‘Weird’ anomaly identified on F1 2023 grid with absence notable

Oliver Harden
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen leads Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Belgian Grand Prix: Max Verstappen leads the race for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.

The absence of a Brazilian driver on the F1 2023 grid has been described as “weird” by FIA press conference host Tom Clarkson.

F1 has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Brazil, with the South American nation providing three multiple World Champions – Emerson Fittipaldi (two titles), Nelson Piquet (three) and Ayrton Senna (three) – over the years.

However, the sport has been without a Brazilian driver on a full-time basis since Felipe Massa’s last season with Williams in 2017, with Fittipaldi’s grandson Pietro making two appearances for Haas in late 2020 as a replacement for the injured Romain Grosjean.

Who could be the next Brazilian F1 superstar?

Lance Stroll’s injuries following a pre-season bike accident raised hopes that Maringa-born Felipe Drugovich could make his F1 debut in 2023 as Aston Martin’s reserve driver, having won the prestigious F2 title last season, yet Stroll recovered in time to score points at the season opener in Bahrain.

Speaking via the F1 Nation podcast, Clarkson expressed his disappointment that no Brazilian driver seems to be knocking on the door given the popularity of F1’s annual race in Sao Paulo.

And he claimed that the latest Fittipaldi, F2 race winner and Red Bull junior Enzo, could be the best bet to make it among the current crop of Brazilian racers.

He said: “I think it feels weird that there’s no Brazilian driver in Formula 1 at the minute because for as long as I’ve been following it, let alone been involved with Formula 1, until recently there’s always been a Brazilian Formula 1 driver.

“When we go to Interlagos every year, the passion for the sport over there – all the Senna murals, Felipe Massa still coming to lots of races as an ambassador for Formula 1 – but where are the Brazilian F1 drivers?

“My guess is Enzo Fittipaldi is closest. He’s a Red Bull junior, so he’s getting those early-morning phone calls from Helmut Marko, and he won his first Formula 2 race just before the summer break in Belgium.

“He’s probably closest, but is there the buzz about him that there is someone like Oscar Piastri?

“When [Piastri] was winning in Formula 2, we all knew that his future was Formula 1. I wouldn’t say that we’re saying that about Enzo Fittipaldi.

“Felipe Drugovich won the F2 Championship last year, is only the reserve driver this year. He’s been slightly overlooked. Pietro Fittipaldi? OK, he tested the Haas at the Pirelli test at Silverstone a couple of months ago, but…

“Come on Brazil!”

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The discussion around the next Brazilian drivers comes as Massa, the former Ferrari driver, steps up his bid to contest the result of the 2008 World Championship.

It was reported this week that Massa has formally commenced legal proceedings against Formula 1 and governing body the FIA, having lost the 2008 title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton.

Massa’s unhappiness is centered on the events of that year’s Singapore Grand Prix, in which Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr crashed intentionally to bring out the Safety Car, allowing team-mate Fernando Alonso to claim victory in a controversy remembered as Crashgate.

Massa, who had led the race from pole position until Piquet’s crash, saw his own victory chances disappear with a disastrous pit stop under the ensuring Safety Car period in which he pulled away from his box with the fuel hose still attached.

The Ferrari driver was handed a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release and could only recover to 13th as Hamilton finished third, the lost points proving crucial at the title decider at Interlagos five weeks later.

Massa’s legal challenge appears to hinge on quotes by then-F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, who earlier this year was quoted by F1-Insider as suggesting he was aware of the circumstances behind Alonso’s victory at the time and that the result of the Singapore Grand Prix should have been annulled.

Read next: How revisiting the past with Felipe Massa could cause issues for F1’s future