Best of Brazil: celebrating the country's greatest racing drivers

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Best of Brazil: celebrating the country's greatest racing drivers

The FIA Formula E World Championship is heading back to Brazil soon, after making its debut on the calendar in Season 9. There is perhaps no other country with as much passion for motorsport, or as many racing icons, as South America’s largest nation. Here, we revisit some of Brazil’s greatest ever drivers, including from Formula E’s Class of 2024.

Ayrton Senna celebrates F1 win

Ayrton Senna

In a field of iconic Brazilian drivers, one has captured the imagination above all others. Ayrton Senna da Silva recorded 41 wins, 80 podiums and 65 pole positions in 162 Grands Prix, forming one of motorsport’s greatest rivalries with Alain Prost. His three world titles in 1988, 1990 and 1991 made him the youngest driver at the time to become triple champion.

Born in the Santana district of São Paulo (near the city’s Formula E home), the young Senna grew up obsessed by Formula 1, taking up karting at the age of 13 and quickly racking up wins. Single-seater racing followed, and by 1984, his blistering performance at a rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix signalled the arrival of a new superstar.

Ayrton Senna in car

His search for continued speed, power and precision took him to the greatest heights, but Senna was under no illusion of the danger he faced; a danger realised on that fateful 1994 morning at Imola. Earlier that year, Senna had remarked that “I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury. If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.” While Senna himself is no longer with us, that intensely passionate spirit, so characteristic of motorsport, lives forever.

Emerson Fittipaldi 

Another São Paulo native, the younger of the Fittipaldi brothers is the driver who truly kick-started Brazil’s symbiotic relationship with motorsport. Initially more concerned with racing motorcycles and hydroplanes, he and brother Wilson eventually focussed on cars. It didn’t take long for the victories to come in: wins in endurance races were swiftly followed by the Brazilian Formula Bee title at the age of 21, in just his second single seater season.

He became the Lotus lead driver after only four starts in Formula 1 – he duly won his fifth. After finishing his first season in sixth place, Fittipaldi blew the competition away the season after, becoming the youngest champion in F1 history and Brazil’s first title winner in 1972. He would go on to win another title in 1974, before moving to the US to win the 1989 CART title and the Indy 500 twice.

Emerson Fittipaldi Formula 1

Nelson Piquet

The third in Brazil’s F1 holy trinity is Rio de Janeiro’s Nelson Piquet, but his star-studded career almost didn’t happen. The young Piquet loved tennis, and started on a path towards a professional career, having been given a scholarship at a school in the US. While he was seen as a useful player, his eye moved elsewhere, and he soon took up karting at 14, using his mother’s maiden name – Piquet – to hide the hobby from his tennis-loving father.

Later, working in a garage to finance his passion, Piquet won Brazil’s national go-karting championship twice, eventually moving to British Formula 3 in 1978 and breaking Jackie Stewart’s long-held record for most wins in a season.

This was a sign of things to come. Piquet won his first of three F1 world titles in 1981, following this up in 1983 and 1987 – the first Brazilian to achieve the triple. Such was his impact on Brazilian motorsport that a year after his final championship – and while he was still racing – Rio’s F1 circuit was renamed after him.

Nelson Piquet

Nelson Piquet Jr. 

For the Piquet Souto Maior family, racing is in the blood. Nelson Piquet Jr. (or Nelsinho) was destined to drive, starting in karting at the age of eight. A move to Formula Three Sudamericana followed in 2001, with Piquet Jr. swiftly winning the Championship in 2002. Two years later, Nelsinho became the youngest driver to win the British Formula 3 Championship at just over 19 years old, and a second-place finish in the 2006 GP2 Championship was awarded with a role as official test and reserve driver for Renault Formula One.

After a spell in F1 and a career in NASCAR that saw him become the first Brazilian to place in the top ten, Piquet Jr. joined the inaugural Formula E Championship in 2014. A strong, consistent showing in the greatest tradition of the Piquet line meant the younger Nelson followed in his father’s footsteps to win a top-tier motorsport title, becoming Formula E’s first-ever champion.

Nelson Piquet Jr Formula E Champion

Lucas di Grassi

Son of São Paulo Lucas di Grassi is one of the most successful motorsport drivers in Brazil’s proud history, and one of Formula E’s true icons. The Brazilian won the first-ever Formula E race, the 2014 Beijing E-Prix, and has gone on to become one of the most successful drivers in the history of the Championship. 

Di Grassi began racing karts at his uncle’s shop in Interlagos, a stones throw from Brazil’s most famous racing circuit. Starting in competitive karting at the age of 10, di Grassi kept winning all the way up the ladder, including a win in the prestigious Macau Grand Prix in 2005 and three podium finishes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Joining Formula E from the beginning, and playing a major role in the development of the series’ GEN1 car, di Grassi has been an ever-present over the last nine seasons, winning the Championship in Season 3 and becoming the first driver to reach 100 races in Formula E. Now reunited with his old team for Season 10, ABT CUPRA, di Grassi shows no signs of slowing down.

Lucas di Grassi Formula E champion

José Carlos Pace 

As one of four Brazilians to win the Brazilian Grand Prix – along with Senna, Fittipaldi and Piquet – José Carlos Pace’s short Formula One career remains one of the country’s most significant. Pace’s victory at the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix in his hometown of São Paulo cemented his place in the city’s folklore, and when he died two years later in a plane crash, the Interlagos track was renamed Autódromo José Carlos Pace in his honour.

Carlos_Pace_1973

Sérgio Sette Câmara

The younger of Formula E’s Brazilian duo, Sérgio Sette Câmara rose through the karting ranks in his home country before stepping up to race in Formula 3, first in Brazil before making the journey across the Atlantic to race in Europe in 2014.

Known for his rapid one-lap pace, he showed his credentials at the 2015 Macau Grand Prix, breaking the lap record by an incredible 1.5 seconds. This speed was noticed by the Red Bull Junior Team, who took Sette Câmara to the Formula 2 Championship. Making his Formula E debut at the 2020 Berlin season finale, the rookie was awarded a full-time drive by Dragon, where he would stay for two seasons. Now racing for the ERT Formula E Team, Sette Câmara has turned that promise into points so far in the GEN3 era - and he'll be hoping to go all-out for his home crowd in Brazil.

Sergio Sette C Diriyah

Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa is one of Brazil’s most famous drivers, having completed at the top of motorsport for an impressive 17 seasons. Taking a seat for Sauber, Ferrari and Williams, Massa collected 11 wins and 41 podiums in his F1 career, missing out on the 2008 Drivers’ Championship at Interlagos by one point. Soon after, Massa raced in Formula E for Venturi in Seasons 5 and 6, where he recorded a best result of third at the team's home race in Monaco. After two years of racing in the all-electric championship, he made the move to the Brazilian Stock Car Pro Series.

Felipe Massa Formula E trophy podium F1 driver Ferrari

Rubens Barrichello

Like his São Paulo compatriot Massa, Rubens Barrichello is one of Brazil’s modern driving heroes, winning 11 Grands Prix and collecting 68 podiums over almost 20 years at the top of his game. With Ferrari, alongside Michael Schumacher, Barrichello twice finished as runner-up in the Drivers’ World Championship and helped The Prancing Horse to five Constructors’ World Championships.

A third-placed finish in 2009 for Brawn also contributed to another constructors’ title, with the respected Barrichello appointed chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association soon after. Barrichello is also currently racing in the Brazilian Stock Car Pro Series, where he is the reigning champion.

f1-avusturya-gp-2002-barrichello-ve-schumacher-podyumda

Bruno Senna 

The first man to win a race in every class of the World Endurance Championship, Bruno Senna has made a name for himself away from the history of his family name. Despite fears from his family following the death of his uncle Ayrton, Bruno was determined to enter motorsport, and competed in Formula E from the very first race in Beijing until the end of Season 2. He managed to achieve a podium position in his final race weekend for Mahindra, locking in a second place in London's Battersea Park. Senna has also competed in Formula One for HRT, Renault and Williams, and finished second in the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Bruno Senna Formula E

Felipe Nasr

Luiz Felipe de Oliveira Nasr has sat behind the wheel since the age of seven, when he began an impressive karting run that saw him win several championship titles in Brazil. Racing in series as varied as Formula BMW, Formula 3 and GP2, Nasr joined the Sauber F1 team for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, finishing fifth on his debut to achieve the highest debut position for a Brazilian driver in history.

After a brief spell in Formula E - with only three E-Prix to his name - Nasr went on to a successful career in the IMSA racing series, gaining nine wins, 26 podiums and the 2018 IMSA Sportscar Championship title.

Felipe Nasr Formula E F1

Felipe Drugovich 

This young racing driver is a promising star of the future. Not only did he win the Formula 2 championship in 2022, but Drugovich also had his time behind the wheel of the GEN3 car with Maserati MSG Racing at the Berlin rookie test. The Brazilian-Italian looked mighty quick, topping the entire test. He remained close with the team and championship, jumping back behind the wheel for a free practice session in Rome. Drugovich also remains part of Aston Martin's F1 programme, but could Formula E prove to where his future lies? Let's see! 

Felipe Drugovich Rookie Maserati