MARCH 25, 1996

Where are we going this week?

THE Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace at Interlagos is in the suburbs of the vast sprawling Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

THE Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace at Interlagos is in the suburbs of the vast sprawling Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. Situated between two lakes - hence the name Interlagos which means "between lakes" - the track is in a natural bowl on a hillside looking out over the city. When it was built in 1940 the area was in the countryside outside Sao Paulo, but enormous urban expansion meant that the track was later ringed with shanty towns some of which survive today, although more pleasant housing is now springing up as well.

The original circuit was built to a design based on a track at Roosevelt Field in Nassau County, Long Island, which had a brief moment of glory in 1936 and 1937 when it hosted two Vanderbilt Cup races. That circuit wound around itself and so a long lap was achieved within a small area. This principle was applied to Interlagos so that nearly five miles of track, featuring a wide variety of corners was entirely visible from the main grandstands.

Interlagos did not gain international prominence until the early 1970s when Brazilian star Emerson Fittipaldi made his mark in F1. It hosted its first World Championship race in February 1973 with the new World Champion Fittipaldi winning. He won again in 1974 at the start of a campaign which would bring him a second World title.

The 1975 race saw a third home win when local hero Carlos Pace won his first F1 victory with Fittipaldi second. Further back in the field that day Wilson Fittipaldi, Emerson's brother, drove Brazil's first Grand Prix car - the Copersucar FD01.

Emerson Fittipaldi chose to join Copersucar and his F1 career struggled on to the end of the 1970s, while a new Brazilian hero arrived in his place. Nelson Piquet, however, was from Rio de Janeiro - and it was logical that the Brazilian GP should switch to Jacarepagua in Rio between 1981 and 1989.

By the time of Rio's last race Brazil's new hero was Ayrton Senna - another man from Sao Paulo - and the new mayor of the city, Luiza Erundina, decided that the city should have the Grand Prix back. She put forward a plan to upgrade and shorten Interlagos. Senna was approached to help design the new track which used large sections of the old circuit. The result was a track which most of the modern F1 men love, although they complain about the bumps.

With Senna now dead and Brazil still looking for a new F1 star, the future of the Brazilian GP at Interlagos must be in some doubt, despite the fact there is a contract until the year 2001.