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Once Massa leaves, F1 faces search for next Brazilian driver

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In the 68-year history of Formula 1 since 1950, only four countries have had representatives on the grid for at least 60 of those 68 years. The United Kingdom has had one all 68, the only country to do so, while Germany (64), France (63) and Italy (62) are next (a great overall grid, via the F1 Reddit page, is linked here).

Meanwhile the country that leads the way among all nations outside Europe, and fifth overall, is Brazil with 53 years represented on the grid.

Brazil has had at least one driver on the grid since 1970, with 1969 the last year there wasn’t a Brazilian racing in the sport. That 48-year active streak is second only to the U.K. among all nations.

Felipe Massa’s retirement in two races (which should be for real this time) will leave a gap to the next Brazilian driver, and it remains to be seen who will take up that mantle for the country that has given so much to the sport.

The country has provided eight total World Championships, third all-time only behind the U.K. (17) and Germany (12). The late Ayrton Senna won three titles, as did Nelson Piquet, with Emerson Fittipaldi winning two.

Massa’s famous last lap loss of the title at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix despite winning that race stands as the closest a Brazilian has come to matching the three legends from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as a champion.

Of course Massa and Rubens Barrichello enjoyed long careers of their own, each sort of taking up the mantle as the next primary Brazilian in the sport. Barrichello was thrust into carrying the torch after Senna’s passing in 1994, and then Massa flew the flag following Barrichello’s departure at the end of 2011. Fittingly, both have 11 career wins, Massa in 267 starts (270 entries) over his career that’s spanned from 2002 through 2017 (off in 2003) while Barrichello is F1’s all-time starts leader with 322 and 326 entries from 1993 through 2011.

The best hypothetical candidate would have been Massa’s similarly named countryman Felipe Nasr, but he faded out of F1 after a pair of tough seasons with Sauber in 2015 and 2016. He will now race full-time in North America next year, with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Options do exist to take up the mantle after Massa, but aren’t on the immediate horizon for 2018.

Pietro Fittipaldi might be the best hope, the grandson of two-time World Champion Emerson, with his success in the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship with Lotus coming only a few years after ending his NASCAR hopes. The 21-year-old, who was actually born in Miami, holds a 10-point lead over Russian driver Matevos Isaakyan before that series finale in Bahrain in two weeks’ time alongside the FIA World Endurance Championship. The younger Fittipaldi has six wins from 16 starts this year and could follow Emerson, Wilson and Christian as Fittipaldi F1 racers if he makes it, but he seems at least two years away at best.

The only active Brazilian in Formula 2 is Sergio Sette Camara, who completes his first season in the series this year. He ranks 12th in points, driving for MP Motorsport, with one sprint race win at Spa-Francorchamps. Sette Camara has tested an F1 car, with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2016, but was dropped from Red Bull’s Junior Team after 2016.

GP3 is also short on Brazilian drivers. The only active one there is 20-year-old Bruno Baptista, but his best finish is only 10th on two occasions. He ranks 19th in points, last among any who have scored this year.

Nelson Piquet’s son Pedro Piquet, the half brother of Nelson Piquet Jr., raced this year in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. The 19-year-old finished 14th in points with a best finish of second at the Norisring. That sort of result doesn’t scream a Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon or Lance Stroll, in terms of leaping from F3 to F1.

Like Italy before it, Brazil faces a potential drought on the F1 grid for at least 2018 and potentially years to come if none of these drivers can work their way into the F1 arena, likely as test or development drivers or via junior programs.

Italy, like Brazil, put a driver on the grid from 1970 onwards, but saw its representation fall off after 2011 at the end of Jarno Trulli’s career. It was only this year, when Antonio Giovinazzi made two starts with Sauber filling in for Pascal Wehrlein to kick off the year, that Italy was back represented behind the wheel.

Brazil now faces a similar shortfall and without a star with which to welcome home next year, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any adverse effect among Brazilian interest and at the Brazilian Grand Prix in years to come.

IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”