Rio de Janeiro’s Attempt to Take Over Brazilian Grand Prix Falls Apart


Controversial plans to move the Brazilian Grand Prix to Rio de Janeiro were shelved by officials today, with the project archived by the city and ruling itself out as a future venue.  Sao Paulo, which has hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix for the past thirty years and despite legal issues and the wishes of right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, will continue to host the race.

Plans to move the Grand Prix emerged in 2019 when then-Rio-mayor Wilson Witzel tweeted that FOM had contacted him with interest about the city hosting. At the time, Bolsonaro formally axed the Sao Paulo event, announcing Rio de Janeiro as the future of the Grand Prix in what, since he’s a politician, we can call a nakedly political move with total impunity. They progressed when Formula One Management formally approved the move in October last year, despite heavy environmental criticism, including from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, over plans to destroy a rainforest to build the track. 

The Rio de Janeiro track was due to be newly built, with the enthusiastic blessing of President Bolsonaro, despite the fact there was an existing, disused circuit in the city in an abandoned Olympic park. However, Sao Paulo wasn’t prepared to give it up easily.

The deal Interlagos had previously closed was for five years and the Grand Prix is believed to be very profitable to the region, as well as a beloved venue on the F1 calendar. The only slight hiccup with it is a substantial uptick in robberies targeting team personnel at the circuit which happened to coincide with the transfer of ownership of F1 from Bernie Ecclestone to Liberty Media which for legal reasons is no proof of causality.

The Rio de Janeiro bid, despite support from the president, lacked funding to make itself actually happen—Brazilian former F1 driver (and, he would like me to say, Formula E champion) Lucas di Grassi, from Sao Paulo, alleged that there was no financial backing for the Rio bid after today’s shelving.

In a tweet in Brazilian Portuguese, Di Grassi said “As predicted, #Deodoro won’t happen. It won’t because it never would have.

Bolsonaro fell for the spiel, activists came in to save the forest ..

But it wasn’t even that that did it.

They didn’t have $ to make the circuit since the start. And it didn’t make any sense. Great result in the end.”

The decision to shelve it following the mayoral changeover to Eduardo Paes, a centrist not associated with Bolsonaro’s party, came as a proposal from the local secretary of the environment and is formally the end of the road for the Rio proposal. Although it’s not a total trashing of the city as an F1 venue, local political will is clearly against it.

The attempt to shift the Grand Prix between the two cities is, unsurprisingly, charged by political rivalry. Bolsonaro’s arch-rival is the governor of Sao Paulo, so this is considered a win for him, as well as environmental and economic sense and people who like watching one of the properly good F1 races.

The Sao Paulo grand prix also hit legal troubles due to a changeover in mayors last month, when incoming mayor Rubinho Nunes suspended the contract awarded by the previous mayor Bruno Covas over questions about the tender process. 

The issue stemmed from the contract awarding process not being properly publicly tendered, even though it would be very unlikely that any other company would either step forward or be judged more experienced at running the Brazilian Grand Prix. In reality, what’s likely to happen is that the tender is re-run with due process and the contract’s awarded just the same but at least the theatre of anti-corruption is an extremely powerful political tender in Brazil currently. 

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