SAO PAULO (AP) — For the first time since 1970, there will be no Brazilian driver in a Formula One race in Brazil.
So fans in the racing-crazy South American nation, home to eight F1 titles by three champions, are putting all their hopes on two young test drivers who will have a bigger role in the series next year.
Pietro Fittipaldi, the 22-year-old grandson of former F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi, was announced Friday as test driver for Haas starting after the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.
Sergio Sette Camara, the 20-year-old who is the only Latin American driver in Formula 2, will be McLaren’s test driver next year.
Sette Camara is sixth in the F2 standings with one race to go this season, while Pietro Fittipaldi drove as a part-time driver in the IndyCar Series. Both had their seasons marred by crashes that forced them to miss races.
Despite not having the same impressive results as some of the former Brazilian drivers before they reached F1, Sette Camara and Pietro Fittipaldi are the closest the country has to F1 since Felipe Massa retired last season after a successful career in the series.
The standards are high for Brazilian fans who were used to cheering for racing greats such as Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, and more recently for less legendary names such as Massa and Rubens Barrichello.
“I hope these test drivers are better than fans expect. What are their names again?” said 45-year-old engineer Augusto Daniel, wearing a Mercedes cap. “I love racing regardless of seeing any Brazilian on the grid, but it is obviously disappointing not to be able to wave our flag for a local driver. It will be a strange experience this time, it will be a bit less emotional too.”
Senna was the last Brazilian to win the F1 title, in 1991. Pique won his three world titles in the 1980s, and Fittipaldi won two in the early 1970s.
Massa came close with Ferrari in 2008, losing the title by one point to Lewis Hamilton in the last lap of the season-ending race at Interlagos.
“There are just too many reasons as to why we have no Brazilian drivers on the grid,” McLaren’s sporting director Gil de Ferran said. “There is the lack of sponsorship deals for younger drivers, there needs to be a better organization of the local racing calendar, professionals need better pay. Also, the country is in a long economy crisis. It is just too many factors. We have to root for our test drivers to succeed for now.”
Earlier in the week, five-time world champion Hamilton said he doesn’t know what Brazil is doing to put drivers into F1, but he can see what other nations are doing well.
“Mexico is putting a lot of money to put their drivers in F1, Russia too,” the British driver said.
Hamilton said he did not know much about Sette Camara, who had just been announced as McLaren’s test driver.
“But there’s definitely space for Brazil, this is a country of hardcore racing fans,” the Mercedes driver said.
Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India is the only Latin American driver on the F1 grid this year.
Sette Camara trusts Brazil’s traditions in F1 to end the short drought of local drivers in the series.
“This moment will pass because we had those mavericks opening the way, we are acknowledged as a country where talent flourishes, even if our economy is not as strong as Europe’s,” he said.
Pietro Fittipaldi said Brazil’s return to F1 could have happened earlier, as he was supposed to test for Haas before the Hungarian Grand Prix this year. He couldn’t because he broke both legs in a serious accident while driving in the World Endurance Championship.
He also believes the shortage of samba on the grid will be gone soon.
“There are several young pilots, including me, Sergio. I am 100 percent sure there will be another Brazilian driver in F1 pretty soon,” the young Fittipaldi said. “And there is also my brother, Enzo…”
Racing specialists see 17-year-old Enzo Fittipaldi as the biggest upcoming Brazilian talent. This year he had the best performance among all Ferrari academy drivers and ended with a Formula 4 title in Italy. He and Pietro will live together in Maranello, where the youngest will be able to learn from F1 much before he ever has a chance to fight for a cockpit.