Following the confirmation of Felipe Nasr’s appointment as test driver and the start of a new sponsorship deal with Banco do Brasil, Sir Frank Williams spoke about his team’s long-term ties with the South American nation. With a number of Brazilian drivers racing for the team over the years and a great deal of interest from Brazilian companies, there certainly is history.
Speaking about the deal with Banco do Brasil, Sir Frank Williams said: “We have had a long and proud association with Brazil through our relationship with Brazilian drivers and some of the country’s leading companies. This new partnership with Banco do Brasil continues this legacy and we both share a proud history with ambitions to achieve greater things in the future.”
The deal has resulted in Nasr becoming the team’s test driver. Having got behind the wheel of the FW36 today in Bahrain, he will run in a further two tests and take part in five free practice sessions. However, he is not the only Brazilian to be using the car this season after Felipe Massa – one of the finest drivers from Brazil never to win a world title – signed at the end of last season after being dropped by Ferrari. As testing has shown, he is a real asset for the team as his experience complements the youth and potential of Valtteri Bottas, not to mention that Massa can still battle hard.
With Massa has come a sponsorship deal with Brazilian oil giant Petrobras. However, it is not a new deal per se, as the two parties worked together between 1998 and 2008. During this period of time, just one Brazilian driver raced for the team though: Antonio Pizzonia. Having joined Jaguar in 2004, he left halfway through the season to replace the injured Ralf Schumacher at Williams for three races, picking up six points. In 2005, he was a stand-in once again following Nick Heidfeld’s testing accident, but only managed to score two points in five races.
We also have Rubens Barrichello, who joined Williams at the end of 2009 after Brawn was bought out by Mercedes. Having spent most of his career as the designated number two, Barrichello finally had a chance to lead at Williams alongside then-rookie Nico Hulkenberg. Much like Massa’s appointment this season, it was a nice deal: good for the driver, good for the team, good for everyone. He scored points on ten occasions in 2010, recording a best finish of fourth place in Valencia, but 2011 was less fruitful. Alongside Pastor Maldonado, the car simply failed to perform and the team picked up a paltry five points (of which Barrichello contributed four).
At the end of the year, one Brazilian was ousted in favour of another. Barrichello left the team and Bruno Senna was promoted to a full-time race seat, following in the footsteps of Uncle Ayrton. It was fantastic to see the Senna name back with Williams once again, but the association lasted just one season. He was far more consistent than Maldonado, but after being outqualified 18-2 and not having the financial muscle of his teammate, he was dropped to make way for Valtteri Bottas. Ever since, Bruno has been racing for Aston Martin in the World Endurance Championship, where he has enjoyed some success.
The links between Senna and Williams hark back to 1994 when one of the greatest drivers ever to have raced in F1 joined the team. After six seasons and three world titles with McLaren, Ayrton Senna jumped ship to a Williams team that had waltzed to both titles in 1992 and 1993, and finally appeared to be in a position to claim his fourth world title. However, he was well aware of the threat from the new kid on the block: Michael Schumacher. Senna clinched pole for the opening two rounds of the season in Brazil and at Aida for the Pacific Grand Prix, but he retired from both races – at Interlagos, whilst chasing Schumacher in the closing stages, and at Aida when Nicola Larini crashed into him.
Therefore, he headed to San Marino needed a big result as Schumacher had opened up a 20 point lead over his biggest championship rival. The events of that dark weekend have been well documented; on lap seven, after starting from pole position, Senna crashed at Tamburello and died from his injuries. The sport was robbed of its leading light. When asked to reflect on Williams’ drivers in 2007, Sir Frank Williams said: “Senna [was] the best of the lot. Sadly we didn’t see much of him.” Ever since, the car has run with the Senna S in some shape or form.
The first Brazilian driver to race for Williams was Nelson Piquet, though. Having spent the majority of his career with Brabham, Piquet made the move to Williams in 1986. Only Piquet and Alain Prost have won on debut for Williams, and the Brazilian driver certainly enjoyed two good years with the team. He won four races in 1986, but an inter-team battle with Nigel Mansell meant that Alain Prost was able to snatch the world title from under their noses. In 1987, Piquet was incredibly consistent as he claimed ten podium finishes in the first twelve races (with one DNF and one DNS in San Marino due to concussion). Nevertheless, he left the team at the end of the year for Lotus as Williams and Honda parted company, and also to be the undisputed number one driver. Piquet was well-liked at Williams, with Patrick Head calling him a “joker”; a tit-for-tat series of pranks between Piquet and one of the engineers finished with the Brazilian’s expensive shoes stuck to the side of the top of a truck!
All of the great Brazilian drivers have driven for Williams with the sole exception of Emerson Fittipaldi, although he was in the twilight of his career when the team actually entered Formula One. Massa and Nasr – who will give commentators many a headache – are in good company as they follow in the illustrious footsteps of their countrymen.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Wikimedia Commons.