What happened with the Brazilian drivers in Formula One?
Although all of the adversities, Brazil become the third country in World Driver Championships, with eight in total from Emerson Fittipaldi (1972 and 1974), Nelson Piquet (1981, 1983 and 1987) and Ayrton Senna (1988, 1990 and 1991), only behind of Germany with an total of twelve world titles from three different drivers (Schumacher, Vettel and Rosberg) and the United Kingdom with seventeen titles from teen different drivers and when we talk about the number of victories, the brazilian drivers got in total 101 of them, being the first one from Emerson Fittipaldi in the 1970 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and the last one at the 2009 Italy Grand Prix, with Rubens Barrichello winning at Monza with the BrawnGP car. Yes, almost nine years have been passed since the last time that an Brazilian driver went to the highest place in an Formula One podium, so... what happened?
To begin everything, none of that begin with Fittipaldi in the 70's, but actually with Chico Landi in 1951, racing by Maserati and he even raced by an green and yellow team not only in the car colours, but also in nationality. It were an private entrant called Escuderia Bandeirantes and the team were in majority, Brazilian. It's hard to say with sure how it worked mainly because Chico died 28 years ago, so the history behind it have some mysteries, but still an Brazilian team that raced with three Maserati A6GCM in the 1952 Italian and French GP's with two eighth places as their best results.
Then, we had Gino Bianco racing in 1952, Nano da Silva Ramos racing in 1955 and 1956, Fritz d'Orey in 1959 to then, only see the entrance of another Brazilian with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1970 and there were when Brazil started to really get noticed by the world of Motorsport. Due to his meteoric start, Formula One finally had the Brazilian Grand Prix in it's schedule and there, Emerson won twice (by an interesting coincidence, all the Brazilian drivers that won the Brazilian Grand Prix - being it at São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro - won it twice) after him, other thirty brazilian drivers came to the sport.
After Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet become world champion three times, winning his first two championships with Brabham and the third one with Williams in an strong fight with Nigel Mansell in 1987 were Piquet claims that the team were working in benefit of his teammate, "British driver in an British team", says Piquet. In the following year of Nelson's third championship, another Brazilian become world champion, Senna moved to Mclaren in 1988 after three years in Lotus, where he won six races (two per year) to be Alain's teammate, who become his major rival in F1 in what became one of the biggest fights the history of Formula One and in his fist season with Ron's team, Senna were the world champion to then, win another two titles with the Mclaren Honda cars in 1990 and 1991, consecrating him as one of the greatest in the history of the motorsport.
Some years later, in 1994, ocurred one of the darkest races not only in the history of Formula One, but the whole motorsport world and everything begin in the Friday Qualifying, when Rubens Barrichello hit an kerb at Variante Bassa and were launched to the air, crashing into the wall and rolling over a couple of times and in the following days, Ratzemberger and Senna died in horrendous crashes. Both of them were 34 years old at the time, but while one were an rookie that were trying to have his space in Formula One, the other were one of the biggest names in that moment and a hero in his country.
a The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, one of the darkest moments in Formula One. Two fatalities and three other drivers injured.
After the successfully careers of Fittipaldi, Piquet and Senna, the Brazilian public became quite desinterested in Formula One with the common argument of "Formula One ended after Senna's death" and the main public earned through the years the habit of just cheer for the brazilians that are world champions or basicly, winning races, but whitout any real intrest by the sport by itself. Giving an example with Formula One, Tennis, UFC and Surf, these four sports have one thing in common, all of them had brilliant brazilians competing and with that, they earned a lot of the brazilian public, but nothing that could least with the same rate numbers after the great period of the brazilian names.
So there aren't many passionate fans in Brazil? - No, they exists, but the oscilation are quite worrying. There were years that the audience numbers were great, like the late 2000's and early 2010's, but even in 2008 with an brazilian contender to the title, the numbers weren't that impressive, considering the fact that he were there in the top three constantly.
Where do I wanna get? Well, the popularity of Formula One or general motorsports aren't that big in Brazil and that doesn't help very much, but it is still quite popular and there are people that grew up playing in their grandparents VW Beetle and grew up as car enthusiasts, but still, it isn't every car enthusiast that become an Formula 1 enthusiast and motorsport is not very acessible for everyone that wants to practice it, so what's out there for the few young drivers from Brazil that wants to get there?
Not very much...
In Brazil, the main motorsport series are an Touring Car championship called Stock Car, that are great but an example of how poor are the basis for an teenager that wants to be the next world champion. A lot of young drivers come back to Brazil to race in Stock Car after trying to compete in Europe in minor Formula series because they couldn't move on with their overseas careers for a number of reasons, where one of them are the lack of support, because just a few of the brazilian companies have interest in this kind of act and while in Europe the young drivers can compete in Formula 4, Formula 3, Formula Ford and so on, in Brazil the only option for those who wants to get into Formula One in the future are the Brazilian Formula Three, an series with an weak structure and outdated cars.
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great brazilian drivers out there, racing in other series like WEC, Indy, IMSA, Formula E and others that are going really well, but the majority of them had to move to Europe early to start their careers because of the weakness on the brazilian motorsport basis and an big part of them had Formula One as their targets, but ostacles changed their ways and without doubts, the brazilian Stock Car series evolved a lot through the years, what atracted drivers like Rubens Barrichello, Lucas Di Grassi and Nelson Piquet Jr, drivers that have an strong career in motorsports to the series and now, a lot of young drivers are already focusing their careers into Stock Car, racing in Stock Car Light, an minor series of Stock Car.
Formula 3 Brasil: An series with outdated cars and an weak structure to prepare young drivers to the bigger series.
With so many obstacles, the way to an brazilian to get into the professional motorsport is quite hard and sometimes, almost impossible or even inpossible and it get worse when the popularity of the sport aren't that big in the country, but there are some drivers in the way, focusing their careers in Formula One like Gianluca Petecof and Enzo Fittipaldi (both of them doing the German and the Italian Formula 4 championship in 2018 for Prema and both at the Ferrari Driver Academy), Sérgio Sette Câmara (doing the Formula 2 Championship for Carlin, being the teammate of Lando Norris), Enzo Fittipaldi, the older brother of Pietro (that are doing some races at IndyCar for Dayle Coyne Racing, the Super Formula Championship for Team LeMans and two races at WEC for the LMP1 team Dragon Team) and some others - as we can see, all of them doing ther careers outside as expected considering that the base for Formula One are on Europe mainly, so not only raw talent, but some money are also needed.
In the end, the combination of the poor structure on the base, the lack of interest not only in supporting but also in practicing had the expected result, less drivers going abroad to expand their careers and even less drivers getting support to keep doing what they like and what they want to do, so the end result is the bigger return of young drivers to Brazil to race in Stock Car or something else and there are a lot of examples outhere, like Luiz Razia (that got into dealings with Force India, Caterham and Marussia for the 2013 Formula One season, but ended without any chances to be in any of them and become an presenter in an car show on the brazilian open TV and other examples like Augusto Farfus, that got the chance to test an BMW Sauber, but just when the partnership between the german brand and the swiss Formula One team were ending and his money couldn't afford the opportunity to be there as an official driver, so he turned his career into GT cars, doing WTCC and DTM later, where he is until these days as an official BMW driver.
Luiz Razia at the Yas Marina Circuit representing Toro Rosso, but his connections with the italian team haven't got any further than that.
This isn't just an brazilian question for young drivers or motorsport fans that want to be racing drivers, problems and unforenseen situations can happen to anyone anywhere in the world, in places with or without the necessary structure on the base to keep the dream of being an professional racing driver that are paid to drive fast and competitive on Formula One or anywhere else, so anyone can have or cannot have the so dreamed space, and that's another reason to valorize even more not only those who got that opportunity, but those who at least tried it but in the end had to change their plans to do something else.
* Photo sources: Unknown