Problems in the Americas

IT is no great surprise - nor a great source of worry to F1 bosses - that Formula 1 does not have any top American stars. Since the days of Mario Andretti - the late 1970s - there has been very little North American interest in F1.

This has not been a problem as there has always been a constant stream of South Americans working its way into F1 racing. Next year, however, there will be only two South Americans in F1 - Rubens Barrichello and Pedro Diniz - and neither is looking likely to gain star status. Our sources in the corridors of power in Grand Prix racing say that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is very worried about the decline of interest in F1 in South America since the death of Ayrton Senna.

Senna's death ended an unbroken string of successful Latin American drivers which dated back to 1970 when Emerson Fittipaldi burst onto the F1 scene, winning his fourth GP. Fittipaldi was followed by Carlos Pace and Argentina's Carlos Reutemann, who was the dominant South American until Nelson Piquet shot to fame in 1979. Piquet in turn was usurped by Senna.

Prior to Senna's death there had been a South American winner every year since 1979. Since then, however, no South American driver has won a race - nor even looked like doing so. Rubens Barrichello has had a disappointing time at Jordan, and South Americans such as Mauricio Gugelmin, Christian Fittipaldi and Gil de Ferran have disappeared to Indycar racing, where South American interest is growing all the time. Now rising stars such as Ricardo Rosset are looking to the United States for a competitive drive rather than to Formula 1.

There is hope in F1 that drivers such as Taso Marques and Norberto Fontana will alter that trend, but until they do, F1 can only expect less interest from South America.

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