When Lewis Hamilton won his third F1 WDC in Austin last year, Brazilian fans of the sport would have been hard pressed to know it. There was a 15 second announcement during a soccer match and later news bulletins long after the race.
The fact is, Brazil’s TV channel Globo will not pay Ecclestone huge broadcasting rights fees, due to declining interest in F1. Globo’s annual coverage of the sport has been slashed and at present no other channel is offering to pay for a full season’s uninterrupted live TV rights.
For fans who have followed F1 since the 1980’s, this is a stunning turn of events. Brazil was once the hotbed for fanatical F1 fans particularly in the era of the great Ayrton Senna. Their current F1 driver, Felipe Massa, hasn’t won a GP for over 7 years and there is little on the horizon in terms of the next F1 Brazilian great.
The attendance for the 2015 Brazilian GP was poor too as Erich Beting, owner of sports marketing firm Maquina do Esporte, explained: “The title race is decided, Brazil’s economy is in crisis, Brazilian drivers don’t stand a chance of winning — and Formula One is less and less on TV.”
Sponsors in Brazil are also on the wane. Ibope, a marketing company that rates the value of TV promotion claims F1 in Brazil is worth around one third its value of 10 years ago. Even local soccer matches such as the Flamengo’s vs the Corinthians score consistently higher than F1.
Brazil’s economy is in recession and Williams F1 sponsor Petrobras is currently mired in a multi-billion-dollar bribery scandal that in part saw the parliament vote for Brazil’s president to be impeached. Beting claims that ordinary Brazilians are questioning, “why they are spending with a racing team.”
Bernie Ecclestone has been ramping up the pressure on the Brazilian race promoters to improve the ageing and faded Interlagos circuit. A new deal was agreed to host the Brazilian GP until 2020, on the conditions the agreed venue upgrades were delivered. These began in 2014, but by last year’s race progress had all but stopped.
It appears that the agreed Interlagos works will be no further on this year and Bernie Ecclestone began sabre rattling at the Canadian GP. “This year could be the last race there,” he said in Montreal. Brazilian promoters are believed to be trying to restructure the deal. Yet with the ever abundant supply line of undemocratic governments – the latest being Azerbaijan – prepared to fill up a convoy of trucks with dollars for the Ecclestone Empire, means the nation that brought us Senna, like the one that gave us Fangio, may be beginning to fade into the annals of F1 history.