History of the Brazilian Grand Prix in Formula 1

Brazilian Grand Prix


The Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix has taken place forty-seven times since 1973 in two separate locations, one track in Rio, and the other in Sao Paulo. Both tracks have their unique distinct characters that challenge drivers in different ways. Brazil also brought an action-packed race where a safety car or drama was always a near certainty.

Alain Prost can claim to be the most dominant driver in Brazil, winning a whopping 6 races during his amazing career. McLaren also takes the top spot for the most successful team with twelve wins narrowly beating out Ferrari who has eleven wins. The Brazilian Grand Prix is rich with history and we will explore some key moments together.


The Circuito da Gavea was home to racing in Brazil before World War 2 had begun. During the late thirties, the construction of the Sao Paulo circuit took place and reached completion in 1940. It would not host a race until 1972 when a Formula 1 race took place in Interlagos, São Paulo. The 1972 race was a non-championship affair that served as a test to see if the track was F1-worthy. Argentina’s Carlos Reutemann won the race driving for Brabham.




In 1973 the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (now known as) in Interlagos, Sao Paulo officially had its first Formula 1 race. To the pleasure of the home crowd Sao Paulo native, Emmerson Fittipaldi driving for Lotus won the race beating out Jackie Stewart of Tyrell and Denny Hulme in his McLaren. The win gave Fittipaldi an eight-point lead over his rival Stewart in the drivers’ championship.

In 1974 Fittipaldi claimed his second win at home, this time in wet conditions. The Brazilian GP was delayed at the start not due to the weather but because of overzealous fans who tossed bottles onto the track. The race was further delayed with Arturo Merzario’s engine failing on the starting grid. The race eventually began and on the 31st lap rain began to pound the track; the race was red-flagged one lap later due to the dangerous conditions the rain had caused.


Brazil got its third win in a row at Interlagos but this time in 1975 Carlos Pace who hailed from Rio driving a Brabham beat out Fittipaldi who finished in second in his McLaren.  This was Carlos’ only win in his career and sadly he died two years later in an airplane crash in Brazil on March 18th, 1977. Interlagos honored the driver by naming the track after him in 1985


Ferrari won the next three races in Brazil from 1976-1978. In 76’ Niki Lauda and Ferrari easily took his eighth Formula 1 victory and first of the season. Regardless of starting the season in fine fashion Lauda eventually lost the drivers’ championship by one point to James Hunt. Three Brazilians participated in the race and only Carlos Pace could break the top ten.


Argentina’s Carlos Reutemann had stepped up on the podium back in 1972 and he returned to the top of the Podium driving for Ferrari in 1977 and 1978. Carlo’s and Lauda scored multiple points in 1977 with Carlos in first and Lauda in third.

In 1978 Reutemann once again drove a solid race in Brazil on a different track. The race was then moved to Jacarepaguá in Rio due to Interlagos struggling with their racing surface being too rough and unmanageable. Fittipaldi, despite being from Sao Paulo, thrilled his Brazilian fans by finishing in second place. Nikki Lauda scored yet another podium in South America.


The race moved back to Interlagos in 1979, the track received a major facelift and was deemed safe to drive on. The French this time took top honors with Jacques Laffite finishing in first and fellow countryman Patrick Depailler in second. Their performance gave a 1-2 finish for their constructor Ligier. Lafitte smashed the Pole time by seven seconds and continued to break records the following day, smashing the fastest lap benchmarks he was setting lap to lap.



The Brazilian Grand Prix of 1980 was the last race at Interlagos before moving back to Rio for the remainder of the decade. France and Rene Arnoux driving for Renault kicked off the decade with his first win in Formula 1. In 1981 the GP was moved back to Jacarepaguá, Rio where the race was held until 1989.


Carlos Reutemann in 1981 won his 4th Brazilian Grand Prix, which gave him three official wins in F1. The victory did not come without any drama because Reutemann, driving in his Williams, refused to heed team orders to give up his lead to teammate Alan Jones. Jones refused to attend the podium even if he finished in second place. Reutemann’s decision allowed him to be tied with Jones atop the drivers’ standings. Both eventually lost the Drivers title to Brazilian Nelson Piquet by razor-thin margins.


In 1982 Alain Prost began his complete domination of the Brazilian Grand Prix winning his first of five wins in Jacarepaguá, and one win in Interlagos that came in 1990. His first win did come at the expense of Brazil’s Nelson Piquet who finished in first and Finland’s Keke Rosberg who finished in second were both disqualified. Their disqualification due to their cars being under the weight limit at the end of the race bumped Prost up from third to first.

In 1983 Prost fell back to seventh place and Nelson Piquet was the first Brazilian to win on home soil since Carlos Pace in 1975. The race also had Keke Rosberg disqualified from second place yet again for getting a push start in the pit lane area.  Nikki Lauda claimed another third-place finish in Brazil, giving him three in his career.

For the next two races, Alain Prost took the reins back and with his McLaren winning in 1984. Keke Rosberg finished second for the third time in Brazil and for the first time he was not disqualified from the race. Prost repeated the victory in 1985 which kicked off his first world Drivers Championship win of his career.


Nelson Piquet stopped Prost from winning his third Brazilian GP in a row in 1986. Piquet won the race handily with a thirty-four second lead over second-place Ayrton Senna. To the delight of Brazilians, one current and future legend was both sharing the podium.  Piquet had won three races for the home crowd but only two will be recorded in F1 stats due to his questionable DQ in 1982.


In 1987 Prost dominated the race with another forty-second advantage over his closest competitor. Brazil would still celebrate with Nelson Piquet finishing in second place. Prost’s victory gave him twenty-seven total points in F1 history.  


Prost and his dominant McLaren won again in Brazil in 1988 beating Gerhard Berger in second and Nelson Piquet with another podium finish in Brazil in third. Piquet despite Prost’s victory held the highest honor because the racetrack was now renamed “Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet”. Piquet earned the distinction by winning three world Drivers championships in Formula 1.

The last race held in Rio in Formula 1 history took place in 1989 and this time Nigel Mansell prevented Alain Prost from winning his third consecutive race in Brazil. Mansell driving for Ferrari won his debut race with the team, making it the first time since Mario Andretti who did the same in 1971 with Ferrari.



The ascension of Ayrton Senna who was born in Sao Paulo applied pressure on race organizers to revamp the track at Interlagos. After significant work was done smoothing out and shortening the track, the race returned to Sao Paulo and remains on the Formula 1 schedule until today.


The 1990 Grand in Brazil had Alain Prost win his sixth Brazilian GP and 40th race of his career. Fans booed the Frenchmen due to rivalry with the local hero Senna, the drama between the two was no secret and fans shared the bitterness between the two. Senna finished third in the race.


Ayrton Senna would pull off a miraculous victory in 1991 in front of his adoring fans, finishing the race while driving his race car stuck in 6th gear. For Senna It was his first win on home soil, fighting off the likes of Mansel, Patrese, and even rain in a grueling race that left Senna nearly passed out in his McLaren. On the podium, Senna could not hold back the tears of joy as a nation celebrated with him.

Nigel Mansell and Williams won their second Brazilian Grand Prix and teammate Ricardo Patrese finished in second. Michael Schumacher finished in third place driving for Benneton. Senna was forced to retire due to engine issues seventeen laps into the race.


In 1993 Senna would not repeat the previous year’s disaster winning his second Brazilian Grand Prix.  The victory was hard fought for Senna who had to fight the heavy rain and overcome a stop and go penalty he was given around lap 25. Damon Hill followed in second place and Schumacher grabbed his second third-place finish in consecutive years.


Schumacher, who had success in Brazil, would have to chase Senna in 1994. Senna spun out of the race on lap 55, which opened the door for the German to win his first in Brazil. Senna lost his life during the San Marino Grand Prix, making this Brazilian GP his last. Schumacher repeated his winning ways the following year, in 1995 still driving with Benetton.  


Williams, powered by Renault, won the next two races in 1996 by Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Renault still proved to enjoy the thinner air of Brazil, winning both races with substantial leads in both. Schumacher continued to score points in Brazil, getting his third, third-place finish in 1996 and finishing fifth in 1997 with his new team Ferrari.


McLaren also won back-to-back races in 1998 and 1999 with Finland’s Mika Hakkinen leading the way. In 1998 both McLaren’s finished in the two top spots with Hakkinen in first and David Coulthard in second. Yet again Michael Schumacher finished in third place in Brazil.  In 1999 Mika Hakkinen would repeat victory on the track battling Michael Schumacher who finished in second place.



Ferrari and Schumacher began their reign in F1 in the 2000s with back-to-back wins, the first in Australia, and the second in Brazil.  Schumacher managed to capitalize on Mika Hakkinen’s car troubles that put the Fin out of the race on lap thirty.

David Coulthard in 2001 brought McLaren back onto the podium winning his first race of the season. This win narrowed the gap between Coulthard and Schumacher by six points in the driver’s championship. Schumacher finished in second place, continuing his impressive podium rate in Brazil.

Schumacher won his fourth Brazilian race in 2002 with Ferrari beating his brother Ralf who followed in second place. The gap between the two was less than a second, making the final lap thrilling. It was a good day for the Schumacher household to say the least.


In 2003 Italy’s Giancarlo Fisichella driving with Jordan won his first Formula 1 grand prix. It was also the first time an Italian had won a race since 1992 when Ricardo Patrese won in Japan. This race, like so many others in Brazil, faced heavy rainfall that would lead to the race being red-flagged before completion. The race was stopped on lap 54, Kimi Raikkonen was in second place and Fernando Alonso was in third.


Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya won his first Brazilian Grand Prix and last win with team Williams-BMW in 2004. Brazil’s Rubens Barrichello driving for Ferrari finished the race in third place, making it the first time since Senna won the race in 1993 for a Brazilian to reach the podium. Montoya switched teams the following year joining McLaren and winning his second Brazilian GP in 2005.


Ferrari had plenty of success at Interlagos throughout the decade with multiple wins and podiums due to Michael Schumacher. To say the great German didn’t cast a huge shadow over teammate Felipe Massa was an understatement. Massa in 2006 with 154 million television viewers made history joining the likes of Senna, Pace, and Piquet in winning their home country’s race. Alonso may have won the Drivers’ Championship but all eyes in Brazil were on their new hero Felipe Massa. Schumacher retired from Formula 1 after this race only to return in 2010.


In 2007 the Brazilian Grand Prix was the determining race for the driver’s championship. There were three battles for the title between Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso.  Ferrari and Kimi stood victorious at the end of the race with Massa in second place and Alonso in third. Raikkonen won the title by one point over his rival Hamilton and Alonso.


Felipe Massa in 2008 would once again make his country proud with another victory driving for Ferrari. Once again Brazil hosted the final round of the season and once again the driver’s title was on the line. Felipe had a stellar year with six wins for Ferrari, yet he still had Lewis Hamilton battling with Massa for the championship. Hamilton finished fifth place and despite Massa’s win, Hamilton surpassed Felipe by one point to win his first driver’s title.

The home crowd, Massa, and Ferrari fans were all left in disarray when they thought the championship was won for their respective side only to have it snatched away in the final lap of the race. David Coulthard retired from Formula 1 after this race with thirteen wins to his name.


In 2009 Australia’s Mark Webber driving with Red Bull won the second race of the season and his career.  His win closed out the incredible decade of racing that took place at Interlagos and Weber kick-started Red Bull’s winning ways at the circuit.


Sebastien Vettel was the first German to win in Brazil since Michael Schumacher in 2002. Vettel drove for Red Bull who also had teammate Mark Webber finish in second place. The win was crucial for Vettel which gave him a shot of surpassing Fernando Alonso in the following race in Abu Dhabi.


In 2011, Mark Webber took the top spot in Brazil for the second time with Red Bull. His teammate Vettel finished in second place making it the third time in a row in Brazil that Red Bull finished 1-2 in the race. Rubens Barrichello made Brazil proud by completing his 326th F1 race, the most in history at the time.

Jenson Button was the Brit this time to break Red Bull’s winning streak in Sao Paulo driving for McLaren-Mercedes. Felipe Massa heard his countrymen cheer for him once again at the end of the race, finishing in third place. Vettel claimed his third driver’s title in a row in 2012.


Vettel continued to dominate Formula 1 and in 2013 he not only won the Brazilian Grand Prix for the third time he won his fourth Drivers championship. His win in Brazil ended the F1 season with nine back-to-back wins and thirteen wins overall.

Germany continued to have success in Brazil with Mercedes and Nico Rosberg. The duo won the next two races in 2014 and 2015. Mercedes, like Red Bull before them, became the dominant force in Formula 1. The team finished 1-2 in 2014 with Hamilton nabbing a second place. For good measure, Massa took third to the pleasure of his fans driving for Williams.


In 2015 Mercedes repeated the same result from 2014 with another 1-2 finish of Rosberg and Hamilton. Vettel, now with Ferrari, finished third revisiting the podium where he had much success.

Mercedes continued to rule F1 and Brazil and for the third time like Red Bull had their own three-peat of 1-2 finishes. Lewis Hamilton had no issues winning his first Brazilian GP with Nico Rosberg finishing second this time in 2016.

Sebastien Vettel added his third notch in his belt with his third win at Interlagos this time with Ferrari in 2017. Both Vettel and Ferrari despite the win had no way of catching Hamilton or Mercedes in the drivers and constructor’s standings.


Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in 2018 clinched their fifth straight constructor’s title in Brazil. In 2019, Max Verstappen won his first Brazilian GP driving for Red Bull. The race also featured an incredible drive from a young Pierre Gasly driving for Toro Rosso, who finished the race in the unlikely position of second place. That would be Gasly’s first podium finish of his career which was also the case for Carlos Sainz Jr who finished in third driving for McLaren.


The 2020 Brazilian Grand Prix was canceled due to the global pandemic restricting travel worldwide.


What an incredible race weekend Brazil had in store for fans in the crowd and worldwide watching on Television. The world championship battle between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes Lewis Hamilton was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Hamilton was under pressure to cut Verstappen’s growing lead in the standings. Hamilton would show the world why he is one of the best ever to drive in Formula 1 the entire weekend.

Lewis was handed a penalty for having an illegal back wing and was forced to start last in the Saturday Sprint race. On top of that penalty, Hamilton was given a five-place grid penalty for adding a new ICE (internal combustion engine) component to his car for the Sunday race. It was paramount that Hamilton had to have a great result on Saturday to alleviate the damage of Sunday’s penalty against him. From P20 and in twenty-four laps the world champion finished the sprint in fifth place. Mercedes showed off its power and Red Bull knew they would have their hands full on Sunday.

Hamilton on Sunday started in P10 due to his grid penalty and from the start of the race, Lewis proceeded to hunt down Verstappen who had taken the lead away from Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton was not deterred by any of the Ferraris, McLarens, or anyone else driving ahead of him, eventually, he had Max in his sights.

After a nail-biting battle that nearly ended in disaster for the Brit, Lewis passed Verstappen and never looked back. The battle between the two raised eyebrows because it appeared that Verstappen intentionally ran wide to block Hamilton, forcing both drivers off the track. Mercedes demanded a penalty that never came.

Despite the controversy, Hamilton won the race narrowing Verstappen’s lead in the championship to fourteen points. Verstappen finished in second place followed by Valtteri Bottas in third. Hamilton dedicated his race to one of his racing idols, Brazil’s Ayrton Senna, riding his victory lap with a Brazilian flag in hand.

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