McLaren ’50 in 50′: History in Brazil

With 12 victories to their name and 31 podiums, more than any other constructor, Brazil has been a happy stomping ground for McLaren over the years. First held in 1973 as a Formula One World Championship race, Brazil has firmly established itself on the F1 calendar.  Originally held at a longer, 4.9 mile long, Interlagos, the race was moved in 1981 due to safety concerns. The Brazilian Grand Prix had been held at Jacarepaguá in 1978, and it was there that the race took place from 1981 until 1989. Interlagos was shortened considerably and renovated and Formula One returned there in 1990, when local star Ayrton Senna was riding high.

Championships won and lost

Since its move to the end of the calendar, Interlagos has also played host to a number of tense title deciders. The race was previously held at the start of the season but in 2004 moved to the end. McLaren have seen titles won and more often lost in Brazil. In 2005 Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso arrived at the Brazilian Grand Prix fighting for the title – Alonso on 111 points and Raikkonen on 86. With three races left, including Brazil, Raikkonen needed to win the race with Alonso finishing lower than fourth to keep himself in contention. It had been a difficult year for the Finn, losing a number of potential points due to car unreliability. In the end Juan Pablo Montoya led home a McLaren 1-2, after Alonso started on pole with Raikkonen in fifth. Alonso finished third and became, at the time, the youngest ever Formula One world champion.

In 2007 the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton arrived at the Brazilian Grand Prix with the possibility of coming away as champion. Hamilton was leading the way with 107 points, Alonso had 103 and Ferrari’s Raikkonen had 100. A fifth place was enough to secure Hamilton the championship but after a problem filled race he slipped to seventh after starting from second. Alonso finished in third, behind Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, meaning it was another lost opportunity championship wise, this time by just one point for both drivers. 2008 was a different story, however. Hamilton arrived at Brazil, the last race of the year, with a seven point advantage over Massa. A win or second place would be enough to secure him the championship, regardless of where the Ferrari driver finished. If Massa won the race, Hamilton would need to finish at least fifth to be champion. Massa qualified on pole position while Hamilton lined up in fourth. It looked like another title was slipping from his clasp when, in the final stages, as Massa was charging for the finish line in first, Hamilton was overtaken by Sebastian Vettel, dropping him down to sixth. It was Timo Glock who proved to be the turning point, however, after staying out on the wrong tyres, and struggling to control his car in the wet. Hamilton overtook him at the final corner on the last lap to take fifth place. It was McLaren’s first championship since 1999 when Mika Hakkinen won.

Race wins

As mentioned earlier, McLaren have more wins than any constructor in Brazil. They won at the original Interlagos, Jacarepaguá and then again at updated Interlagos. Their first Brazilian Grand Prix came courtesy of their Brazilian driver (and champion) Emerson Fittipaldi. He had won the first race in 1973 and did it for McLaren in 1974. They had to wait a whole ten years until another Brazilian Grand Prix victory came their way, and this time it was with Alain Prost behind the wheel in 1984. He took back-to-back victories when he won again in 1985. Prost won the race again a further two times for McLaren in 1987 and 1988, making him their most successful driver there.

Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna won the race on two occasions – 1990 and 1993. Back-to-back wins for Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999 brought McLaren’s win tally to nine in Brazil. David Coulthard won it in 2001 and Juan Pablo Montoya secured victory in 2005, following his win for Williams there a year previously. Between 2006 and 2011 it was all Ferrari or Red Bull wins. Hamilton qualified on pole position for the 2012 edition of the race, with his team-mate Jenson Button making it a front row lock-out. Later in the race, Hamilton was hit by Nico Hulkenberg while they battled for the lead of the race. This resulted in Hamilton’s last race for McLaren ending with a DNF. Button went on to win ahead of Alonso and Massa.

Race drivers

A number of Brazilian drivers have raced or driven for McLaren, in one form or another, over the years. Of course there are the obvious drivers such as their first world champion Emerson Fittipaldi, multiple race winner and champion Ayrton Senna, and Nelson Piquet who drove for the works McLaren team BS Fabrications. Ricardo Zonta, who currently races in the FIA GT Series, was a McLaren test driver back in 1998.

Raul Boesel was awarded a test drive with McLaren after impressing in British F3 in 1981. He finished the year in third place, behind Jonathan Palmer and Thierry Tassin. Following his test with McLaren, where he impressed with his times, Boesel was signed up to drive for March. He moved to Ligier for 1983 but that proved to be the end of his short F1 career as he moved to America to compete in CART. Mario Haberfield is another Brazilian driver associated with McLaren. He won the British F3 championship in 1998 by quite a margin, beating fellow Brazilian drivers Enrique Bernoldi and Luciano Burti. In 1999 he moved to Formula 3000, driving for West Competition alongside Nick Heidfeld. West Competition was a team ran by the McLaren Formula One team, as part of their young driver development programme. Heidfeld was their test driver at the time.

What next?

The Brazilian Grand Prix is going to be on the calendar until at least 2020. Interlagos have recently signed a new contract which includes rennovations to the existing circuit and facilities. This year has been a difficult one for McLaren so a win or podium will probably not be on the cards for them in Brazil this year. Saying that, anything can happen at Interlagos, and it normally throws up an appropriate amount of drama. So who knows…

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