The first Brazilian Grand Prix took place at Interlagos in São Paulo in 1972, but it was not a Formula 1-F.I.A. sanctioned event. The first Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix was held the next year at Interlagos, and it was moved to Jacarepaguá in Rio de Janeiro in 1978. It moved back to Interlagos for the two years after that, but at that time Interlagos was an 8-kilometer, or 5-mile, circuit and considered too dangerous - and it was situated in an undesirable and dangerous area of São Paulo in the middle of the favelas, or shantytowns.
From 1981 to 1989, the race took place at Jacarepaguá, before returning to a transformed, shorter circuit of 4.3 kilometers at Interlagos. The circuit remains a favorite of Formula One drivers and is one of the few to have maintained its challenging nature through the modernization that circuits have undergone in the past 20 years.
The race is run counterclockwise, and the steep left-hand descending first corner is one of the most spectacular of the season and provides opportunities for overtaking - often resulting in accidents. Until 2004, the race was at the start of the season, but since then it has been moved toward the end, and it is often the last race, with exciting moments when the world title has been won - or lost.
There have been memorable moments, such as the victory by Ayrton Senna in 1991, when the driver from São Paulo finally won his home race. He finished in a state of exhaustion after running the last seven laps in sixth gear because of problems with the gearbox and was so weak that he could barely lift the trophy over his head. His rival, Alain Prost, won the race in Brazil a record six times - in a career of 13 seasons - but only once at Interlagos, in 1990.
In 2001, Juan Pablo Montoya, the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion from Colombia, began his career in Formula 1 by driving his Williams past Michael Schumacher, the reigning world champion, for the lead in the race, but was later pushed out by another driver. Montoya would finally win the race - but never the championship - in 2004 for Williams, and then again in 2005, but in a McLaren Mercedes. That race was also the season title decider, and Fernando Alonso of Renault, was crowned world champion at age 24, to replace Fittipaldi as the youngest champion.
In 2003, the race winner was not decided until five days later. A huge accident, combined with torrential rain, brought the race to a premature end, and although Giancarlo Fisichella had crossed the finish line first in his Jordan, the race stewards declared Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren the winner, since a classification is made two laps before the end of a truncated race. But later analysis confirmed that Fisichella had crossed the finish line in the lead twice before the end, and he was in the end declared the winner.
In 2007, the race was the scene of one of the biggest reversals in the series' history. Two races before, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren had led the championship by 17 points. But he then ran into trouble, including in the final race, at Interlagos, while Raikkonen, then of Ferrari, won the final two races. The Finnish driver leapt from third to first in the standings in the final race to take the title by one point over Hamilton.
In 2008, Hamilton beat Alonso's youth record, in another strange race in São Paulo. Hamilton, then 23, was fighting for the title with Felipe Massa of Ferrari, who started from pole position. Hamilton needed only to finish in fifth place, and he held onto fourth throughout, until during a torrential downpour he dropped to sixth three laps from the end. Massa crossed the finish line victorious, and he and his team celebrated what they thought was the world drivers' title. But as Hamilton came around the last corner, he passed another car struggling on dry-weather tires. Hamilton finished fifth, to win the title, just over 30 seconds after Massa thought it was his.