Friday 7 November 2014


                                  Carlos Pace after winning the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix                                            Courtesy: FOM

With two races more to complete yet another F1 season, one thing is sure - the eventual winner will be decided in the finale showdown at Abu Dhabi. Lewis Hamilton leading with 24 points to his closest rival and team mate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton can win this weekend and can take a lead of 49 points (assuming Rosberg does not finish) and yet lose the title if he fails to finish and Rosberg wins the last race. How? Courtesy of double points awarded for the last race; no matter what happens in Brazil, technically it is not over! and if recent history is to go by, last races have decided the world champions in the past.

Abu Dhabi is sometime away and for now the attention shifts to Autodromo José Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The circuit still famous for its traditional name 'Interlagos' named after its location in a region between two artificial lakes (Guarapiranga and Billings) - built in the early part of the 20th century for water and power supplies to the city. Interlagos (translated 'between lakes') more known to world for its Formula One has been involved in the game since the 1970's. It is here in the vicinity we saw many household names emerge and one such driver happened to be 'Carlos Pace' - whose life was cut short with an air accident and lost his life at the age of 32.

Till date, there have been 30 drivers from Brazil who have competed in F1. There were five drivers who tried their hand unsuccessfully in the 1950's. It was not until the 70's the world saw the emergence of Brazilian drivers in Formula One. It started with Emerson Fittipaldi - who by winning the 1972 and 1974 driver's world championship helped to popularise the sport across Brazil. A contemporary of Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace too had to relocate to Europe to secure a future in F1. After a series of decent performances, Pace made debut in F1 with Team Williams in a March chassis Cosworth powered engine in 1972 - the same year when Brazil hosted the first F1 Grand Prix. It is safe to say, along with the Fittipaldi brothers, Pace was one of the early pioneers from Brazil to have made a mark in Formula One.

Sao Paulo has been the theatre of many spectacles as far as F1 goes in Brazil. It is no surprise, out of the 30 drivers sixteen of them were born in this part of Brazil. If you exclude Nelson Piquet (born in Rio and only non-Sao Paulo Brazilian winner of the home event), there are no other names to talk about in detail. The Fittipaldi brothers, Ayrton Senna, Barrichello, Massa and Pace - all had their humble beginnings in Sao Paulo.

In the late 1970's, the F1 action shifted from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Jacarepaguá Circuit now known as the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet hosted the Brazilian GP in the 80's coinciding with the rise of Nelson Piquet's stature as a triple world champion. Towards the end of the 80's, the attention again shifted towards Sao Paulo and it was not a coincidence that Brazil in Ayrton Senna was the next big star and he hailed from that part of the town. By this time, the circuit had been modified to meet the safety regulations and the name was also changed to ' Autodromo José Carlos Pace' in honour of Carlos Pace.

Let us rewind back to the mid-70's, when Carlos Pace left Surtees team after having an altercation with John Surtees to race with Brabham midway through the 1974 season, a move which saw him perform more consistently. In the next year, he won his maiden Grand Prix in front of his home crowd much to the delight of thousands of fans who were gathered inside. It was Graham Hill's last appearance in Formula One and it was overshadowed by the 1-2 finish achieved by the local boys Pace and Emerson Fittipaldi. Pace would win two more podiums and finished sixth in the overall driver's standings to round-off his best season in F1. 1976 was a season to forget as far as Pace was concerned and all he could manage was 14th in the driver's standings.

The season 1977 started on a bright note with a second place in the inaugural race of the season at Argentina. A retirement in front of his home crowd and a 13th place in South African GP which is notoriously remembered for the deaths of Tom Pryce and the track side marshal Frederik Jansen van Vuuren.

The next race was at Long Beach and before that there was Race of Champions at Brands Hatch - a event which Pace didn't take part. He was back in Brazil on some business. On March 18th 1977, the private flight he was on along with his two friends collided with a hill near Sao Paulo during a storm and claimed their lives. Carlos Pace was 32 and another F1 driver casualty as a result of 'accident' - though this was outside racing.

Personally having followed (through books, documentaries, interviews) F1 personalities during the dangerous era, one can safely assume about drivers being shaken when they see their colleagues die and more so if it was on track. Racing was the only time when drivers were able to focus without too many doubts hanging on them. Formula One was indeed a lot different back in the 1970's and beyond; it was popular, had money, gave the thrills and all that could be lost in a matter of seconds, through no fault of drivers at times! It still retains the essence of old days - but is a lot safer!

The passing away of Carlos Pace was due to an accident though not on track. Nevertheless, it was an accident which cut short his life and thereby abruptly ending yet another talented driver in Formula One.

In 1985, in honour of Carlos Pace, the track Autodromo Interlagos was renamed to its current name Autodromo José Carlos Pace and since 1990, it has been a place which has decided world championships. Who can forget Kimi Raikkonen's amazing drive to beat Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007? the very next year, do you recall the scenes of the heartbroken local boy Felipe Massa to lose the title in the dying seconds of the race to Lewis Hamilton?
Bust of Carlos Pace at the Autodromo José Carlos Pace - home of the Brazilian Grand Prix
The legacy of Carlos Pace is that he along with Emerson Fittipaldi inspired a racer in Senna - who enthralled everyone with this ruthlessness on track and humility off it. It is not a surprise to hear this from Senna when asked about Brazilian racing in 1989 - " In Brazil we have had Emerson (Fittipaldi), (José) Carlos Pace, and now it's me. After me there will be another one. This is unrefusable." And since Senna, we have had Barrichello and Felipe Massa, who happens to be the last Brazilian driver win at home.

On a parting note this is something to remember. Most of the F1 fans were thrilled to have seen 'Rush' which chronicles the life of James Hunt and focuses on his championship winning season and the duel he had with Nikki Lauda. Carlos Pace was racing in 1976 though he did not play a part or had any influence in the outcome of the season. While the actual season was in progress, Carlos Pace did play the stunt double for Al Pacino for driving scenes, who in his role of Bobby Deerfield happened to be a F1 driver. This was a fictional account of an American racer who falls in love with a Swiss woman. Carlos Pace was credited for his contribution for driving his Brabham BT45 for the movie and by the time the movie was released, Pace was no more.

Carlos Pace as the stunt double for Al Pacino 
The movie was dedicated to Carlos Pace. He might not have been a champion remembered by people globally - he surely remains one of the favourite sons of Sao Paulo to have raced in Formula One. And a testimony to that is - the name of the track still remains in his honour in spite of Senna and his heroics. 

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