Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country, is a diverse nation – rich in natural beauty, and a cultural melting pot, home to more than 200 million people, all undergoing change in a shifting political landscape.

And, when Formula 1 makes its annual pilgrimage to gigantic metropolis São Paulo, the memory of the late, great 3-time World Champion Ayrton Senna is ever-present.

Arguably the greatest Grand Prix driver of all time – Senna melded pure passion with sublime, natural talent; a rare combination that enabled him to get to the limit on-track... and to the top of the sport.

…while off-track, Senna was adored – especially in Brazil – where he was a beacon of hope and a tireless champion, supporting education for young people with his foundation.

“Nobody is ever going to replace him. He was a star who always brought us joy. For the whole nation. He never brought sadness to anyone. He always brought us joy.”

Senna’s last season was with Williams in 1994, but died in just his third race for the team, after sustaining head injuries at the San Marino Grand Prix.

Or course, the Brazilian was a childhood idol for many on the current grid, including Lewis Hamilton, who heads to Interlagos as a five-time F1 World Champion, matching Juan Manuel Fangio.

"I just loved what he did. Firstly, how he drove but how he was as a human being, because he made a big difference in how he inspired the people in Brazil.”

Brazilians have also been inspired by thrilling racing over 45 editions, with the event first joining the F1 calendar in 1973.

All but 10 have been hosted at São Paulo’s Autódromo José Carlos Pace, better known as Interlagos – the remainder at Rio de Janeiro’s Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet or Jacarepaguá.

Interlagos, which translates to ‘between the lakes’ is a stunning track that always promotes great racing… and it’s a challenge for the drivers…

Located 30 minutes from downtown São Paulo, the 4.309 kilometre track has 15 turns, 10 left and five right, and a top speed of 340 kilometres an hour. Max Verstappen reset the lap record last year for Red Bull Racing. There are two DRS activation zones with the first between turns three and four, the other on the pit straight. There are also two DRS detection zones, one before turn two - the other after turn 13.

And it’s a tricky track, especially in the wet… with 2003’s edition perilous, with only 10 cars finishing and Giancarlo Fisichella taking a shock win. 2016 was another sodden race… and Max Verstappen shone. He made up 11 places in the last 16 laps to finish third…behind the two Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton taking his only win in Brazil to date.

The most successful driver in Brazil is Alain Prost, but five of his six wins were taken in Rio. Michael Schumacher has the most wins at Interlagos, with Sebastian Vettel the most of the current grid with three.

It’ll be gloves off for the German this year. With the world title battle done, Vettel will be pushing hard to build momentum, ahead of a stronger 2019 campaign. An expected re-match with Mercedes.

It’s a thrilling proposition, especially with Red Bull Racing also a likely contender should the strategy and conditions work in its favour.

High speed, high energy… all to the beat of the samba… it’s time for the Brazilian Grand Prix.