For the first time since 1970, there will be no Brazilian drivers in F1 after Felipe Massa’s retirement at the end of last year. There are some questions about if the Brazilians will continue to follow the championship in 2018 – the country is the largest F1 TV audience. But if they decide to watch another series, Stock Car hopes to attract them.
The key to this quest could be to explore a grid with some former F1 names alongside close races. Last season, Brazilian Stock Car already had Rubens Barrichello, Ricardo Zonta, and Antonio Pizzonia. This year, Lucas Di Grassi and Nelson Piquet Jr joined them and will race all rounds bar Santa Cruz do Sul, in May, when there is a clash with Formula E’s race in Berlin.
The number of ex-F1 grow even more for the 2018 opening round, called “Corrida de Duplas”, with Massa, Felipe Nasr, Luciano Burti, Tarso Marques and Belgium Jérôme D’Ambrosio racing as invited drivers.
“There is no doubt that their presence will help Stock Car”, says Marcos Gomes, the 2015 champ. “Also it is Massa’s first race since retirement, we have Barrichello and a lot of drivers with international experience”, he adds.
2016 champion, Felipe Fraga believes that Brazilian Stock Car has an opportunity to expand its horizons even if the country is facing a tough economic moment.
“Obviously, it helps, but it is a pity to do not have a Brazilian driver in F1. Stock Car was already growing, even in this economic crisis”, he says.
For Daniel Serra, reigning champion and “Corrida de Duplas” winner, the Brazilian series is better than F1 in some aspects and should explore them.
“Stock Car has unpredictable and close races and could be more interesting than F1. Obviously, we cannot compare the money, the development of the cars and the tech. But some F1 races are quite boring and strategy-based. What happens on track sometimes doesn’t matter. Here is quite different. We are fighting for positions all the time”, he adds.
The rivalry between Piquet and Di Grassi also could be used to promote Stock Car. “I’m surprised. Maybe he has decided to compete in Stock Car because of money or for his ego. He is very worried about it. It’s surprising”, said the Jaguar and FullTime driver in a press event a week before “Corrida de Duplas”.
But, for Fraga, it is unlike that the Formula E duo will repeat the “Barrichello effect” – the former Ferrari and Williams driver won the Brazilian Stock Car championship, in 2014, in his just second full season.
“Our series already is very strong. With Lucas and Nelsinho, it will grow even more but it is nothing that will change the world”, he says. “I have some questions about their performance in the beginning. Nonetheless, it is good to have them“.
Actually, the pair had a hard time in “Corrida de Duplas”. Di Grassi crashed before turn 1 and blamed poor visibility caused by the rain. And Robin Frijns, Piquet’s duo, retired after a crash with Pizzonia.
In his first race after the retirement, Massa finished 13th but had received the car from Cacá Bueno in conditions to fight for a top-five finish. He said he was happy to race again at Interlagos but believed it is too early to join Stock Car. Since his retirement, he is rumored to be looking to race in Formula E.
“It was very emotional for me to be back in Interlagos. It’s always a pleasure to race here. Stock Casis a nice championship, but no, not yet. I have other ideas for me”, he states.