A history of home success in Brazil 20 Oct 2006
A look back at the great South American success stories
Three of the greatest drivers ever to grace the Formula One grid, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, all hark from Brazil. Between them they scored a total of 96 pole positions, 78 wins and eight world championships and established Brazils reputation as a hub of racing talent. But closer to home, how did they and other Brazilian drivers fare in front of the fiercely passionate local fans?
Although there were several noteworthy names in the 1950s and early 60s, including Francisco Landi and Luiz Bueno, Fittipaldi was the first Brazilian driver to break through internationally. Just as Juan Manuel Fangio had boosted the popularity of racing in Argentina, so too did Fittipaldi in Brazil. His early successes, most notably clinching the 1972 drivers title at the tender age of 26, opened Brazils eyes to Formula One racing and a burgeoning fan base culminated in the country hosting its first world championship Grand Prix at the Interlagos circuit in 1973.
Fittingly, it was Fittipaldi who won that inaugural Brazilian race for Lotus. A year later and he won again in Sao Paulo, this time for McLaren. Then in 1975 the honours fell to his friend and countryman, Carlos Pace, who clinched his first - and only - Grand Prix victory at the Interlagos circuit which would later bear his name. Fittipaldi himself finished second, much to the delight of the home crowd, who celebrated their first Brazilian one-two. Another second for Fittipaldi in 1978 - driving alongside brother Wilson in the family Copersucar team - marked the end of his successful home run.
Then in the eighties a new Brazilian talent emerged, though Nelson Piquet initially did not fare well in his home race. A poor start from pole in 1981 resulted in a 12th-place finish, whilst he lost his 1982 win thanks to an illegal water tank on his Brabham. In 1983 - eight years after Paces triumph - Piquet finally clinched victory in front of an adoring home crowd, en route to that years drivers title
Piquet would win again in 1986, this time for Williams, with compatriot Ayrton Senna second. In 1987, the year he would win a second drivers title, Piquet missed out to Alain Prost and came home second. A third place for Lotus in 1988 would be the last time he graced the podium at his home race.
By then the impetus had well and truly fallen to Senna, who claimed his first drivers title in 1988. But between 1986 and 1990 Senna struggled at home. Despite scoring four pole positions he failed to improve on his second-placed finish in 1986 and only Mauricio Gugelmins third place in 1989 for March, consoled the Brazilian fans.
Then, after a nine year sojourn at Rio de Janeiros Jacarepagua track, in 1990 the Brazilian Grand Prix returned to Interlagos, located on the outskirts of Sennas hometown of Sao Paulo. The move seemed to prompt an improvement in the Brazilians fortunes. In 1990, despite a collision between his McLaren and a backmarker, the crowd cheered him on to finish third and a year later he drove to victory.
Engine troubles ended Sennas 1992 outing, but in 1993 he was victorious again, despite completing the final third of the race in sixth gear and receiving a 10-second penalty for overtaking under yellow flags. Sadly it would be the last time Senna stepped onto the podium in Brazil. A year later at Interlagos, just weeks before his death, he made a rare mistake and spun off on his Williams debut.
Since Sennas last triumph the Brazilian fans have been waiting 13 years for another local star to claim victory. Some 11 Brazilians have competed at Interlagos in that period, with the most successful by far being Rubens Barrichello. However, the veteran of 231 Grands Prix and winner of nine races, has been beleaguered by bad luck in his home event.
Between 1993 and 2003, Barrichello retired nine times. In 2003, after leading from pole, he looked to be in with a chance of a win, before seemingly running out fuel eight laps from home. His best finish to date remains a third place in 2004. This weekend may see a reversal in Barrichellos fortune, although, given Ferraris recent form, Felipe Massa is surely the Brazilian most likely to be standing atop the Interlagos podium come Sunday afternoon.