A Massa masterclass, supreme Senna, hot heat and driving rain – which are the top 5 Brazilian Grands Prix?
Three races remain in the 2023 F1 World Championship and this weekend we head to one of the most popular races of the season at the Interlagos Circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Now known as the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, the race in Brazil has always produced great races, and many people hold fond memories of this race being the traditional season finale for many years.
Overall, there have been a total of 49 races in Brazil as an Official World Championship race, which was first held in 1973. All but ten of them have taken place at Interlagos, with those other ten races taking place at the Jacarepagua circuit in Rio, which held races in 1978 and between 1981 and 1989.
Mark Webber is the only Aussie to win a race in Brazil, winning the 2011 edition for Red Bull. It’s also a race that has seen numerous famous wins for home drivers, with Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Felipe Massa all celebrating wins in front of exuberant Brazilian fans. Best not to mention that to a certain Rubens Barrichello though, who never was able to find luck at his home circuit.
So with all that in mind, which five Brazilian races will top the list as the best ever? It’s time to find out.
5. 2006 – Winner: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
In what was the first of his two ‘last races’, Michael Schumacher delivered an all-time drive to go out on a bang and show the world just why he is perhaps the greatest ever F1 driver to have lived.
Schumacher went into the Brazilian Grand Prix looking to claim his eighth World Championship, but sat nine points behind the Renault of Fernando Alonso, meaning he had to win the race and hope Alonso didn’t finish.
While that never ultimately happened, a string of incidents caused Schumacher to storm his way through the field like a man possessed, leaving many to wonder why he was hanging up his helmet when he clearly was in the form of his life.
Starting in tenth place on the grid and Alonso fourth, Schumacher stormed his way up to sixth at the start, which included an epic double pass of the duelling BMW’s into turn four.
A safety car was brought out curtailing Schumacher’s charge, before his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa let him through on the restart to allow Schumacher to attack Giancarlo Fisichella, Alonso’s teammate.
A slight touch between the pair into turn one caused a puncture for Schumacher and sent him to last, effectively ending his title hopes. However this didn’t stop him from trying. He stormed through the field to close up 63 seconds to fourth placed Kimi Raikkonen, setting the 12 fastest laps of the race to finish in fourth and leave the F1 world in awe.
Alonso claimed his second title, Massa sent the home town crowd into raptures with a first home winner in Brazil in 13 years, but the only driver people were talking about was Michael Schumacher as he headed into his first retirement with a bang.
4. 1982 – Winner: Alain Prost (Renault)
A race that has one winner in the record books, but another in many people’s hearts. Hometown hero Nelson Piquet won this gruelling race, but in the middle of one of the sport’s most political times, was later disqualified from the race.
Alain Prost started on pole in his Renault but slipped back behind the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve, his turbocharged engine not giving him the handling of the naturally aspirated cars in the race.
Piquet started seventh on the grid and had worked his way through the field, overtaking the Williams of Keke Rosberg on lap five for second as both chased down Villeneuve. Villeneuve made a mistake on lap 30 as Piquet and Rosberg capitalised, heading a 1-2 at the front of the field.
The tough, hot conditions showed on the drivers, with Piquet visibly seen rolling his head in the cockpit as he eventually won the race 12 seconds clear of Rosberg, and would eventually collapse on the podium. His efforts to win the race later were reflected by him calling it “the race of his life”.
However a ‘water cooled brake’ issue was discovered in the car afterwards, and both Piquet and Rosberg were disqualified, handing the win to the third-placed Prost in incredibly controversial circumstances in the middle of the infamous FISA-FOCA war of the 1980s.
3. 1991 – Winner: Ayrton Senna (McLaren)
The Brazilian Grand Prix is a race in which many local heroes have tasted the victory champagne, but for a long time the one that many loved the most never seemed to have any luck there: Ayrton Senna.
1991 was finally the year that he broke his duck, but did it in incredibly tough circumstances. Starting from pole, he made a perfect start to lead away from the Williams pair of Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese, the Ferrari’s of Jean Alesi and Alain Prost and his McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger.
Senna had built a strong lead after the first round of pit stops but soon had the Williams of Mansell reeling him in. However on lap 50, Mansell had a puncture, causing him to pit and fall back.
Senna however had his own issues, a gearbox one to be precise, and began falling back towards the recovering Mansell. The hometown hero was saved soon after when Mansell retired with his own gearbox issue, giving Senna what looked like a certain victory.
His gearbox issues kept getting worse though, and with only a few laps remaining he had lost third and fifth gears and had to limp home with his damaged McLaren, causing him to nearly stall several times. A fast finishing Patrese wasn’t able to bridge the gap in time, and Senna took maybe the most famous win ever in Brazil.
An incredibly emotional Senna screamed loudly in his car, with the famous image of him physically being removed from his car after the intense conditions of the race one of the most iconic pieces of vision the sport has ever seen.
2. 2003 – Winner: Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan)
The 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was just one of those races that happens every now and then. So much chaos. So much drama. And a surprise winner nobody saw coming.
It was in an era of F1 where cars were actually allowed to race in horrible wet conditions. And the horrible wet conditions made for drama all throughout the race. Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello looked likely to finally break his horrible run of luck at the circuit having started from pole and leading in the early and later stages, but a rare unreliability issue for Ferrari in the early 2000s caused him once gain to miss out on the one win he always wanted.
McLaren looked to be the biggest benefactor of this issue, with both David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen exchanging the lead throughout the race. While this was happening, several cars faced issues with a river at turn 3, including Michael Schumacher, who spun out on lap 26, two laps after the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya.
The biggest surprise was the Jordan of Giancarlo Fisichella.
Having qualified eighth in a car that was one of the worst in the field, he had navigated his way through the carnage of the race and sat in second position on lap 53. With the difficult conditions still present and a mistake by Raikkonen, Fisichella sensationally took the lead before even more carnage ensued.
Mark Webber crashed out heavily on the back straight in his Jaguar, before the Renault of Fernando Alonso smashed into the debris left behind from the Webber crash. This brought out a red flag, and with more than 75% of the race finished, the race was declared over. However confusion came as to who had won the race, with a two lap countback unable to distinguish if it was Raikkonen or Fisichella who was leading at the time.
On race day, Raikkonen was declared the winner. However after a protest by Jordan, it was discovered that Fisichella had indeed been leading two laps prior to the incident, handing him his first ever win in F1 and the last for Jordan in an extremely memorable race.
1. 2008 – Winner: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
Many people claim 2021 to the be greatest finish to a World Championship ever. I however present to you 2008 as the definitive holder of that title.
Heading into the race, Lewis Hamilton had to finish fifth or better to claim his first ever World Championship. Local hero Felipe Massa had to win and hope that Hamilton would be sixth or lower. On race day, Massa started on pole while Hamilton could only manage fourth. Thunderstorms and rain meant the race was delayed by ten minutes.
At the start, Massa got off the line well, as did Hamilton, but chaos ensued behind causing a safety car period. This allowed the track to dry slightly as the safety car came in after five laps, and by lap 11 all cars had switched to dry tyres.
By lap 17 Hamilton had dropped behind the fast Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella to sixth place, with Massa still leading. However Hamilton was able to pass Fisichella on lap 18, giving him the fifth place he needed for the Championship.
On lap 36 a seemingly insignificant pit stop happened, with the Toyota of Timo Glock fuelling his car to the end of the race to attempt to finish further up. Meanwhile two laps later both Massa and Hamilton had pitted, and then on lap 43 Massa’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen pitted, meaning the race order was Massa in first, Raikkonen second, Hamilton third. Advantage remained with Hamilton, although a gaining Sebastian Vettel in his Toro Rosso was starting to cause some headaches.
On lap 63, light rain began to fall, with Hamilton and Vettel both pitting on lap 66 for intermediate tyres. Massa pitted on lap 67, but one lead driver remained on dry tyres: Glock.
The rain soon got heavier and Hamilton ran wide on lap 69, with Hamilton running wide and allowing Vettel to pass him. Crucially, it was for fifth place, dropping Hamilton back to sixth. Massa had regained the lead after the pitstops, and with two laps remaining, it looked likely that Massa was set to take the Championship.
As the final lap of the race started, Massa lead and Hamilton was sixth, desperately trying to close the gap to Vettel, who himself was closing the gap to fourth placed Glock. Massa crossed the line to win the race, thinking he had won the World Championship and sending the home town fans into raptures.
However, then it happened. The final corner. A Toro Rosso passing a Toyota. And then a McLaren passing a Toyota, leading to Martin Brundle’s infamous “IS THAT GLOCK?!” commentary as Hamilton passed the German in the final corner of the final race of the year to claim his first World Championship.
It was an epic conclusion to an epic race that still stands the test of time as perhaps the greatest ever finale to a Formula 1 season.
Do you agree with this list? Which Brazilian Grand Prix is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.