Special feature

Autosport writers' favourite Brazilian Grands Prix

Formula 1 descends on Sao Paolo's Interlagos circuit this weekend for the penultimate round of the 2022 season with both titles already sewn up. But since the Brazilian GP switched to its end-of-season calendar slot in 2004 that hasn't always been the case, with high-stakes races producing several unforgettable thrillers. Autosport looks back at the best of the previous 48 editions

Giancarlo Fisichella, Jordan EJ13 Ford, leads Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams FW25 BMW

The Brazilian Grand Prix has been a staple of the Formula 1 calendar since its first edition held in 1973 at Interlagos, the scene for all but 10 races staged at the Jacarepagua track in Rio between 1978 and 1989.

For over 30 years it was a fixture of the opening rounds of the season, holding the curtain-raiser in 1976, between 1983 and 1990, and 1994-1995. It has also hosted the final round in 2004, from 2006 to 2008, and again from 2011 to 2013. 

Along the way there have been some truly momentous races, such as Nigel Mansell securing the first win for a semi-automatic gearbox with John Barnard's groundbreaking Ferrari 640 in 1989, Ayrton Senna finally ending his home jinx in 1991 despite a failing gearbox and perhaps F1's most famous title-decider, as Lewis Hamilton snatched the 2008 championship away from Felipe Massa by passing Timo Glock at the final corner.

That made it a tricky task for Autosport's pool of writers to devise a list of our favourite Brazilian Grand Prix. Here's what we came up with. 

1973, Fittipaldi delivers home crowds a treat - Richard Asher

Fittipaldi scored a home triumph in the first world championship Brazilian Grand Prix to begin his title defence

Fittipaldi scored a home triumph in the first world championship Brazilian Grand Prix to begin his title defence

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez probably won’t believe this, but sometimes the script runs exactly the way it should in your home grand prix. Maybe even on its first appearance on the world championship calendar.

Here’s the set-up. Emerson Fittipaldi had become Brazil’s first grand prix winner in 1970 and its first world champion in 1972. But while neighbouring Argentina already had a long association with F1, Brazil had never featured on the championship schedule. Fittipaldi’s success had increased the clamour to change that, which led to a non-points Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos early in Emerson’s first title-winning season. The home hero, who’d grown up right there in Sao Paulo, duly took pole. But his retirement late in the race had left an Argentinean, Carlos Reutemann, to win for Brabham.

That brings us to the first world championship Brazilian GP the following February. ‘Emmo’ arrived back in his home town not only as world champion, but as winner of the opening round of his title defence in Buenos Aires. It’s fair to say there was a fair degree of anticipation in the crowd overlooking the crazy switchbacks of the original, 4.946-mile Interlagos circuit.

As that year’s John Player Motorsport Yearbook put it, he had been given “a presidential welcome, a personal bodyguard, and enough firework displays to make street lighting redundant…it was obvious that Emerson had supplanted even the footballing genius Pele as the number one favourite son of the nation”.

Like Perez in Mexico City two weeks ago, Fittipaldi arrived at his home round with the best car in the field – but a problematically fast team-mate too. And that man, Ronnie Peterson, snatched pole position.

But if Emmo’s demotion to second place on the grid had his fans worried, they were soon smiling after he stormed into the lead at the start. They even enjoyed a Brazilian 1-2 for a lap, thanks to Carlos Pace roaring through from row three in his Surtees. Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell) spoilt that party soon enough, with Peterson quickly following him past Pace.

But Fittipaldi was gone. By half distance, his lead “looked a lot more permanent than many South American governments” according to the tongue-in-cheek Yearbook, and he ended up beating Stewart by 14 seconds, with Peterson’s retirement leaving the way open for McLaren’s Denny Hulme to complete the podium. The latter shared a new lap record with Fittipaldi – though it still took a whopping 2m35.0s to navigate the bumpy, weirdly-cambered Paulista twister in those days.

Stewart, of course, would go on to steal the world title back from Fittipaldi later in the year. But Emerson could console himself with a home race that had gone exactly to the script with a virtuoso performance.

1982, Piquet’s greatest despite the politics - Kevin Turner

Exhausted Piquet won his home grand prix in 1982, only for the Brabham driver and the Williams of runner-up Rosberg (left) to be disqualified

Exhausted Piquet won his home grand prix in 1982, only for the Brabham driver and the Williams of runner-up Rosberg (left) to be disqualified

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The record books show that Alain Prost won this Rio race from pole, having set fastest lap, but that doesn’t reflect what was happening on-track at the chequered flag, never mind the superb battle that went on beforehand.

Prost’s turbocharged Renault was slow away and Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari took an early lead. The mix of turbocars and better-handling naturally aspirated Cosworth DFV-engined contenders from Williams and Brabham made for some entertaining scraps.

On lap five of 63 Nelson Piquet, up from seventh on the grid, moved past Keke Rosberg’s Williams and both soon moved through to second and third amid superb wheel-to-wheel dices.

Piquet and Rosberg closed on Villeneuve and put the Ferrari driver under immense pressure, while also swapping places. On lap 30, Villeneuve finally made a mistake as Piquet attacked, running wide and then spinning out, narrowly missing the Brabham.

The punishing loadings of the rock-hard ground-effects machines and stifling Brazilian heat and humidity pushed drivers to their limits, Riccardo Patrese retiring after blacking out. Piquet, his head lolling to one side in the closing stages, somehow held off Rosberg to cross the line 12s ahead and 39s clear of Prost’s misfiring Renault. Then the home hero collapsed on the podium.

It had been a gruelling contest, with two outstanding performances at the front. Piquet would later select it as the race of his life, but politics came into play.

This was during the FISA-FOCA war for control of F1 and, to offset their power disadvantage, FOCA-aligned teams Brabham and Williams were among those running ‘water-cooled brakes’, which essentially allowed water bags to be jettisoned early on so the cars could run underweight.

Piquet and Rosberg were disqualified, eventually leading to a FOCA boycott of the following month’s San Marino GP. An unsatisfactory end to an enthralling event.

1984, Warwick stranded on three wheels after Lauda clash – Charles Bradley

Warwick was set to win on his first start for Renault before suspension failure following Lauda brush put him out

Warwick was set to win on his first start for Renault before suspension failure following Lauda brush put him out

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Niki Lauda wasn’t renowned for handing out gifts to his team-mates during his illustrious F1 career, but in 1984 he did just that in Rio. His brush of wheels with Derek Warwick cost the Brit his best shot of an F1 victory on his first start for Renault, and instead gave McLaren team-mate Alain Prost a 40-second win after Warwick’s suspension failed just 10 laps from the chequered flag.

Elio de Angelis started his Lotus-Renault from pole, after outpacing Ferrari’s Michele Alboreto by half a second in qualifying, but ‘Albo’ sprinted into the lead ahead of Warwick, as de Angelis bogged down and dropped to fourth.

Alboreto’s dream of victory on his Ferrari debut vanished when his front-right brake overheated and sent him spinning out of the lead after 12 laps. Lauda then inherited the lead, two laps after he had clipped Warwick as he passed him at the end of the long back straight.

“It may not have looked much, but it was quite a bang,” said Warwick of the moment that would come back to haunt him.

Prost had made a poor start from fourth on the grid and battled his way back from 10th on the opening lap. On lap 24, Prost also passed Warwick (in the same spot, but without contact) to make it a McLaren 1-2. He was 12 seconds behind Lauda at this point, but the Austrian slowed dramatically a few laps later due to an electrical failure – a simple wiring fault to the battery.

Fortunately, new leader Prost passed Lauda on track as both McLarens came into the pits on the same lap, but even so the Frenchman’s pitstop was very slow – handing Warwick a 28-second advantage – which he extended to 35s by lap 50 as Prost cruised, concerned by his fuel consumption.

Alas, poor Warwick’s suspension cried enough on the bumpy Jacarepagua circuit and, after spinning out of sight of the TV cameras, he toured into the pits to retire with a snapped upper left wishbone. “What absolutely tragic luck,” bemoaned commentator Murray Walker.

After Prost coasted across the line, a fast-finishing Keke Rosberg placed second for Williams, and even got to keep it this time – following two years of disqualification from the runner-up position in previous Brazilian GPs. De Angelis finished third, after his Lotus team-mate Nigel Mansell had crashed out while running ahead of him.

Prost once again took victory in 1984, but this time got to stand on the top step of the podium

Prost once again took victory in 1984, but this time got to stand on the top step of the podium

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Eddie Cheever was fourth for Alfa Romeo, ahead of F1 debutant Martin Brundle (who’d later lose the spot when Tyrrell was thrown out of the championship), so Patrick Tambay was classified fifth for Renault even though he’d run out of petrol (which makes you wonder if Warwick would have made the finish anyway) ahead of the twice-lapped Thierry Boutsen (Arrows).

Meantime, this race also witnessed the debut of Ayrton Senna in F1 with Toleman. It lasted only eight laps before his Hart engine’s turbo failed, but his running that weekend in practice had left its mark on MotorSport’s Alan Henry.

He wrote: “Senna quickly underlined that he has all the hallmarks of a future champion… The initial impression is one of a cocky youngster who could do with a clip round the ear – but watching him manhandle the Toleman round Rio left the writer suffused with enthusiasm.”

2001, Montoya stakes a claim with Schumacher ambush - Jake Boxall-Legge

Montoya ambushed Schumacher at the restart and stormed into a lead that was curtailed by Verstappen's errant Arrows

Montoya ambushed Schumacher at the restart and stormed into a lead that was curtailed by Verstappen's errant Arrows

Photo by: Motorsport Images

This was the moment that Juan Pablo Montoya truly arrived in Formula 1 as an exciting new adversary for Michael Schumacher, while David Coulthard chalked up a first win of 2001 amid arguably his best season. Autosport ran its Brazilian GP race report with the headline "The taming of the Schu", demonstrating Schumacher's off-colour performance at Interlagos in a delicious piece of pun wizardry.

Schumacher had ventured to Sao Paulo amid a hot streak, in which he'd won the last four races of his title-winning 2000 season and the opening two races of 2001 as Ferrari looked initially imperious. He started alongside his brother Ralf on the front row, but the other BMW-propelled Williams that provided the sternest challenge as Montoya at last looked comfortable after switching to F1 from CART.

When Mika Hakkinen stalled on the grid, Montoya opportunistically charged into second as Coulthard rounded Ralf Schumacher at the start. Although Michael looked set to streak away, the safety car was called to protect the recovery of Hakkinen's McLaren MP4-16, bringing Montoya onto the Ferrari gearbox. One lap proved to be enough, and the Mercedes SL55 pulled in immediately - with Montoya tracking Schumacher through the uphill sweep to the start-finish straight.

Here, the Bogota-born ace left a marker on Schumacher. Latest onto the brakes, Montoya dived down the inside of Schumacher and threaded his Williams FW23 into the tightest of gaps. He then ran it wide, leaving Schumacher on the outside and out to dry. The reigning champion had to back out having run out of road, as Montoya had bullied him into submission. All that, while Montoya was running 40kg heavier on a one-stop fuel load compared to the two-stopping Ferrari.

But Montoya's race came to an ignominious end at half-distance while lapping Arrows' Jos Verstappen; the Dutchman went off-line to allow the Williams through at Descida do Lago, but clouted into the back of the leader in the braking zone and ended Montoya's hopes of a maiden F1 victory.

The lead was now Coulthard's, as Schumacher had already taken the first of two stops. The Scot conducted his scheduled stop two laps after assuming the reins and came out ahead of the Ferrari, but the rain reared its head for the second half and changed the complexion of the race.

Schumacher grabbed the intermediates at the first time of asking, while Coulthard opted to hang it out - but it was the wrong call and he lost time scrabbling around on the dry rubber for an extra lap. But Schumacher, struggling with his Ferrari in the conditions, did the McLaren driver a solid and suffered a partial spin up the hill after Juncao, allowing Coulthard back into the frame.

Coulthard then had a run on the following lap, drinking up the slipstream of backmarker Tarso Marques ahead and then strafing to the inside of the Minardi driver as a buffer to make the move on Schumacher into Turn 1. Continuing to find the balance of his Ferrari far away from his liking, Schumacher ultimately had no answer to Coulthard, who pulled away to record a victory that Autosport ranked second in his top 10 best F1 drives in 2020.

Meanwhile, Sauber's Nick Heidfeld claimed his first F1 podium in third after making the switch to intermediates at the right time, outgunning the Honda-powered BARs and Jordans as his Swiss squad continued its impressive start to the 2001 season.

2003, Chaos reigns as Fisichella finally wins - James Newbold

Fisichella thought he had won, only to be told he was runner-up, then was later awarded the win on countback

Fisichella thought he had won, only to be told he was runner-up, then was later awarded the win on countback

Photo by: Motorsport Images

"Analyse this!" proclaimed Autosport from the cover of the 10 April 2003 issue. And for good reason too - there surely haven't been many races that can match Brazil 2003 in the drama stakes. While the chaotic nature of the event perhaps doesn't show F1 in the best light, to this eight-year-old fan it was a classic go-to on that year's well-watched season review DVD.

The lack of a full wet tyre, due to a pre-season rule change that meant rivalling suppliers Bridgestone and Michelin could only bring one compound (and both chose the faster intermediate), which caused the race start to be delayed and several cars to aquaplane on the river of water at Turn 3. The home hero set for glory thwarted by the rarest of eventualities - an unreliable Ferrari. And confusion over the identity of the winner following a red flag countback that meant the result was changed not once but twice.

Giancarlo Fisichella's eventual victory was his first in F1, and came at his 111th attempt. The Jordan-Ford EJ13 he drove that day, which caught fire in parc ferme after Fernando Alonso ploughed into debris from Mark Webber's crashed Jaguar to bring the race to a premature halt, has in the past been labelled F1's worst winning car - but the Italian left the circuit believing he had finished second.

After initially celebrating an improbable win with his mechanics, who had on lap seven filled his car to the brim with fuel to thrust him amongst the leaders, Fisichella was left disappointed when the stewards of the meeting declared that McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was the winner on countback. He duly stood on the second step of the podium alongside Raikkonen, while Alonso's absence from the rostrum only underlined the unusual nature of the event.

But the result was overturned by the time the paddock convened for the next round at Imola after an FIA investigation, as Fisichella had indeed started his 56th lap when the red flags were waved and was leading at the end of the 54th tour following a small mistake from Raikkonen.

It had been the only lap he led all day. Raikkonen's team-mate David Coulthard was left to rue the timing of his scheduled lap 52 stop, which denied him a likely second victory from the opening three races of the campaign and left him fourth, while poleman Rubens Barrichello had passed the Scot after a Turn 1 error and was pulling away before being stranded at the roadside on lap 47, out of fuel, after a misfire caused higher-than-anticipated consumption.

At least he'd avoided the torrent at Turn 3 that caught out Justin Wilson, Antonio Pizzonia, Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher, Jos Verstappen and Jenson Button. A barmy, unforgettable Brazilian Grand Prix.

2006, Schumacher's stunning farewell - Alex Kalinauckas

Schumacher bowed out at the top of his game at Interlagos in 2006, as Alonso was crowned world champion for a second time

Schumacher bowed out at the top of his game at Interlagos in 2006, as Alonso was crowned world champion for a second time

Photo by: Lorenzo Bellanca / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso sealing his second world championship, Felipe Massa giving Brazil its first home win in 13 years, that Martin Brundle grid moment with Kimi Raikkonen. All of it upstaged by a certain Michael Schumacher, all without pole or victory at Interlagos 2006.

With Ferrari in crushing form two weeks on from the Suzuka engine failure that made Alonso’s second crown in two years all but inevitable, his Renault squad was under pressure to secure its own second consecutive title – the French manufacturer leading by just nine points heading into the Sao Paulo event.

But a Ferrari fuel pressure problem sidelined Schumacher in Q3, where Massa did take pole, but 0.367s slower than the German’s Q2-topping effort. This left Schumacher starting the race 10th, with Alonso fourth and team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella sixth – a handy advantage for Renault.

At the start, Schumacher dived into the action to gain four spots on the first lap, including a fine double pass on the battling BMW drivers at Turn 4.

Things were then interrupted by the safety car, called out after Nico Rosberg had rear-ended team-mate Mark Webber in the pack behind at the same spot, which made it two years in a row in Brazil where Williams’ drivers had collided on the opening tour. The crash took Webber’s rear wing off and although Rosberg was still running immediately afterwards, he then shunted his damaged car on the pit straight.

At the restart, Massa shot clear while Schumacher continued his charge – battling by Fisichella at Turn 1 a lap later. But a tiny touch from the Renault’s front wing caused a puncture and Schumacher dropped to last after pitting to get his tyres replaced. From there, needing to pass nearly double the number of cars from his 10th place grid spot, Schumacher just lit up the timing screens and the race.

He set the 12 fastest laps of all drivers in closing a 63-second gap to Kimi Raikkonen’s fourth place over 59 tours – the Finn having fallen back from the front with Alonso and Jenson Button, also surging from a lowly 14th place grid spot getting ahead.

Schumacher charged back through the field after his puncture, Kubica among his victims as the German finished fourth

Schumacher charged back through the field after his puncture, Kubica among his victims as the German finished fourth

Photo by: Mark Capilitan

It was a stunning re-rise from soon-to-be ex-Ferrari driver, Schumacher then heading towards his first retirement. It must be noted that few of his passes were defended hard – and Fisichella actually fell off the road when Schumacher came back by – other than Raikkonen, his Ferrari replacement, who put in a tough squeeze at Turn 1.

Massa, 18s clear up front, celebrated in his sartorially-questionable overalls, while Alonso bade farewell to Renault as F1’s then youngest double champion – since overtaken taken by Sebastian Vettel. Button completed the podium having finished his own impressive rise.

But Schumacher’s was the story of the day. And given how things were to pan out during three underwhelming seasons with Mercedes before his tragic skiing injury, for everyone inspired and entertained by his years as F1’s leading light, this is the retirement moment to really remember. A legend going out at the top of his game.

2012, Vettel beats Alonso after lap one drama - Luke Smith

Opening lap contact with Senna's Williams put Vettel's continued participation in doubt, but he recovered manfully with his damaged Red Bull

Opening lap contact with Senna's Williams put Vettel's continued participation in doubt, but he recovered manfully with his damaged Red Bull

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Last year’s championship showdown in Abu Dhabi may have been Formula 1 at its most dramatic and controversial, but for me, Brazil 2012 stands the greatest title decider.

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both entered the season finale bidding to become a three-time champion. Vettel’s Red Bull had long emerged as the quicker car, yet Alonso had stayed in the hunt by dragging the Ferrari to the front week after week, having seen his 40-point advantage in the summer break disappear.

Alonso admitted going into the race on Sunday that, with a 13-point deficit to Vettel, his best chance lay with a DNF for the German driver and him capitalising rather than making it up on outright performance.

But when Vettel slipped back to seventh off the line, he was in the firing line for Bruno Senna’s dive-bomb at Turn 4, sending the Red Bull around and to the back of the field.

Vettel managed to get going again, and Red Bull was quickly on the case to get photos of the damage to his exhaust pipe from the clash. Alonso had worked his way up to third, putting him in position to win the championship. Vettel was able to work his way back up the order, aided by a safety car for debris that calmed things down as rain came and went.

At the front, an unlikely hero was fighting for his first F1 victory in the form of Nico Hulkenberg, who had stayed out during a brief shower and managed to pull well clear at the front of the pack along with Jenson Button before the safety car wiped their advantage away. The restart saw Button’s McLaren team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, emerge as Hulkenberg’s main rival for victory, the duo dicing in the damp as the drizzle returned. It ended in tears for Hulkenberg, whose dive up the inside on Hamilton resulted in him running into the side of the McLaren. The Force India driver would finish fifth, and would later reflect on Brazil 2012 as being the race that got away.

Vettel had more drama to face in his recovery to the title as Red Bull failed to get his intermediates ready for his second stop in three laps when the rain returned. But he held firm in the points, and, with a little help from old friend and mentor Michael Schumacher, in his final F1 start, was able to do enough to clinch the title.

Paul di Resta’s late crash meant the race finished under the safety car, but this was nevertheless a title decider that had it all, swinging back and forth between two drivers who both richly deserved the title. It was a race that proved Vettel’s steel and resolve under pressure, fighting back when he had to make it count - qualities that are perhaps underrated when looking back on his career.

2021, Hamilton's remarkable charge - Megan White

Verstappen didn't make it easy for Hamilton as the Mercedes driver charged back into contention following two grid penalties

Verstappen didn't make it easy for Hamilton as the Mercedes driver charged back into contention following two grid penalties

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

At such a crucial juncture in his title fight with Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from qualifying at the 2021 Brazilian Grand Prix for a rear wing infringement could have proven hugely damaging. But if anyone could snatch victory against the odds, it was the fired-up Mercedes driver.

Starting last on the grid for Saturday’s sprint race, Hamilton clawed his way up the order, eventually finishing fifth. His tribulations weren’t over there though, a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race after taking a fresh engine relegating him to line up 10th.

He started his charge off the line, taking three places on the first lap before swooping past Sebastian Vettel for sixth at the start of lap two. After clearing the Ferrari pair in successive laps before team-mate Valtteri Bottas was ordered to let him past, it was only the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Sergio Perez who lay ahead.

Snapping at Perez’s heels, Hamilton eventually made it past on lap 18, and although the Mexican retook the position, Hamilton was not to be denied and snatched second back on the following lap before setting about slashing Verstappen’s lead out front.

And cut it he did, with a cleverly timed pitstop bringing the Red Bull man’s lead down to just one second. Another of the pair’s signature brawls ensued, with both running wide several times before a forced error from Verstappen allowed Hamilton to seal the lead around Turn 4 with just 12 laps remaining.

It was a stunning drive from the seven-time world champion which saw him take possibly one of his greatest wins in a weekend which saw him pass every other car at least once, closing the gap to Verstappen in the standings to just 14 points.

While Verstappen ran his rival off road in an unpenalised incident - the lack of reprimand for which was described as “laughable” by Toto Wolff - Hamilton plotted his moves wisely to avoid any dramas and tackled his setbacks with the poise and precision of such an enduring world-class talent.

Hamilton's masterful recovery set up a thrilling climax to the 2021 campaign

Hamilton's masterful recovery set up a thrilling climax to the 2021 campaign

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

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