• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

A trackside view

Karun Chandhok December 1, 2011
The Brazilian Grand Prix was held at the stunning Interlagos circuit but it was the same old story at the front © Sutton Images
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The Brazilian Grand Prix was a pretty anti-climatic end to the season, I thought. The McLarens were never really close enough to challenge the Red Bulls, and while Sebastian Vettel's gearbox problem created a bit of excitement, in the end he allowed Mark Webber through for the lead and it was pretty much done and dusted.

This was my first visit to Brazil and, while I wasn't a huge fan of Sao Paulo as a city, I have to say I loved going to Interlagos. It's a real old school circuit and from the moment you arrive you can just feel the history - the circuit just oozes character. This was only the second time all year I went out to watch trackside because the viewing areas are really fantastic. It's amazing how much you can tell from the outside with a trained eye, and even without a timing screen or a video feed, you can work out the positions.

The Red Bulls looked sublime, but it was the difference in style between the two McLaren drivers in the slow-speed corners that was particularly interesting to watch. As the cars dropped downhill into the Senna Esses, Jenson would pick a trajectory early on into the first left, wind the lock in smoothly and then precisely choose the moment to gently shift the weight the other way to turn into the right. With Lewis, you could see the back of the car snapping and hands see-sawing to balance, but you never got the feeling he was out of control. The fact that the front of the car drove on precisely the same line lap after lap tells you that this is just what he was comfortable with.

Fernando Alonso finds a balance between aggression and control through the first corner © Sutton Images
Fernando is typically aggressive and attacking, but was controlled within the limit on every single lap. As he exited turn two and accelerated hard through turn three, you could see the back of the Ferrari wanting to break free but the Spaniard would just balance steering lock and throttle, use a bit more kerb than anyone else and keep his foot in.

Further down, the Force Indias looked very good, and straight away, even on Friday, they looked like they could take the fight to Mercedes. Watching on the outside of the very fast turn six, you could see them commit to the corner with a front end that would bite when the drivers wanted, while the rear remained stable as the drivers picked up the throttle again. The Mercedes cars always looked like they had some understeer in the high-speed corners and the drivers had to wait a bit longer than they wanted to get back on the power.

The unique forward-facing blown exhaust configuration on the Renault makes a very distinctive note. From the outside, it clearly looks like the drivers were struggling for traction more than anything. In the high speed corners, the car didn't look too far away from the top three, but in the slower hairpins you could see the drivers had to alter their line to make sure they squared off the corner and got the steering wheel straight as soon as possible to accelerate out of the corner. Through the Senna Esses, the difference between when the top three cars could pick up the throttle compared to the black and gold cars was clearly audible.

Overall though, the race sort of summed up the season in many ways. Red Bull were utterly dominant when it counted for qualifying and the race, the McLarens were best of the rest for pace and once again Fernando seemed to outperform his car by getting himself into the mix. The Ferraris have been great off the line and Fernando's move around the outside of Jenson into turn six without DRS assistance was fantastic. In the end, the usual issue of Ferrari's pace on the harder tyre reared its head and Jenson was able to reel him in and get ahead before the flag.

Geoff Willis talks to HRT's Antonio Cuquerella and Karun Chandhok in the paddock © Sutton Images
Force India's weekend was hugely impressive and their pace netted them a much deserved double-points finish. Mercedes would be disappointed to have been beaten by their customer team for best of the rest in Brazil but the Brackley squad will be looking at the big picture by now with a crucial season in 2012 ahead. I spent some time with Geoff Willis, who was in the paddock for the first time since joining Mercedes GP, and he sounded very optimistic that the team could indeed move forward next year - quite how much is yet to be seen, but certainly the combination of Bob Bell, Aldo Costa, Geoff and Ross Brawn has a huge amount of experience and brain power.

2011 has been an interesting year. On the face of it, Sebastian and Red Bull have dominated but if you dig deeper you realise that actually the racing this year with the Pirelli tyres and DRS has been fantastic. McLaren's rate of development and the competitiveness they've shown in the last third of the season has been hugely impressive. Ferrari can never be discounted and, with some new people on board for 2012, they will be looking to claim another driver's title after four years without one. I've already talked about the new people at Mercedes and with Michael Schumacher's improved form in the second half of this year, they should be stronger. Kimi Raikkonnen's arrival back in F1 will be one of the big stories and it's going to be fascinating to see whether he will be the catalyst for an Enstone resurgence.

Hope you guys have enjoyed my insights this year ... roll on Melbourne 2012 !