidding to give himself a timely birthday present, as the Finn turns 28 four days prior to the race.

Though the outsider in points terms - lying seven adrift of leader Lewis Hamilton - the Ferrari ace has vowed to take his sixth triumph of the season at Interlagos - and then the rest, as he reasons, is in the hands of the Gods...

"I have no special plans to celebrate," he insisted. "It is better to focus on the race weekend. I just hope for one present for my birthday and I hope to receive it after the race on Sunday afternoon! I'm not really the favourite for the title, but as we saw in Shanghai two weeks ago anything can happen. Whatever happens, it's going to be a very exciting race and we will give it our all.

"In the Chinese Grand Prix I had a very good feeling with the car and the team, but I think our competitors have done their job as we did. There's lots of pressure on both sides. [McLaren] have two drivers in the race for the title and they are also fighting each other. Hopefully we can benefit from that.

"I will go into this race the same way as into the last two. My aim is to win and the rest is not up to me. I have been close to winning at Interlagos, but it has never quite paid off - I've finished second three times! It is a similar situation as in 2003, when I lost the title to Michael (Schumacher). Hamilton has seven points more than us, so there's not much to calculate. We have to win and that's that."

Win is just what Raikkonen's team-mate Felipe Massa did last year, obliterating his rivals on home turf to take an inspired and hugely popular victory - then only the second of his F1 career. Ferrari sporting director Stefano Domenicali is unequivocal that a similar result for Raikkonen this weekend is the only option if the drivers' crown is to go the same way as the constructors'.

"We don't have any other choice than to be aggressive," the Italian underlined. "We need to finish first and second. We respect the work of [McLaren] but what we are going to do is try to put pressure on them, that's for sure."

Honda - Jenson Button (#7), Rubens Barrichello (#8):

Following what was irrefutably its strongest race of the 2007 campaign last time out in China - courtesy of Jenson Button's fifth place that more than doubled the Japanese squad's points total for the year - Honda head into the season finale in high spirits, and keen to build on that success.

A generally torrid year that has yielded just six points - all courtesy of the Brit - has come alive somewhat in recent events, with Button starting inside the top six on Honda's home turf in Japan and following that up with a second consecutive top ten grid position a week later in China, the prelude to an even better performance come the race.

"Interlagos is a particularly challenging circuit for the drivers," the 27-year-old confessed, "as it is one of only two anti-clockwise tracks on the calendar this year. This takes a big toll, using muscles in the neck which aren't used to such an extent on other F1 circuits. The track is also notoriously bumpy and the key to getting a good lap is having total confidence in your car, understanding where all the bumps are and doing your best to minimise their impact.

"You can overtake at turn one, which I did in last year's race, and also into Bico de Pato. The race is often wet and then without doubt the biggest challenge is the long left-hand turn three. I had a really good race at Interlagos last year and it would be great for everybody at Honda if we could round off this season on an upbeat note, however in a dry race it remains difficult for us to finish in the points."

Finishing in the points is something Button's team-mate Rubens Barrichello will be desperate to do, in order to avoid his first pointless season in an incredible 15-year career in the top flight. The Brazilian - a S?o Paolo native - has been notoriously unlucky in front of his home supporters, but is determined to end a dispiriting year on a more encouraging note.

"I was born very close to Interlagos," the F1 veteran said, "so the Brazilian Grand Prix means a great deal to me and it is always a very special weekend. However I really enjoy the circuit, not just because it is my home race but also because Interlagos has some great corners and allows good overtaking. My favourite corner is the Curva do Laranjinha, which is the most challenging corner of the lap. It's also the corner which I used to cycle to as a child and watch the races from.

"The bumpy surface of the track is also quite tricky, meaning the mechanical set-up of the car has to be very good. We have had a tough year in 2007 but I am looking forward to the race in Brazil, and we will be hoping to end the season in a positive way."

"The Chinese Grand Prix was a challenging race due to the changeable weather conditions, and our drivers lost ground in the early laps as they battled with understeer," added Honda senior technical director Shuhei Nakamoto. "We were therefore very pleased to pick up some valuable points due to a good strategy and a great drive from Jenson.

"Looking ahead to the final race of the season in Brazil, the main challenge at Interlagos is finding the best set-up on this bumpy circuit with its combination of low and high-speed corners. I am very proud that the team has kept pushing this year, and we will be doing our utmost to end the season on a high note."

BMW-Sauber - Nick Heidfeld (#9), Robert Kubica (#10):

With its runner-up spot in the constructors' standings long since sewn-up, BMW-Sauber arrives in Brazil vowing to pull out all the stops to ensure it signs off from an impressive sophomore season in style, after comfortably exceeding all expectations throughout the course of 2007.

With 94 points on the board - easily clear of main rivals Renault - the Hinwil and Munich-based outfit can be justifiably proud of what it has achieved this year. Interlagos may not have been its most successful outing of the 2006 campaign, but for Nick Heidfeld certainly, it is a place of happy memories.

"For me, the circuit in S?o Paulo is one of the best of all," the German stressed. "It is challenging, both in terms of driving skill and physically. It's an anti-clockwise track and the straight is actually a long sweeping curve that puts your neck muscles under real strain.

"Then there's the bumpy surface. The best sections come after turn three - turn five, which is an uphill double right-hander, is one of my favourites. I took my first podium finish at Interlagos in 2001 after coming third. That's something you never forget."

Team-mate Robert Kubica failed to finish inside the points on his maiden appearance at Interlagos this time last year, coming home a frustrated ninth. This time around the Pole - one of the revelations of the 2007 season, scoring points on no fewer than eleven occasions - is certainly aiming to end the year on a high.

"Of course we are looking forward to Brazil," the 22-year-old asserted. "We will try our best, and then everything we do once we get back to Europe will be new as we will be working for next year. The track itself is very bumpy and quite tricky. There is a big uphill section after the last corner where last year we were losing a lot of speed, especially in the race, so I hope we can do better this year. Though the 2006 race was not bad, I only finished ninth. This year I want to score points."

"For the BMW-Sauber F1 Team this has been a successful season," added BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen. "We can be proud of what we have achieved, both in terms of our development work over the winter and the pace of development during the season.

"In our two start-up years we have reached our target each time. In 2007 we started out from fifth place in the world championship, with 36 championship points earned in our debut season. [In 2007] fourth place with a clear points increase was a firm commitment, third place an option. It was very gratifying to be able to see ourselves as the third-strongest team right from the start and to shore up that position in virtually every race. An administrative decision handed us second place on a plate, but that really doesn't mean anything to us as we know there are still four cars that are faster than ours. Our aim is to beat them out on the race track."

 

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