Formula 1®

Drama and triumph: Legendary F1 races at São Paulo

The Brazilian GP at São Paulo has always been good for excitement, drama and moments of great triumph. looks back on some of the most unforgettable Formula 1 races on the Autódromo José Carlos Pace.

Few tracks can be relied on to guarantee such spectacular entertainment as is offered by the annual trip to the Autódromo José Carlos Pace. The layout of the circuit, the changeable weather and the regular late slot on the calendar for the Brazilian GP make for a unique combination of circumstances. As São Paulo prepares to host next weekend’s Grand Prix, looks back at some of the great races staged there.

1973: Fittipaldi wins the debut Brazilian GP

Brazil hosted its first Formula 1 world championship race in 1973. To give reigning world champion Emerson Fittipaldi a home advantage, the local hero was allowed to test his Lotus car on the Interlagos circuit just days before the race weekend. And that paid off, as Fittipaldi won by a sizeable margin ahead of Jackie Stewart. The home crowd around the track (almost eight kilometers in length in those days!) were ecstatic.

1975: Pace celebrates a home win

Fittipaldi went on to win the second Brazilian Grand Prix in 1974. Next year, it would be the turn of another local favorite. Carlos Pace, after whom the track was later named, secured the victory, although this was due in part to the misfortune of another. Eight laps before the end of the race, Jean-Pierre Jarier, who was way out in front, was forced to retire, leaving the coast clear for Pace in his Brabham. It was to be the only victory in the career of the Brazilian who died in a plane crash two years later.

1991: Senna fulfils his boyhood dream

In 1991, Ayrton Senna was already a two-time world champion having won 26 Grands Prix, but victory in his home race had thus far proved elusive. Once again, it looked as if Senna might be denied the triumph, because his gearbox began to play up while he was in the lead. But the man in the yellow helmet held on, warding off the attacks of Riccardo Patrese, to proudly wave the Brazilian flag from the top step of the podium.

2001: Montoya outsmarts Schumacher

Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya thrilled the crowd with a mighty duel in 2001. The Colombian, who was contesting his first Formula 1 season, got past Schumacher on the second lap of the race with a spectacular overtaking move on the Senna S. The flamboyant Williams driver forced the German into the grass and took the lead. Montoya subsequently pulled away from the rest of the field, but he would not end the race as the winner. He collided with Jos Verstappen while attempting to lap him and was obliged to park his car. “It was going to be one of the best days of my life, but it turned out to be a bad one,” said a rueful Montoya.

2003: Fisichella wins after a delay

The 2003 race produced one of the strangest finishes in the history of the series. Heavy rain simply washed a number of drivers off the track. On the 55th lap, after Mark Webber crashed into the boundary wall at the entry to the home straight and Fernando Alonso plowed into the debris, the race director eventually halted proceedings.

First, Kimi Räikkönen was awarded the victory. A few days later, however, the stewards discovered that Giancarlo Fisichella had started the 56th lap just before the red flags came out. The result of the race was therefore decided by positions at the end of the 54th lap rather than the 53rd lap when Räikkönen had held the lead. Fisichella eventually lifted his first ever F1 winner’s trophy at the next Grand Prix in Imola – three weeks after the event.

2006: Schumacher’s heroic farewell to Ferrari

On 22 October 2006, Michael Schumacher contested his last Grand Prix for Ferrari and said farewell to Formula 1 for the first time. The record world championship winner didn’t quite make it onto the podium, but he nonetheless gave a memorable performance. Schumacher sustained a puncture in the early part of the race and dropped back to 19th. The German then staged a magnificent pursuit, charging through the field to finish fourth. Although he was no longer able to wrest the 2006 title from Fernando Alonso’s grasp, he once again demonstrated why he is considered by many to be the greatest driver of all time.

2008: Hamilton pips Massa to the title

Even if Alfred Hitchcock had been directing the movie, he could not have staged a more suspenseful closing race to the 2008 season in São Paulo. When Felipe Massa crossed the finish line in first place, he thought he had clinched the title. But the euphoria was dashed in under half a minute. On the last few meters of the last lap, Lewis Hamilton managed to get past the Toyota of Timo Glock which was on dry tires on a wet track. This was enough for the British driver to finish fifth, which gave him one point more than Massa. The whole of Brazil shared their fellow countryman’s dismay.

2012: Vettel surges through to clinch the title

Sebastian Vettel went into the last race of the 2012 season with a lead of 13 points over Fernando Alonso. A third world title seemed to be in the bag, but after four corners it was apparent that the German was in for a difficult Sunday. The Red Bull driver was spun round by Bruno Senna and fell back to the rear of the field. Vettel kept his cool and, despite minor damage, still managed to bring his RB8 home in sixth place – enough to secure the title.

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