For first time since 1970, Brazilian GP will have no homegrown drivers

Pietro Fittipaldi will be a test driver for Haas F1 Team in 2019. Photo: IndyCar
0 Comments

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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.