Interlagos: The Ultimate Track Guide

Since its arrival on the calendar in 1973, the Interlagos track in Sao Paulo, Brazil has hosted some dramatic races. The passionate fans together with the old school nature of the track layout always make the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend one to remember.

TRACK LENGTH 2.667 miles
MOST POLES Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton  (3)
MOST WINS Michael Schumacher (4)

The Interlagos track is situated nine miles from the city centre of Sao Paulo. The neighbourhood had originally been plotting a racing circuit back in the 1920s, but this didn’t come to fruition for quite some time. Brazil’s history with motor racing began in 1934, with races on the Gavea circuit in Rio de Janeiro. Sao Paulo itself held a street race in 1936, but this was marred by a crash which resulted in the deaths of six spectators.

The plot of land which the Interlagos track is situated on – Interlagos meaning ‘between two lakes’ – had been set aside in 1926 for building houses on. However, such was the environment, the plot of land laid empty for years as it was unsuitable for the houses to be built. The financial situation due to the stock market crash in 1929 was also a factor in the area laying dormant. It instead became home to a demanding race track. The idea for a permanent circuit in the area was mooted in 1938, and was built by a construction company named Sanson over the next two years.

F1’s first venture into Brazil came in 1972 – the same year which the country had their first Brazilian F1 World Champion – and Carlos Reutemann won a non-championship round. The event proved Interlagos’ capability of holding a race, and in 1973 the circuit became home to the Brazilian Grand Prix.

It’s an area where time seems to stand still, though the surrounding Sao Paulo area seems to get slightly more built up with each visit. Elevation changes, with the track dipping down during the mid-part of the course before rising again on to the pit-straight. The pit-straight itself can feel claustrophobic, as it is placed in a dip between the grandstand and the pit-lane, which both have high walls. The pit-lane here is one of the longest of the season.

South American drivers won the Brazilian Grand Prix on all but two occasions in the 1970s. The track was renowned for being unforgiving and the track surface was at times difficult to master. The state of the surface was a talking point in the late seventies, and the Brazilian Grand Prix moved to the Jacarepaguá circuit in Rio de Janeiro for 1978 while renovations at Interlagos were carried out. F1 returned in 1979 to a track which had been resurfaced and had new facilities. The two tracks – Interlagos and Jacarepaguá – were contracted to alternate hosting the Grand Prix, but the latter had begun to sink into the swampland it was built in, so the Brazilian Grand Prix remained at Interlagos for 1980. Some were still unhappy with the nature of the track’s bumpy surface and, with F1 now being presented to a global TV audience, some felt the unglamorous surroundings of the track did not fit with the sport’s image. Dissatisfied with the surroundings and the lack of safety, the Brazilian Grand Prix moved back to the Rio de Janeiro circuit for the rest of the 1980s.

Interlagos has been the permanent home of the Brazilian Grand Prix since the sport returned to the track in 1990. When the track returned, it had been significantly shortened in length, from five miles to 2.7 miles, and renovations at the cost of $15 million had been carried out. There used to be an extra loop of the track which headed straight on at the first turn, before joining up with the current track at the Ferradura corner. The return of F1 to Sao Paulo was largely due to the superstar status of Sao Paulo-born Ayrton Senna.

Though more regularly known as Interlagos, the track is actually named Autódromo José Carlos Pace, in honour of Carlos Pace, a Brazilian driver who won at the track in 1975. The circuit was re-named in his honour after he was killed in a plane crash in 1977.

The track has seen little change since 1990, though the asphalt was taken up and resurfaced in 2007, with the pit entrance also being slightly altered to improve safety. Changes to the track were planned in 2011 following a number of fatal accidents in other categories of motorsport, but the changes – which included extending the run-off area at the exit of the final turn and moving the pits to the straight between the Senna-S and Curva do Sol – never came to fruition.

The Grand Prix used to be held towards the start of the season, but switched to the back-end of the calendar in 2004, and has since seen multiple championships decided in highly dramatic races. Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have all been crowned World Champions at this track.

The Brazilian Grand Prix has seen some controversy in recent years, with drivers and team personnel falling victim to a spate of targeted robberies. With Brazil’s struggling economy, the future of the Brazilian Grand Prix always seems to have some doubt over it. Despite the threat of a new track in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2020 event being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Interlagos will appear on the schedule once again in 2021. In November 2020, the governor of Sao Paulo revealed that race organisers had signed a new five-year deal to keep the track on the calendar. 


The Interlagos track was one of the first on the F1 calendar to run anti-clockwise.


A memorable race at Interlagos for the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen win from pole position as Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz took their maiden podium finishes.

Carlos Sainz suffered an early exit from qualifying for the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, with engine troubles seeing him start from the back of the grid. It was Max Verstappen who took pole position, lapping 0.123 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel, who started alongside him on the front row. At Turn 1, Lewis Hamilton swept by Vettel for second place as Verstappen maintained his lead up front. Charles Leclerc, who started from fourteenth following an engine penalty, made gains on the first lap. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo battled over eleventh place, and a few laps later Ricciardo collided with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas as he attempted an overtake. Hamilton was first of the front-runners to pit, followed one lap later by Verstappen. The Red Bull driver was caught up in the pit-lane by Robert Kubica, with the pair almost colliding. That led to Verstappen emerging from the pit-lane behind Hamilton – but Verstappen made a bold move at the first turn on the next lap to re-assume the lead. After a 25 lap lull in proceedings, Valtteri Bottas retired from the race with a smoking engine, leading to a Safety Car period. Verstappen pitted, while Hamilton stayed out. The free pit stop gave Verstappen fresh rubber while allowing him to stay right on Hamilton’s tail at the restart. The pair went wheel to wheel again at Turn 1, with Verstappen again coming out on top. Behind them, Alex Albon passed Vettel for third place. That left the Ferrari pair running together, and disaster struck for the team a few laps later as the pair collided, ending both of their races. The safety car came out again, and it was a Red Bull 1-2-3 at the restart, with Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso in third place. Hamilton was soon by Gasly, and set about finding a way past Albon. But a mistake from the World Champion saw him collide with the Red Bull, allowing Gasly back through to an unlikely second place. Hamilton tried to fight the Toro Rosso, but Gasly held on to finish second behind Verstappen, taking the first podium finish of his career. Hamilton finished third, but a post-race penalty for his incident with Albon saw him demoted to seventh in the final order. All of that led to Sainz – who had started last – being promoted to the final podium spot, scoring McLaren’s first top three finish in over five years.


Mercedes claimed the Constructors’ Championship as Lewis Hamilton took victory. The main talking point was the on and off-track contact between Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon.

With rain in the air, there was drama on Saturday as Sebastian Vettel received a hefty fine for breaking the FIA’s weighing scales. The rain helped to switch the order up slightly, with Marcus Ericsson qualifying a best-ever seventh. It was Lewis Hamilton who started from pole though, and he maintained his advantage on the first lap. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen put on another overtaking display and was soon on the tail of Hamilton. The Dutchman became the race leader and continued to set fast laps as the Mercedes driver pitted. Verstappen later pitted, but emerged behind Hamilton after a slow pit-stop. Nevertheless, four laps later, the Red Bull driver was in the lead once again after a pass on Hamilton on the main straight. Then, on the 44th lap, Verstappen collided with Esteban Ocon, who was attempting to un-lap himself. The resulting spin allowed Hamilton back into the lead. The Force India driver received a ten-second stop/go penalty for the incident. Behind them, Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo scrapped for fifth place, with Ricciardo soon passing Bottas for fourth. Hamilton won the race, with a disgruntled Verstappen finishing second and Kimi Raikkonen completing the podium. The result saw Mercedes clinch the Constructors’ Championship. After the race, Verstappen headed to the weighing area to seek out Ocon and later received disciplinary action from the FIA for shoving the Force India driver.


YearPolesitterTeam On PoleWinnerWinning Team
1973Ronnie PetersonLotusEmerson FittipaldiLotus
1974Emerson FittipaldiMcLarenEmerson FittipaldiMcLaren
1975Jean-Pierre JarierShadowCarlos PaceBrabham
1976James HuntMcLarenNiki LaudaFerrari
1977James HuntMcLarenCarlos ReutemannFerrari
1979Jacques LaffiteLigierJacques LaffiteLigier
1980Jean-Pierre JabouilleRenaultRené ArnouxRenault
1990Ayrton SennaMcLarenAlain ProstFerrari
1991Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1992Nigel MansellWilliamsNigel MansellWilliams
1993Alain ProstWilliamsAyrton SennaMcLaren
1994Ayrton SennaWilliamsMichael SchumacherBenetton
1995Damon HillWilliamsMichael SchumacherBenetton
1996Damon HillWilliamsDamon HillWilliams
1997Jacques VilleneuveWilliamsJacques VilleneuveWilliams
1998Mika HäkkinenMcLarenMika HäkkinenMcLaren
1999Mika HäkkinenMcLarenMika HäkkinenMcLaren
2000Mika HäkkinenMcLarenMichael SchumacherFerrari
2001Michael SchumacherFerrariDavid CoulthardMcLaren
2002Juan Pablo MontoyaWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
2003Rubens BarrichelloFerrariGiancarlo FisichellaJordan
2004Rubens BarrichelloFerrariJuan Pablo MontoyaWilliams
2005Fernando AlonsoRenaultJuan Pablo MontoyaMcLaren
2006Felipe MassaFerrariFelipe MassaFerrari
2007Felipe MassaFerrariKimi RäikkönenFerrari
2008Felipe MassaFerrariFelipe MassaFerrari
2009Rubens BarrichelloBrawnMark WebberRed Bull
2010Nico HulkenbergWilliamsSebastian VettelRed Bull
2011Sebastian VettelRed BullMark WebberRed Bull
2012Lewis HamiltonMcLarenJenson ButtonMcLaren
2013Sebastian VettelRed BullSebastian VettelRed Bull
2014Nico RosbergMercedesNico RosbergMercedes
2015Nico RosbergMercedesNico RosbergMercedes
2016Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2017Valtteri BottasMercedesSebastian VettelFerrari
2018Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2019Max VerstappenRed BullMax VerstappenRed Bull