Post-Massa: in search of the next Brazilian F1 star

Copyright: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Since Felipe Massa departed Formula 1 in 2017 (for a second and final time) there has not been a Brazilian at the start of an official Grand Prix. A sad fact for a country with arguably the most passionate F1 fans in the world. We scoured the feeder series for Brazilian talent and rated the most promising ones.

By Adam Dickinson

Brazil is the nation most intertwined with F1 outside Europe, providing three legendary champions and an iconic Grand Prix that’s hosted some of the sport’s most dramatic moments.

Yet currently that involvement is under threat – news resurfaced earlier this year that the powers that be want to steal the sport away from its spiritual home of Interlagos, and there’s been no driver to carry the flag since Felipe Massa retired in 2017.

Brazilians have a mixed record in F1; Senna’s one of the most evocative names in the sport and Piquet and Fittipaldi are also icons, the trio spanning leaving the green, blue and gold imprinted across three decades of the sport.

By rights, Massa should’ve been Brazil’s latest World Champion but a faulty fuel hose at Singapore or an engine failure at Hungary in 2008, or a loose spring at the same track a year later.

There’s also Rubens Barrichello and Massa, who hold 22 wins and nearly 600 race starts between them but behind the pair there’s few other notable drivers – Diniz or Rosset anyone?

Arguably Brazil’s the biggest outperformer on motorsport’s grandest stage (bar maybe Austria), and they’re due another star to continue that legend.

Copyright: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Sergio Sette Camara (22)

There was hope for Sette Camara after he was stolen from McLaren to become Red Bull’s test driver this year, but he’s in an extremely crowded market there.

Possibly the driver whose career’s been most damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, in a normal year Sette Camara probably would’ve gone to Super Formula, had a full season there to be evaluated by Helmut Marko and then been in a face-off with Yuki Tsunoda for the AlphaTauri seat.

His Super Formula debut last month showed promise as he took a shock pole position, although he slipped back in the race and had to retire with an issue.

That belated debut is a sign of how messed up his season’s been – rather than the scheduled SF opener in March, the championship finally got underway at the end of August and Sette Camara took Formula E commitments that forced him to miss the first two rounds.

Super licence-wise, the Brazilian is in the best position on this list as his 2018 and 2019 F2 exploits leave him with a licence for 2021.

In the team’s pecking order he’s certainly behind Tsunoda, while even if his rival misses out on a licence in the season finale the team could decide to give Alex Albon or Daniil Kvyat another year instead of the 22-year old.

Copyright: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Felipe Drugovich (20)

The highest Brazilian on the path to F1 currently, Drugovich has been one of the revelations of the season across all feeder series.

He’s picked up a pole position and two feature race wins in his debut F2 campaign after an abysmal FIA F3 2019 season where he had just one points finish.

He currently sits eleventh, the same position as Callum Ilott last year and one ahead of where current leader Mick Schumacher finished. This in a more competitive field too, although that cuts both ways.

He’s not in any team’s junior programme and would need to make a similar jump to those two to be in contention for a promotion to F1 (not to mention licence points) but that’s a better position to be in than most.

Copyright: Prema Racing

Gianluca Petecof (18)

It’s a different story for the surprise leader in Formula Regional Europe, ahead of more household names such as Arthur Leclerc, Oliver Rasmussen and Jamie Chadwick.

From two years in F4 championships he recorded a best result of second in Italian F4 last year – although 139 points behind champion Dennis Hauger – which earned him a graduation to FREC. 

This year he’s locked in a tight battle with Leclerc for the title, after it was doubtful he’d be able to finish the season due to a lack of funding – it’s been a rollercoaster year for Petecof. 

Only four points separate them with two rounds left on the calendar, with Oliver Rasmussen still in contention as well and the inclusion of Hauger in the final few rounds throwing a curveball in, as the Norweigan was immediately on the pace last time out.

It’s his current teammate Leclerc that’s the main obstacle currently – like Petecof he’s a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and has the name brand appeal too.

There’s rumours Ferrari are looking to promote the Monegasque to FIA F3 next year, while Petecof has been largely absent from these whisperings.

It really sucks for Petecof, all he can do is keep performing well and hope the other pieces fall into place for him to keep developing.

Copyright: Haas F1

Pietro Fittipaldi (24)

His website proclaims Fittipaldi as ‘the next Brazilian in F1’, so there’s a lot to live up to.

And that expectation only increases when you cast an eye over his bloodline. Pietro’s the grandson of Emmerson Fittipaldi, the F1 World Champion in 1972 and 1974, and part of a motorsport household that includes racers Wilson, Wilson Jr, Christian, Enzo and Emmerson Jr.

He’s currently the Haas reserve driver alongside Louis Deletraz, but that position could be in doubt for next year..

Ultimately if he weren’t a Haas reserve, and wasn’t a Fittipaldi, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Pietro so much.

Copyright: Red Bull Content Pool

Igor Fraga (22)

The current Toyota Racing Series Champion had an extremely disappointing debut F3 season, scoring just a single point and sitting out the final round at Mugello.

His TRS title earned him a call up to the Red Bull Junior Team, but if he does remain there for next year he’ll surely be racing for his seat.

However, he’s got a championship to his name which counts for something and if he can bounce back then he’ll be back in contention for a promotion.

His season’s not been that different to Drugovich’s 2019 F3 campaign, so Fraga’s got a target to aim for to get his career back on track.

Copyright: Renault

Caio Collet (18)

Another who raced in TRS earlier this year, Collet had a strong start but struggled to translate pace on track to points and podiums. He ended it seventh with one win, but unlike Fraga has had a better rest of the season.

He’s currently second in Formula Renault Eurocup and looks assured of that position with one round to go. He’s a near unassailable 44 points behind leader Victor Martins – a highly underrated driver – and over twice that ahead of third-placed Franco Colapinto.

In his second year of Formula Renault, it feels like Collet needs to move on to FIA F3 next year and he could end up battling his compatriot Petecof for a seat.

He had an F3 test with Prema a few weeks ago – and if he gets a seat in that team he’ll be in a very good position to kick on in the championship.

Since it became FIA F3 for 2019, Prema have provided five of the podium places in the final standings, so there’s serious pedigree there.

From the motoracing hotbed of Sao Paolo, Collet’s a member of the Renault Sport Academy and will hope to be one of its first members to graduate into F1.

Copyright: Thomas Suer

Enzo Fittipaldi (19)

The man with the greatest motorsport name in racing, Fittipaldi has good pedigree with a title in Italian F4, a third place in ADAC F4 in the same year and then second place in FREC 2019.

But he didn’t have a dream debut year in FIA F3 though, and would need to show considerable improvement to get his career on track towards F1.

He might actually be the best-placed Fittipaldi to carry the family back into F1, although whether this says more about his talent or the position of his relatives, it’s hard to know.

Enzo’s in the Ferrari Driver Academy but man, join the queue.

Copyright: Prema Racing

Gabriel Bortoleto (16)

A curveball on this list, the 16-year old won’t be in F1 for a while yet but is having a strong rookie season in Italian F4.

He’s currently fourth and within touching distance of the podium spots with two rounds to go,having taken one win and five podiums over the year.

Another within the Prema setup, if he can progress through the ranks with the team then he’ll definitely get the opportunity to reach the top.

He’s one to watch as the season draws to a close, but if he is the next Brazilian in F1 then it’ll be nearing a decade that they’ve lacked a driver in the sport – a sad state of affairs.

The Verdict

Pietro Fittipaldi’s claim to be Brazil’s next F1 driver seems a bit far-fetched at the moment.

Felipe Drugovich has the hopes of a nation at the moment and definitely has the potential and the position to make it, providing he can kick on next year.

The pair of Petecof and Collet also have a shot at making it, although that’ll be a few years down the line at least. Key to their success will be how they handle the jump to FIA F3, next season with any luck.

Another hopeful, Igor Fraga, had a career with real momentum going into the F3 season but has just been stopped in his tracks completely. While it’d be brilliant to see him bounce back next year, there’s not many second chances going around in motorsport.

Enzo Fittipaldi’s in a similar position although at least has something to take from his first season in the championship.

Sette Camara will likely miss out unfortunately, there’s just too many drivers in front of him in the programme and since his move away from F2 it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, while it’s too early to really project Bortoleto’s career.

Ultimately the problem is there’s just not many drives in F1, a driver has to be in the top 25 single-seater racers in the world to even get a shot.

But Drugovich, Petecof and Collet have a pathway mapped out ahead of them to get to the top, it’s up to them to take it.


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