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Brazil – land of Senna, Piquet – at risk of having no F1 drivers

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Brazil, the country that produced Formula One champions Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Emerson Fittipaldi, could be without a driver on the grid next season.

Brazilian Felipe Massa is leaving F1 at the end of the season after 15 years on the circuit, which peaked in 2008 when he missed out on the drivers’ championship by a point. His last race is Sunday in Brazil, where he recalls watching Senna and Piquet in his younger years and dreaming of emulating them.

Massa is leaving and Felipe Nasr of Sauber is at risk of not getting a contract next season. Nasr is depending on his main sponsor, Banco do Brasil, to find him a ride. Last season he scored 27 points, but in the 2016 season he hasn’t earned a point.

There are no other Brazilian drivers in Europe being considered for a place on the grid next year.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, the favorite to claim the season title on Sunday, says Brazil needs to be in the mix.

“Your country deserves to have a good driver in a competitive car,” Rosberg said this week.

Since 1972, Fittipaldi, Piquet and Senna have marked their names as F1 season champions eight times.

But in the last decade Brazilian drivers have struggled to even to win a race. The last home triumph was in 2008 at Interlagos, but it was bittersweet.

Massa took first place in his Ferrari, but lost the season title to British driver Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren.

“It will be very upsetting to see no Brazilian drivers in Formula One,” said Massa, whose best results this season are two fifth places. “We Brazilians have a lot of history in this sport. It is a tough moment. We don’t have a driver that is about to break through.”

The last Brazilian to win an F1 race was Rubens Barrichello, who won at the Italian Grand Prix in September 2009.

Since then, Brazilians haven’t had much to celebrate. And even local executives of the sport believe the current trend won’t end quickly.

“We do have Brazilian talent that could be in Formula One, but these days you need a ton of money that they don’t have now,” Waldner Bernardo, an official at Brazil’s motorsport confederation, told The Associated Press. “We have at least six drivers in Europe that could be on the Formula One grid now, but they are not wealthy enough to be.”

One of the drivers Bernardo has faith in is 18-year-old Formula 3 driver Pedro Piquet, son of the three-time world champion Nelson.

His talent and youth, Bernardo says, are signs that “the Brazilian void in Formula 1 could be short-lived.”

Gerson Campos, who hosts a popular motorsport TV program, disagrees.

“None of these Brazilians abroad showed they have enough talent. If they were football strikers, they would be good to play here, but they’re far from the Barcelona level,” he said. “If one of those drivers goes to Formula 1, he will stay for one or two years. We have a serious problem in fostering talents that can attract big money now. And that combination is essential today.”

The absence of a competitive Brazilian driver has hurt the ratings for TV Globo, the country’s main broadcaster.

Last year Globo shifted the United States and Mexico races to its cable channel. This year it did the same, reflecting F1’s sinking popularity in the country.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.