Feature: No Place Like Home for Brazilian Rookies

Cristiano da Matta had to sneak into the paddock the last time a Brazilian won his home Formula One Grand Prix.

Feature: No Place Like Home for Brazilian Rookies

Cristiano da Matta had to sneak into the paddock the last time a Brazilian won his home Formula One Grand Prix.

Ayrton Senna was in his pomp that day at Interlagos in 1993 and da Matta, the 2002 CART champion who makes his home Formula One debut for Toyota next weekend, was a teenager with big dreams but no pass.

He remembers the day well.

Although da Matta's father was a champion touring car driver, that was not enough to get the eager youngster into Formula One's inner sanctum where he could rub shoulders with the likes of Senna. So he and a friend decided to break in.

"To go watch the Formula One you still had to climb over the fences," the 29-year-old da Matta recalled when asked about his memories of the Sao Paulo circuit. "The last time I went to watch the Formula One there was in 1996 and that time I didn't have to climb over the fence to go in the garages.

"But in 1993 my father was racing the pre-race in Interlagos but we didn't have access to the paddock...we said we have to go, have to see the paddock and the cars up close. It had been a long time by then that I didn't have the opportunity to watch a Formula One race so we found a way to sneak in."

Da Matta will be one of three Brazilians racing at Interlagos this year, with only Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello having previous Formula One experience there.

Pizzonia Ready

Antonio Pizzonia, from the northern Amazon city of Manaus, will be making his home debut for Jaguar and he too has strong memories.

"It is very special to be racing there and especially because of all the crazy fans in Brazil," he said at the Malaysian Grand Prix. "I went there as a spectator a long, long time ago," added the 22-year-old Pizzonia.

"It was only once, in 1991 when Senna won the Grand Prix there for the first time. I actually went in the pits there for the first time and that was the first time I saw a Formula One car that close. I was very impressed by the size of the tyres because they were so big and I was so small.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of kids there dreaming about being in Formula One like I was when I was there, especially because the go-kart track is just next to the racetrack and that's where I was racing all the time as well.

"Of course football is the most popular sport in Brazil but they really like Formula One as well...and they will do anything to watch a Formula One Grand Prix. You see people all over the place, climbing buildings and everything."

All of the three local drivers could score points, thereby ending one of the more extraordinary runs in recent Formula One history. Not only has no Brazilian won at home since Senna a decade ago, the country that gave Formula One an array of champions has not even taken a point there since the great three-times champion died in 1994.

Barrichello, whose grandmother lives next to the circuit and who watched his first race at Interlagos in 1979 when he was enthralled by the sound of the turbocharged Renaults, was the last to score points at the circuit.

He finished fourth in March 1994, just over a month before Senna was killed at Imola during the San Marino Grand Prix. Barrichello has failed to finish at Interlagos for the last eight years in a row.

New System

With the new points structure now rewarding the top eight, that sequence must surely finish soon. Pizzonia will be first on track on Friday morning when for two hours of private testing he will be the only Brazilian for the crowd to cheer.

For both him and da Matta, Interlagos will be the first circuit of the year that they have prior experience on. Da Matta last raced there in 1994, in the final round of the Brazilian Formula Three championship.

"The closer you can get to a normal approach to a race weekend the better you are going to do," said da Matta.

"We still do not have enough experience in many different circuits to say what is good and what is not good for our car," he added. "Interlagos is unique so there is no circuit in Europe where we can go and test which is similar to it. The only thing we have is that the team ran very well there last year.

"I am not sure having raced there nine years ago is going to help me much but it is still a lot better than not knowing the circuit. If I score points it doesn't matter if I am the first one since Ayrton (died) or not, I am going to be very happy about it."

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