Brazil was once a force in Formula 1. The country has produced three world champions, its drivers have won 101 races – third on the list of nations – and only five countries have had more drivers than Brazil’s 32.
Among them were Emerson Fittipaldi, who won titles in 1972 and 1974, and Nelson Piquet who won in 1981, 1983 and 1987. And, of course, there was the legendary Ayrton Senna, who won three championships with McLaren in 1988, 1990 and 1991 before being killed aged 34 at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Italy.
Other drivers have won more titles, but many pundits still consider Senna the most talented driver to ever race in the sport.
Not only has a Brazilian not won the title since Senna did in 1991, but the 2017 retirement of Felipe Massa, who nearly ended the country’s title drought in 2008, has left Brazil without full time pilot.
Haas has a Brazilian reserve driver, Emerson’s grandson Pietro Fittipaldi, who competed in two Grands Prix in 2020 when he replaced the injured Romain Grosjean, but 2022 marks a fifth consecutive season without a permanent Brazilian driver. As recently as 2010, four were Brazilian.
Yet this is not a case of diminishing interest in Brazil. It is one of the five biggest TV markets for Formula 1, with an audience of over 70 million viewers and growing, and is on the free-to-air tape, which took over the rights in 2021. Last year, the São Paulo Grand Prix, which has a contract through 2025, was the most attended Formula 1 event in Brazil, attracting 181,000 spectators. In the cockpit, however, it is simply missing one of its own.
“I think for a long time Brazil didn’t have a real junior category, after karting, to prepare the drivers in the right way,” Massa said. “For example, when I finished my career in karting, I raced for almost two years in Brazil, in Formula Chevrolet, which was very strong. When I arrived in Europe, I was very ready and I I was immediately competitive.
Leaving Brazil to race in the European-centric single-seater race car series is also a serious undertaking that many drivers cannot do, especially at a young age. It’s not a problem unique to Brazil, with Europe supplying 14 of this year’s 20 full-time drivers, and all world champions since 1998, but Brazil’s economic downturn has made matters worse.
Ten years ago, a Brazilian real was worth 0.39 euros, or 39 cents, but it is now at 0.19 euros, making it harder for young people to find money and sponsors to compete. It can cost around a million dollars to race in Formula 3 and double that for Formula 2. Karting is expensive too. Reaching Formula 1 therefore seems like a pipe dream for many, especially those from less well-off families.
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“I think the lack of Brazilian riders since 2018 is the result of the high cost of the youth categories in Europe and the economic difficulties that Brazil has faced in recent years,” Sao Paulo Grand Prix manager Alan Adler said.
Massa said it was difficult to find the money and the sponsors. “It was always expensive, but the championships were much cheaper, now it’s more difficult.”
It suggests a bleak picture, but a Brazilian Formula 4 series, certified by the FIA, the governing body of Formula 1, started this year, offering young drivers an entry-level FIA-recognized championship at home. .
“There is a significant gap in Brazilian motorsport in terms of career continuity, which we will now fill,” said Fernando Julianelli, managing director of Vicar, a racing promoter, in 2021 when the announcement was made. Formula 4 series.
Even before the start of the new series, Brazilian drivers were climbing the ranks of the racing series in Europe.
Felipe Drugovich left Brazil to race in Italy aged 13 and won the Formula 2 title this year. He has been signed to the Aston Martin Formula 1 team and will become its reserve driver in 2023. He will take part in the practice and young driver test in Abu Dhabi this month.
“My goal has always been to be in F1, to be there one day, but we have to take it step by step,” he said. “I have to end the year with a bang first and learn as much as possible next year and see if there is an opportunity in the future.”
There is also Enzo Fittipaldi, younger brother of Pietro, who has finished on the podium six times in Formula 2 this year, and Caio Collet, who has finished on the podium five times, including two victories, in Formula 3 in 2022. He is now part of the Alpine Academy for young pilots. Rafael Câmara has won two victories in Italian Formula 4 this year and is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Whoever ends the drought in Brazil will probably be greeted with delight at home.
Pietro Fittipaldi was a candidate to replace driver Nikita Mazepin this year before Haas brought back veteran Kevin Magnussen. But Fittipaldi was lifted by the scenes at home.
“There was a massive movement in Brazil to have me in the race seat, and we haven’t seen that in a long, long time, and on social media the engagement was crazy,” he said. -he declares. “As soon as a [Brazilian] enters F1, there will be a huge explosion of engagement and viewership. Whoever brings this guy over there, it’s gonna be huge, it’s gonna be huge.
Drugovich hopes he can be the one to bring the Brazilian flag back to Formula 1 full-time, potentially as early as 2024.
“People there are crazy,” he said, “there are a lot of followers; you can see that people yearn for a Brazilian F1 driver,” he said. “They really want it. I’m here to do my best and maybe one day I’ll be there to represent the country.
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