x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Track tour: Brazilian Grand Prix

This weekend will mark the Formula One debut of the Virgin Racing team driver Lucas di Grassi at his home track - he was born just a few kilometres away from Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace.

I've got to be honest, the Brazilian Grand Prix might be my home race but it's not my favourite race.

That's probably either Spa or Monaco. But I love undulating circuits that change throughout the course of a lap and Interlagos [officially the track's name is Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace] is one such track. It's a great track and still one of the best to drive, and it's probably in my top three tracks in the world.

As a Brazilian, you dream of racing there. Although I grew up in Sao Pa0lo, I never actually went to the track as a child.

The first time I visited it for an F1 race was for the 2003 Grand Prix, the year that Giancarlo Fisichella won for Jordan. But I remember it more for the crashes - there was a massive shunt involving Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher, and Jenson Button also crashed out.

What I remember about the circuit from that time and also later on when I've driven is the noise. The emotion that comes out of the fans is like no other place and that's what makes it so very special.

Parts of the circuit in Brazil are fast - flat out - but there are some really technical sections to it as well and to drive there in F1 in front of my home fans will clearly be one of my career highs.

Interlagos is anti-clockwise, which already makes it different from a lot of circuits, but the big thing you notice is that it's very hard on a driver. The track is very bumpy so you're being shaken throughout the lap and, by the end of practice, qualifying or the race, I think you feel more tired here than at other circuits.

You feel the bumpiness on the opening straight, which takes you into the opening corner (2), the Senna S - named after Ayrton of course.

The key is to brake as late as possible as you go into it, as it's a good place for overtaking - the best on the track, in fact. The Senna S takes you left and then right again. It's undulating and it's also wide enough for cars to pass. If you lose your shape here, you often lose your track position as well.

You can get nearly flat out and up to sixth gear by the time of the third corner - what we Brazilians call La Curva do Sol (meaning curve of the sun), which opens to the opposite straight, the other big straight after the grandstand finish.

Then comes a double left-hand corner. The first one (4) is taken in a low gear - usually second gear - but you're up to fourth by the time you take the next one (5), and it's downhill on both of them.

There's another brief straight before the most technical part of the whole of the Interlagos circuit. It starts with a very long right-hand curve that's basically two separate turns in one.

Then comes the slowest part of the circuit, Laranjinha [literally meaning orange turn] where you're turning right (7). You pick up a bit of speed for the next turn (9), Pinheirinho - a left, before two more right turns.

The first of those is easy and you lose little speed, while the second is technically hard and is another very slow part of the circuit.

There's another left-hander that can be taken at good speed on to another straight before the Junction. That's a hard left that you really feel on your neck and your body as you bump your way around it.

Out of there, your speed picks up and you head uphill towards the finish. There's the long curve (13), which is taken fast, and two more smoother turns - well, smooth in the sense that you don't have to turn too much - before the home straight, where you hit your top speed of the whole circuit.

When you watch on the television, it looks like there's a big lean in the circuit at this point but you don't really notice it in the car. It all feels pretty flat.

As a driver, it's the noisiest part of the circuit - easily. You're driving past the main grandstand and, even with the noise of the car, you can hear the crowd going crazy.

There've been many great champions at Interlagos: Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet. They've all been cheered and I hope I will be too wherever I end up being in the field.