Address: Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Av. Senador Teotnio Vilela, 261 São Paulo, Brazil
Circuit type: Permanent road course
Interlagos is something of a throwback circuit, built in the 1940s and updated just enough over the years to satisfy the demands of Formula One without destroying its essential character. Drivers and spectators love it, though with its primitive paddock facilities, teams are more lukewarm. Quite how Interlagos retains its F1 spot is something of a mystery when you consider the pillorying Silverstone took from Bernie Ecclestone to update its facilities, but perhaps it goes to show that, deep down, he is a sentimentalist after all...
The circuit's history began in 1926, when a real state company led by British entrepreneur Louis Romero Sanson began designing a new suburban area as part of the expansion of São Paulo. Known as 'Balneário Satélite da Capital', the project envisaged the creation of housing, large roads, and a multi-sport complex located in between the two enormous reservoirs which supply the city with drinking water.
After hiring Alfred Agache, a French urban planner who had been responsible for a redevelopment scheme in Rio de Janeiro, the proposals acquired their new name; Agache thought that the site reminded him of Interlaken in Switzerland, and thus Interlagos (meaning 'between lakes' in Portuguese) was adopted.
The stock market crash of 1929, combined with years of political turmoil within Brazil, ultimately put paid to most of these plans, including those of the motor racing circuit within the sports complex. Nevertheless, Brazilian racing continued, with street races arranged in both Rio and São Paulo. It was at the latter of these events that disaster struck: French pilot Hellé-Nice lost control of her Alfa Romeo at the end of the race and hit nearby spectators. The accident resulted in 4 people dead and another 37 injured.
Racing clearly needed a safer environment to continue in and the president of the Automobile Club of Brazil, Eusébio de Queiroz Mattozo, urged Sanson to complete the Interlagos circuit. Sanson began researching circuit design, taking inspiration from Roosevelt Raceway in the U.S.A.; Brooklands in Great Britain; and Montlhéry in France.
Construction began in 1938 and the track was paved the following year. A lack of funds meant that facilities were very basic at the planned original opening; the grandstands and pit facilities would have to wait for many years before being complete, but the track itself was ready for racing. Unfortunately, the weather gods were not so welcoming and the original inauguration in November 1939 had to be postponed to the following year.
So it was that a grid of cars lined up on 12 May 1940 for the the 3rd Grand Prix of the City of São Paulo. Motorcycle races helped make up the undercard. The drivers and riders found a fast but technical circuit which wound its way back and forth between the lakes and across the contours of the land. Despite the basic facilities, around 15,000 people came out to watch those races in Brazil's first circuit. The Grand Prix was won by Brazilian driver Nascimento Junior in an Alfa Romeo, followed by fellow Brazilians Chico Landi (Maserati) and Geraldo Avellar (Alfa Romeo).
Racing continued at a national level throughout the 1940s and, by 1947, Interlagos was ready to host its first international race, an event for Grand Prix cars. Sanson's company managed the circuit until 1954, when it was sold to the City of São Paulo for a symbolic price.
In 1957, a link road was built to connect the Turn 4 and Junção corners to form an outer speed ring; essentially an oddly-shaped oval course. The original circuit remained unchanged by these alterations.
At the end of 1967, the circuit was closed for extensive renovations to bring it up to contemporary safety standards, reopening on 1 March 1970. Further improvements came in 1971, with the ambition of securing a Formula One race to help showcase Brazil's new racing talent. The dream came true a year later, albeit in non-chmapionship form, with Argentine driver Carlos Reutemann wining the race, followed home by Swede Ronnie Peterson and Brazilian Wilson Fittipaldi Junior.
The event's success contributed to the inclusion of the race in the FIA Formula One World Championship. The first official race took place on 11 February 1973 and the enormous home crowds cheered home Emerson Fittipaldi to the win, followed by Scot Jackie Stewart and New Zealander Dennis Hulme.
Interlagos continued to host F1 throughout the 1970s, usually as one of the season opening races. But by 1980, drivers had begun to question the general safety at the venue, particularly becoming concerned with the bumpiness of the track in several places (no doubt exacerbated by the rock-solid suspensions employed on ground-effect era cars). The City Council was reluctant to provide the necessary investment to solve these issues and Rio thus snatched the race away for its new Jacarepaguá circuit.
During this phase, Interlagos went through a series of small-scale renovations and staged a series of national championship races, gradually fading from the international scene. In 1985, the circuit was renamed the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in memory of the 1976 GP winner, who had been killed in a plane crash just over a year later.
Changing requirements for F1 venues provided Interlagos with a second chance at F1, when Rio could no longer afford to keep the event. The Mayor of São Paulo, Luiza Erundina, joined forces with the President of the Brazilian Confederation of Motor Sports (CBA), Piero Gancia, to bring the F1 Grand Prix back to São Paulo from 1990.
In preparation, Interlagos underwent a series of renovations, with the construction of new garages and a race control tower, and the track itself was reduced considerably, complying with the new trend for shorter circuits. A new first turn bypassed the old banked corner, plunging downhill and connecting with the old circuit at Curva do Sol and heading in the opposite direction to previously to a revised and tightened corner between the lakes, before heading back up the hill and rejoining the original infield and the climb back to the pits.
Alain Prost won the inaugural race back at Interlagos, but local hero Ayrton Senna took the wins in 1991 and 1993.
A variety of improvements occurred over the years, including the construction of a chicane on the run up to the pit straight in anticipation of the arrival of the Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1992. Riders were not taken with the circuit, finding it far too bumpy, and the race never returned.
The pit entry and exit was modified in 1996 and again in 1999, while a total resurfacing was undertaken in 2007. To facilitate the work, the circuit was closed and no events were held in the five months immediately preceding the Grand Prix.
Following two fatal crashes which took the lives of Stock Car Brasil drivers Rafael Sperafico in 2007 and Gustavo Sondermann in 2011, a revised chicane was introduced for these races (but not F1) at the Curva do Café corner. The slightly clunky, tyre-lined chicane was further altered for the 2013 season, being eased on exit (though initially, contractors built the chicane the wrong way round and it had to be rebuilt a second time...). It remains in use for the popular stock car races, in combination with specially-designed SAFER barriers, identical to those now widely used on North American ovals, which had replaced the concrete wall at the final turn following the Sperafico crash.
Plans for a new Formula One only pitlane on the Reta Oposta straight were unveiled in 2012, though were finally discounted after circuit bosses feared it might spoil some of the essential character of the track. Instead, a $60 million refurbishment programme was launched, which saw major civil engineering works begin in August 2014 to create a new pitlane entry and exit. The hillside at the back of the Laranjinha was cut away and then built up with a concrete wall, allowing more space above for a revised pit lane entry. At the same time, the track itself was moved a few metres further back to create additional runoff. Despite this change, the offical track length remains unchanged.
Additional run-off was also created at the Senna-S by moving the pitlane exit further back, while further earthworks created more room to the outside of Curva do Sol. The final track change came with the addition of an alternate route at Bico de Pato, possible for use during motorcycle events. The works, including a full track resurfacing, were completed ahead of the Grand Prix in November, with a second phase due to start following the race. This will see the existing pit buildings demolished and new ones built, with increased garage and paddock space. A reduced calendar of events will be run in 2015 with a temporary pit lane to be employed while the construction work takes place.
The Autódromo José Carlos Pace is located in the southern region of São Paulo, in the Interlagos district. The nearest international airport is São Paulo-Guarulhos, 30 miles to the north east, approximately 45 minutes from the track. Congonhas Airport is closer to the circuit, offering domestic connections and private flights.
Travelling to the circuit by public transport is relatively straightforward. Located approximately at six minutes of walk far, the Autódromo Station (Line 9 – Esmeralda / Osasco-Grajaú) is an alternative for those who want to escape traffic and travel by train. There are also numerous buses routes to the circuit - check the circuit website for details.
For those who do wish to drive, the track is located close to Marginal Pinheiros and Av. Senador Teotônio Vilela. Parking is free, though there may well be restrictions during event weekends.