Go Brazil nuts: Five facts about the Brazilian Grand Prix

by Rachel Hack

The Brazilian Grand Prix has been a permanent fixture on the Formula One calendar since 1973, and the current venue of Interlagos (an early name for the track that is still in use by many today) was the host for the first five races and then for every race from 1990 onwards.

But in 1978 and throughout the eighties, the Jacarepaqua circuit in Rio de Janeiro was the favoured location, when authorities felt the slums of Sao Paulo did not mix well with the glamour of F1, and safety concerns surrounding the bumpy track saw it removed from the calendar. A $15 million make over and transformation however, saw Interlagos win back its F1 status in 1990, and there the event has stayed to this day.

The current venue is also now officially known as the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, after the famous Brazilian driver of the 1970’s, who had his first and only win in Sao Paulo. Pace sadly died in a plane crash in 1977, and the track was renamed in his honour.

The circuit is 4.3km long, half the size of its original layout, and is sweeping and fast, with the lap record of 1:11.473 seconds set in 2004 by Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya, still standing today.

Rather bizarrely, burrowing owls are a common sight at Interlagos, and are just one of many such local wildlife inhabitants of the area. Even when engines roar by, they will sometimes perch on the guard rail to watch the action!

Brazil has a long history of fantastic motor racing talent, and there have been thirty F1 drivers from its shores in total, including three world champions – the legendary Ayrton Senna (three titles), Nelson Piquet (three titles) and Emerson Fittipaldi (two titles).

Felipe Massa, who so very nearly became the fourth Brazilian world champion back in 2008, and Felipe Nasr are both racing in F1 currently.

Alain Prost is the driver to have taken the most victories in Brazil with six wins, ahead of Michael Schumacher and Carlos Reutemann with four (though one of the Argentine drivers wins was a non-championship race in 1972).

The McLaren F1 team is the most successful squad to compete at the Brazilian Grand Prix, with an outstanding twelve wins to their name, and Scuderia Ferrari are not too far behind with ten.

There have been some exciting races held in the Sao Paulo suburbs over the years, especially as it was the season finale for a number of them. Here are a few interesting moments and facts from Brazilian Grand Prix gone by:

Poles, podiums & being crowned world champion…

Having been designated as the season finale in 2004, then 2006 through 2008, and 2011 through 2013, a number of F1 drivers have been crowned world champion in Brazil, including all five world champions that currently reside on the grid at present.

In the thirty-three races contested at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, the man on pole has been victorious on just twelve occasions, which means it is not the be all and end all for coming out on top in Brazil. Though Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg have bucked that trend in recent years, achieving that outcome in 2013, 2014 and last year.

Fernando Alonso has never taken victory in Brazil, but has made the podium on eight occasions, more than any other current driver, with only Michael Schumacher having taken more on ten.

In weird fact of the day, Vettel and current Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, are the only two drivers in the last ten years, to win in Brazil during the same year as they were crowned world champion.

Could Rosberg be about to do the same?

To win at all costs…


In a fact file about the Brazilian Grand Prix it would be wrong not to mention one of the countries most talented home heroes Ayrton Senna, and his efforts in the 1991 race in particular, are worthy of remembering.

Having led for the majority of the race, Senna ran into gearbox problems in the latter stages of the grand prix, allowing the Williams of Riccardo Patrese to become hot on his heels. It was determined that the Brazilian’s McLaren had become stuck in sixth gear, and with rain now falling, it was a tricky final few laps for Senna, around the tight and twisty track of Interlagos.

The Brazilian held on to win the race, his first on home soil, but was so exhausted from the exertions of having to drive in sixth gear, which had caused his shoulders to cramp and experience severe pain, that he was unable to get out of his car without medical assistance.

Having gone through all that torture however, Senna was not about to miss standing on the top step of the podium at his home grand prix, and so despite being barely able to stay upright, cringing with pain as he attempted to lift the trophy, he carried on to the roars and cheers of his adoring crowd.

Tyre trouble…

The 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was as dramatic as F1 races come, with half the field crashing out in what was a wet, weather extravaganza, made worse by the FIA’s decision to limit wet weather tyres that year to one specification per event.

It was a cost-cutting measure that proved expensive for teams in Brazil, when the tyre companies decided to take only intermediates to Interlagos.

Unfortunately, the torrential rain in Brazil rendered the intermediates useless, due to a number of areas on the track where there were streams of water flowing across the road. The high speed Turn 3 in particular remained wet throughout and was the scene of much chaos and destruction, where no less than six cars found themselves in the wall.

It was Mark Webber though, that experienced the biggest incident of all, when exiting the final corner, on lap 54 of the race.

The Australian, who was driving for Jaguar at the time, was involved in a huge crash that completely demolished the R4, leaving wreckage strewn across the track. Fernando Alonso who was following close behind, was slow to react to the waved yellow flags, and hit one of Webber’s detached tyres at full speed, sending the Spaniard crashing into a tyre barrier, that spewed car tyres across the circuit, causing a blockade on track.

The race was subsequently red flagged for safety reasons.

Prior to the incident, that reduced the race down by 16 laps, pit stop strategists had been working overtime, with a number of teams opting to fuel their cars early in the race in a bid to save under the numerous safety cars so they would not have to stop again.

This ploy worked particularly well for Giancarlo Fisichella and the Jordan-Ford F1 team, who went from last to first when the race was eventually stopped, though not on the day…

Confusion at the end of the prematurely stopped race made Stewards believe that Fisichella was on his fifty-fifth lap at the time of the stoppage, which would mean the result would be counted in the order the drivers finished on lap 53.

This meant Kimi Raikkonen was awarded the victory, as the Finn had been leading the grand prix prior to making a mistake and allowing the Italian to cruise by on lap 54. It was later confirmed through evidence after the race however, that Fisichella had started his fifty-sixth lap and therefore the order from lap 54 should have stood.

The results were amended and Fisichella was finally awarded his first ever F1 race win, Jordan took their last, and Alonso was recorded in third despite not finishing the race.

Schumacher goes out in style…

The 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix saw Fernando Alonso pluck the world championship from Michael Schumacher’s grasp, whilst the German put in a spectacular performance, in a race that at the time was believed to be his last.

After an incident in the first few laps of the race, between then team-mates Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg, a safety car was deployed whilst marshals cleared away the debris.

At the re-start Felipe Massa, who had qualified on pole, was able pull away from Kimi Raikkonen in second, whilst Fernando Alonso took on Jarno Trulli for third, and Michael Schumacher attempted to get passed Giancarlo Fisichella in fourth.

On lap 8 the Spaniard attempted a move on Trulli at Turn 8, but the Italian defended, and continued in this fashion for a number of laps, allowing Fisichella and Schumacher to close up.

The next lap Schumacher squeezed up the inside to pass Fisichella, but the Italian fought back and tried to take the position back. They made what looked like the gentlest of contact, but it was enough to cause Schumacher’s Ferrari to sustain a left rear puncture, and the German was soon nursing the car back to the pits.

The unplanned pit stop saw Schumacher relegated to nineteenth place, with plenty to do that afternoon, but in what was a spirited driver that perhaps only a seven-time world champion could pull off, he rose through the field to fourth by the end of the race.

Having taken on enough fuel to only need one more stop, as others pitted the German moved up the field, rising up to tenth after everyone had been in to the pits. With the midfield order doing little in the way of holding him up, Schumacher closed in on the leaders.

First of all, the German passed Robert Kubica, before running off track and losing the position, only to take it back again the next lap around. From there he set his sights on chasing down Rubens Barrichello, and in nine laps he had caught and passed the Brazilian, before moving onto his next target in Giancarlo Fisichella.

He caught the Italian in no time at all, but in his exuberance Schumacher again ran wide, given Fisichella some breathing space for five more laps, but then the inevitable overtake was once again on. This time the Italian out braked himself going into the first corner, and Schumacher made no hesitation in moving into his place.

Next up was Raikkonen, and he would prove a much tougher opponent to get by. As Schumacher began to make a move on lap 68, the |Finn simply defended his position, squeezing the Ferrari slightly but fairly, and holding the German at bay. Next lap around however, Schumacher did not make the same mistake.

He saw a space, albeit a small one and squeezed the Ferrari into it, the pair getting so close they almost touched wheels, to claim fourth place.

With only two laps remaining, there was no way the German could catch third placed Jenson Button, who was 6.5 seconds down the road, he sure as hell tried though and set the fastest lap of the race in his efforts.

Massa crossed the line to take his first win on home soil, with Fernando Alonso coming home in second, ecstatic having done enough to take the world championship by 13 points.

A tough way to bow out for the German, but a challenge Schumacher would no doubt have enjoyed!

And Massa takes the 2008 title…oh no wait a minute…

The Brazilian Grand Prix of 2008 was the scene of one of the closest title battles in F1 history, when Lewis Hamilton shattered the dreams of Felipe Massa to take the crown in the final corner, on the final lap of the race.

We all know the story well. Massa does exactly what he needs to by winning the race, he can do no more, the outcome is now in the lap of the gods.

Hamilton meanwhile must finish fifth or higher to take the spoils, and as the Brazilian crossed the line, the Brit still has it all to do down in sixth place.

Massa had led for much of the race, which started with rain, and ended with the same. Throughout the event however the bad conditions held off, until with ten laps remaining the heavens opened and the deluge of rain once again came down.

Most drivers pitted for wets, except for Toyota who left both their drivers out, which elevated Timo Glock up the order from seventh to fourth, and ahead of Hamilton, who was being chased down by the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Sebastian Vettel.

With two laps remaining the German caught and passed Hamilton, demoting the Brit to sixth place, and it looked for all the world like Massa had the championship trophy in his hands. But both Vettel and Hamilton were closing in the tyre shod Toyota of Glock, who was fast running out of rubber and grip, having still not stopped.

In the final seconds of the race, at the final corner, first Vettel and then Hamilton made their way by the German, giving the Brit that crucial fifth place he needed to become the youngest ever F1 champion at that time.

2016 Race weekend

Going into the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend, Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team driver Nico Rosberg still remains in the driving seat, and could be crowned world champion if he wins on Sunday.

Team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the other hand has to win at all costs, and having never taken victory in Brazil during his F1 career so far, the Brit will really need to change his fortune when he takes to the track this weekend.

Red Bull Racing will look to continue to out doing closest rivals Ferrari in order to ensure they take runners-up spot in the Constructor’s standings. Whilst the Italian squad now need to push on, or resign themselves to finishing third at the end of the season.

A bit further down the order, the Sahara Force India F1 Team and Williams Martini Racing are still as close as ever in the battle for fourth place, and with just nine points splitting the two squads, and plenty of points still up for grabs.

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