Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. Three legends of Formula 1 with eight World Drivers’ Championships between them. And their link? They are all Brazilian.
1991 was the last time a Brazilian won the championship, but in recent years there has been a decline in the number of drivers on the grid from the largest country in South America, with just the one – Felipe Massa at Williams Martini Racing – competing in 2017.
However, with the eleven-time race winner and 2008 championship runner-up retiring from the sport ahead of the 2018 season, and with Felipe Nasr now appearing to be out of peoples thought’s following his two seasons with the Sauber F1 Team in 2015 and 2016, there are going to be no Brazilian drivers on the grid this season, for the first time since 1969.
A few years ago, there was no French drivers on the Formula 1 grid, nor a French Grand Prix, but there has been somewhat of a renaissance, and now there are three drivers – Romain Grosjean, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly – while the Circuit Paul Ricard returns to the schedule in 2018 to host the first race in the country since 2008.
Whilst Brazil are still hosting a race – the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace has hosted a race every year since 1990, the concern that there will be no Brazilian on the grid, a country that is extremely passionate about its motorsport, will be alarming to many, including the now-retired Massa.
“Of course I am,” said Massa to French publication Auto Hebdo when asked if he was disappointed by the lack of Brazilian drivers on the grid. “My country is an integral part of F1 with drivers like Senna, Piquet and Fittipaldi.
“I am honoured to have been a part of that. What worries me is that there is no sign that another driver will come any time soon.”
Looking down the motorsport ladder, you can see where Massa is coming from, with only one driver in the main feeder category, while other European-based championships are also getting limited numbers of Brazilian drivers.
Even in the United States, where Brazilians has been an integral part of the Verizon IndyCar Series in recent years, there will only be two full-time drivers, and one of them – Tony Kanaan – is already in his mid-forties.
Massa feels the economic downturn in his homeland, coupled with the lack of a series that would allow drivers to move from karting to single seaters, is to blame for the issues, and he points at the success Formula 4 is having around the globe as a possible solution.
“The economic situation in Brazil plays a role, but it is not the only problem,” said Massa. “There is nothing that prepares them to go from karting to single seaters.
“[There’s] no national series that can prepare them for Europe, which remains the place that offers the most opportunities to progress. I see Formula 4 in many countries – I think Brazil needs such a championship.
“We have a new president of the Brazilian automobile federation. I really hope he will give a new impetus to do something for young people.”
Whilst Massa feels there is a lack of drivers coming through, there are a handful of young drivers coming through the system, and The Checkered Flag looks at three who will be looking to become the next Brazilian on the Formula 1 grid.
Sergio Sette Câmara
The nineteen-year-old from Belo Horizonte will compete in his second campaign in the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2018 after switching to Carlin Motorsport, and was a race winner in his first whilst with MP Motorsport, taking the chequered flag first in the Sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps.
Sette Câmara was a former member of the Red Bull Junior Team programme, and has also performed well in the Macau Grand Prix, and was so close to victory in 2017 only to hit the wall at the final corner on the final lap whilst battling with Ferdinand Habsburg.
On his day, Sette Câmara can be a match for anyone, but there are also days he seems to disappear, but if he can become more consistent, and show well against Lando Norris in 2018, there is no reason why race seats could not open up to him.
The twenty-one-year-old was born in Miami, but the surname gives away his nationality. The Grandson of two-time champion Emerson is the reigning (and final) World Series Formula V8 3.5 champion, but looks likely to be racing outside of Europe in 2018, and only with a partial schedule.
Fittipaldi wants to be the next Brazilian in the sport, but it looks increasingly like his opportunities are diminishing, with a bit-part IndyCar campaign with Dale Coyne Racing looking the most likely destination in 2018, although if he impresses there alongside Sebastien Bourdais, the dream may still be alive.
The seventeen-year-old from Maringa is in the early stages of his racing career, but has already been a race winner in a number of categories, and recently became the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 champion this winter.
Seven wins in the ADAC Formula 4 championship saw him finish third in the championship last year, while a one-off appearance in EuroFormula Open saw him step up into Formula 3 machinery and instantly become a race winner there as well.
It will be interesting to see where Drugovich ends up in 2018, but wherever that may be, expect him to be a challenger for race wins. This is one name to look out for.