Brazilian Motor Racing Legends

By The Way - Weekly Columns


Brazil has a history steeped in motorsport folklore. For the first time since 1974, there won’t be a Brazilian driver on the grid in Melbourne after Felipe Massa’s eventual retirement at the end of last season. The list of Brazilian names that have come into the sport and made a name for themselves is a real mixed selection; one or two are legends of the sport, one of them is arguably the greatest driver in F1 history, and a few of the most recent ones have been solid but unspectacular stays on the grid. Let’s have a look at a selection of them, shall we?

Jose Carlos Pace Carlos Pace had a five season stay in F1 with Williams, Surtees and Brabham between 1972 and 1977. He won his home race in 1975 with Brabham Martini Racing in what would turn out to be his sole race win. After his sudden death in a light aircraft accident two weeks after the South African Grand Prix in 1977, the Brazilian Grand Prix track at Interlagos which has hosted 36 Formula 1 events since 1972 was renamed in Pace's honour. Pace completed the hatrick of Brazilian wins at Interlagos after Emerson Fittipaldi has won there in 1973 and 1974 for Lotus and McLaren respectively.

Emerson Fittipaldi Fittipaldi is one of the greats of Brazilian Motor Racing: a real household name. Affectionately called 'Emmo' by the vast majority of the F1 paddock, Fittipaldi is a double Formula 1 World Champion after wins in 1972 and 1974 with 14 career wins to his name. Added to the two F1 titles are the two Indy 500 trophies he won in 1989 and 1993 with Chevrolet, the latter coming an amazing 13 years after retiring from F1. Coupled with his 1989 win at the Brickyard, Fittipaldi picked up his only CART (now IndyCar) title after 5 wins that season meaning he finished at the top of the standings ahead of Rick Mayers by 10 points. Also that season, Michael Andretti finished three places and 40 points ahead of his father, Mario.

Ayrton Senna What can we say about Ayrton Senna? Without doubt the best driver of his generation with Alain Prost a close second and arguably the best driver in the history of the sport alongside Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Prost and now Lewis Hamilton. I personally don’t like that argument of who the F1 GOAT is but it would be interesting to see how Schumacher would get on in Fangio's era or Hamilton in Senna's era. Perhaps sadly, we'll never know. Senna's record speaks for itself. Ten years in F1 with Toleman, Lotus, McLaren and Williams, Senna won three World Championships; taking 41 wins, 65 pole positions and 80 podiums. I won't go into detail because there's enough footage of the great man on the internet both in word and video form but his performance at Monaco in the rain in 1984 was very special considering Toleman were only an occasional points scorer at the time and that was their best result in their five seasons as an outfit. His time at McLaren especially wasn't exactly free from controversy when Prost was his teammate and he endured a troubled three races after joining Williams in 1994 before being killed in a crash at Imola, San Marino, the same weekend that Roland Ratzenberger was killed after a crash in qualifying. Senna's legacy will forever stand the test of time.

Lucas di Grassi One season in Formula 1 with Virgin (renamed Marussia in 2012) was all di Grassi got in 2010. The VR-01 was painfully slow and was a car that was the first to be designed entirely using computer simulation technology. Clearly, a lot more work was needed. Half way through 2010, it emerged that the fuel tank was too small to finish the races unless the cars were driven even slower than they were able to go at full tilt. The fact that refuelling had been banned didn't help, either. Di Grassi, though, has gone on to better things in Formula E; winning just two races on the way to his only Electric class title so far in 2017.

Nelson Piquet & Piquet Jr. A rare father and son duo who have both had Formula 1 careers although it must be said fairly early on that Piquet Jr never really had the same success as his dad.. Piquet Sr had a 13 year stay in the sport and turning out for teams including Brabham, Williams, Lotus and Bennetton. Amazingly, Piquet only scored 50 points on the way to his first F1 drivers crown in 1981, which seems insane by todays standards but obviously the points for finishing in the top 6 were a lot lower back then. A second title followed in 1984 with his final one coming in 1987 with Williams before he called it a day in 1991. In contrast, Piquet Jr only had two seasons (more like a season and a half) with Renault in 2008 & 2009 before being dropped during the summer break and replaced by Romain Grosjean. It soon emerged that in Singapore '08, Piquet had been given an instruction by then Team Principal Flavio Briatore to crash deliberately and bring out the safety car. In September 2009, Briatore was banned from all FIA events indefinitely after Renault said they would not contest the race-fixing charges but the French courts overturned the ban six months later. Back to Piquet Jr; in 2015, he won the inagurial Formula E season despite only winning two races on his way to the championship.

Ricardo Zonta Ricardo Zonta had five seasons in F1 with BAR (British American Racing), Jordan and Toyota but his main racing in the sport came with BAR and he finished sixth place on three occasions in 2000 which resulted in three career points in total. A few facts you might not know about Zonta, he and team mate Jacques Villenuve (1997 World Champion of course) both had huge crashes at the top of Eau Rouge, Belgium and the teammates would start 14th and 11th respectively. A year later, Zonta was loosely involved in my favourite overtaking move in the 20 years I've been watching F1. Remember when Mika Hakkinen passed Michael Schumacher for the lead at Spa in 2000 and there was a car in between them? That was indeed Zonta who was trying to keep himself to himself to 12th place.

Tarso Marques Marques started his F1 career at Minardi in 1996 before being let go by the team in 1997. The Brazilian rookie was always going to be up against it at Minardi who alwayss celebrated the very odd occasion that they scored a point (38 of them in 346 starts before being bought by Red Bull in 2005 and became Toro Rosso. I digress, Marques only started two races for the Italian minnows in 1996 but did race in the second half of the season the following year alongside Ukyo Katayama but one top 10 finish at Silverstone in '97 was all he could show for his efforts until that point. For years later, Marques was resigned to partner Fernando Alonso in his first season but he was dropped after the Belgian Grand Prix and never got a deal elsewhere. He had a chequered career in Champ Car both between and after his two stints at Minardi.

Rubens Barrichello Rubens Barrichello was affectionately known as 'Rubinho' during his days at Ferrari partnering Michael Schumacher. 326 starts over an 18 season period driving for the likes of Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari and Honda before they became Brawn GP before finishing up at Williams. I had a soft spot for Barrichello. A loveable, passionate driver who only occasionally got the success he arguably deserved. His first of 14 pole position starts came with Jordan in Belgium in 1994 but he failed to finish that race. His first win of the seven in his career came in Germany on the old layout at Hockenheim after choosing to stay out on dry tyres after the rest of the field pitted as the rain came down in the dying laps. Safe to say, he was emotional on the podium afterwards! His most controversial win came at Indianapolis in 2002 after Ferrari were so far ahead of the rest in that season, they tried to finish in a dead heat. It didn't work though, with the history books showing that Barrichello had held on to the race win by one hundredth of a second. To finish off, his best season was in 2004 as he finished a fairly distant runner up to Michael Schumacher, picking up two race wins in that campaign.

Felipe Massa Sauber took a punt with Massa in 2002 before the Brazilian had a year as Ferrari Test Driver before being re-signed by the Swiss outfit for 2004. In 2006 though, after Barrichello has moved on to Honda, Massa got the call to partner Schmacher in what would be his final season before retirement ('Schumi' would come back with Mercedes between 2010 and 2012). 2008 was Massa's finest season in Formula 1 and his finest season with Ferrari. Having seen teammate Kimi Raikonnen land the 2007 Drivers Crown ahead of rookie Lewis Hamilton, Massa was in the lead of the championship for most of the season and even crossed the line to win the Brazilian Grand Prix in '08 and was World Champion for all of 38 seconds before Hamilton got the fifth place he needed to take the title that season. In the sports rich and proud history, no man has ever been that close to being World Champion. Massa moved on to Williams at the start of the hybrid era in 2014 where he scored four podiums in four seasons with the Grove outfit. Originally calling time on his career in 2016, Massa opted for one more season in 2017 to partner rookie Lance Stroll in his first season.