The Top-Five Brazilian F1 Drivers

Ayrton Senna 1992 Monaco

Ahead of this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, we’re taking a look at the finest racing drivers the country has produced. No prizes for guessing who comes out on top…

5. Rubens Barrichello

If this were a rundown of F1’s most popular Brazilians Rubens Barrichello might well emerge on top. The likeable Sao Paulo native was an F1 mainstay for 18 years and - the odd outburst aside - was as cheerful a grand prix driver as you're likely to meet.

After getting his break at Jordan, Barrichello joined the fledgling Stewart squad in 1997 and showed well for them over three seasons. That landed him a drive at Ferrari, though he was often asked to play second fiddle to team leader Michael Schumacher. This clearly frustrated Rubens, but he remained at the Scuderia for six seasons, winning eight grands prix and twice finishing as runner-up to Schumacher in the standings.

He then moved to Honda but suffered with a number of poor cars before the team quit the sport in late 2008. That paved the way for the Brawn squad, whose BGP 001 was the class of the field, at least in the early stages. But again Rubens came out second best as team-mate Jenson Button swept to the world title, while he took two wins and finished third in the standings.

He subsequently spent two years at Williams but lost his seat after a difficult 2011 season. With 322 starts he remains the most experienced driver in grand prix history.

After leaving the sport he spent a season in IndyCar and then returned home to race in StockCar Brasil and commentate on F1. But incredibly, the 42-year-old had planned a three-race comeback tour with Caterham this season which was scuppered by the team’s financial woes. It was meant to give Rubens the chance to say a proper farewell to the sport having been left in limbo at the end of the 2011 campaign.

4. Felipe Massa

Felipe narrowly edges Rubens for the fact that, on his day, the younger Brazilian is faster - plain and simple. Remember his pole lap at Singapore 2008 when he beat Lewis Hamilton to P1 by more than half a second? Or his awe-inspiring pace around Istanbul Park? There’s also the fact that he came within a whisker of the world title in ‘08 and his sterling recovery from the terrible accident he suffered in 2009. Felipe has fought hard throughout his career.

Mass got his break at Sauber in 2002 but an erratic first year saw him dropped for the U.S Grand Prix and then ditched altogether for ’03. However he subsequently spent a year as Ferrari test driver (back when this meant more than simply sitting on the pit wall) and returned to Sauber in 2004. He’d matured, and when Barrichello quit Ferrari the following season Massa took the drive for 2006.

2008 saw Felipe deliver a fantastic campaign, which included six wins and a heartbreaking near-miss in the world championship. Suddenly the sport was looking at Massa in a whole new light.

Sadly his momentum was broken by a poor Ferrari in ’09, followed by a horrifying accident at the Hungaroring when he was struck by an errant spring. It is a minor miracle that he returned to F1 at all.

After that four years as Fernando Alonso’s team-mate proved painful - not least being asked to move over for the Spaniard while leading in Germany.

In 2014 he has finally left the Ferrari fold and looks reenergised at Williams. After a tricky start to life at Grove his fortunes have improved, with a first podium for the squad coming in Italy. Combined with team-mate Valtteri Bottas, he is now hoping to lead Williams to third in the standings - ahead of his old employers at Ferrari.

3. Nelson Piquet

A late starter in motorsport, Nelson Piquet was in his mid-twenties when he made his F1 debut, but a swift move to the Brabham squad endured he was quickly a front-runner. He was world championship runner-up in 1980, then went one better and secured the title for Bernie Ecclestone’s team in ’81. After a tricky 1982 he bounced back to secure his second crown in ’83.

In 1986 he joined Williams where he developed a famously bad relationship with Nigel Mansell, referring to the Brit and "an uneducated blockhead" and even insulting his wife. It certainly didn’t help matters that Piquet ended up bagging the ultimate prize, winning the 1986 world title ahead of his team-mate.

He then joined Lotus and subsequently Benetton, winning twice for the latter at the tail-end of the 1990 season. His final victory came in Canada the following year when long-time race leader Mansell slowed to a halt on the final lap. It was surely a sweet steal for Nelson.

In 1992 he attempted to qualify for the Indy 500 but a huge practice crash ruled him out of the race. To Piquet’s great credit, he returned 12 months later and this time contested the race. He later made two appearances at Le Mans.

The three-time world champion now has a number of business interests and watches over his sons’ racing careers.

2. Emerson Fittipaldi

Emerson Fittipaldi's mutton chops and snappy dress sense made him the quintessential seventies F1 driver. He got his break at Lotus in 1970, contesting a handful of rounds in the team’s third car. However he was to become team leader following the death of Jochen Rindt at Monza. The Brazilian acquitted himself well, winning the next race at Watkins Glen. Three podiums but no victories followed in ’71.

In 1972 Lotus were back on form and Fittipaldi made the most of it, winning five races on his way to the world title. That made him the sport’s youngest world champion, a record he would hold for more than 30 years until it was beaten by Fernando Alonso in 2005.

He finished as runner-up to Jackie Stewart in 1973, then joined McLaren for ’74. Piloting the British squad’s M23, he narrowly beat Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni to secure a second title. Sticking with McLaren, he finished as runner-up again in ’75, this time to Niki Lauda.

His next move would prove a costly mistake. Emerson joined his brother Wilson at the Fittipaldi Automotive squad. The team never got off the ground, with Emerson contesting five season for the team with very little in the way of results. Emerson quit driving in 1980 and the team folded two years later.

So how does double world champion Emmo trump three-time champ Piquet? Simple: he forged a second career in the U.S. Four years after leaving F1 he headed to CART, winning the title in 1989 and the Indy 500 in ‘89 and ‘93 - the latter at the grand old age of 46. He was almost 50 when an injury at Michigan Speedway ended his career. He continues to remain actively involved in motorsport, particularly through his native Interlagos circuit.

1. Ayrton Senna

Many consider him the greatest F1 driver of all time, so it should be no surprise that Ayrton Senna is viewed as his country’s finest racer. In fact, Senna’s status in his homeland extends beyond F1: when he lost his life at Imola in 1994, the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning.

Senna’s on-track achievements have spawned a film, several books and countless conversations; as such, they do not need retelling here.

His brilliance stemmed from an ability to go to another level at the wheel of a Formula 1 car, putting himself in something approaching a trance to draw the maximum performance. The results were quite often breathtaking, particularly in qualifying, and led to him starting 40% of his races from pole.

He had his faults, too: Senna could be pig-headed and selfish at times, and his actions at Suzuka in 1990 - when he rammed rival Alain Prost off the road - border on the unforgivable.

But he was redeemed by his vulnerable yet dedicated nature, one that seemed to place motor racing above all else on this earth. To fans, that level of sacrifice proved irresistible.

And of course he did eventually make the ultimate sacrifice, losing his life while leading the San Marino Grand Prix of 1994. The period of self-reflection this sent F1 into has subsequently made it a safer sport for those who seek to emulate Ayrton’s heroics. In some respects, this is his greatest legacy.