|First race||British Grand Prix||Brands Hatch||July 18, 1970||Race results|
|Last race||United States Grand Prix||Watkins Glen||October 5, 1980||Race results|
Born in to a motorsport family, Emerson Fittipaldi would have his brother to thank for kick-starting a meteoric rise to become world champion, and an equally quick fall from the top. With a father who was a well-respected motorsport journalist in Brazil, Emerson and his brother Wilson were immersed in racing from a young age. When Emerson was 14, he became his older brother's mechanic in the local go-kart championship, and followed him in to karts to become Brazilian national champion three years later.
Having won the title again the following year, the pair moved in single seaters. They had been funding their careers by building karts and custom car accessories, and built their own Formula Vee car, which took Emerson to the Brazilian championship in 1967. The successes drove Emerson to pursue racing in Europe, and he moved to England on his own in 1969, unable to speak the language. He bought a Formula Ford and continued to work as a mechanic to help fund himself, going on to win three races before quickly moving up to Formula Three half way through the season. Despite missing so much of the championship, he went on to win the title that year.
Big teams were starting to take notice, so in 1970 Colin Chapman signed him up for his Lotus Formula Two team. As he continued to impress, Chapman signed Fittipaldi on to a long term deal and gave him a Formula One test, before rewarding him with the third car mid way through the 1970 season. He finished his first race eighth after starting 21st, and scored points on his second outing with a fourth place. Tragedy struck in what would have been his fourth race though, as Lotus's championship leader Jochen Rindt was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
The team was on the floor after the accident, as second driver John Miles walked away from Formula One in the aftermath. It thrust Fittipaldi in to team leader status, and he duly responded by single-handedly picking the team up, winning its next race at Watkins Glen, his first grand prix victory and in the process earning the title posthumously for Rindt. Driving the legendary 72, he endured a tougher season in 1971 following his encouraging debut, taking only three podiums.
In 1972, an early run of six consecutive podium finishes - including three wins - put him firmly in control of the drivers' championship, and back-to-back victories in Austria and Italy saw him crowned the youngest every world champion at the age of 25 years and 273 days; a record that would stand until Fernando Alonso won the 2005 title. His good form continued in to the following year, but he was joined at Lotus by Ronnie Peterson, who showed himself to be a match for Fittipaldi. While he won three of the first four races, and went on another run of six consecutive podiums, it looked like a two horse race between Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart, but a mid-season run of three retirements in a row cost him dearly. Peterson then beat him to victory at Monza by less than a second; a result that gave Stewart the championship and was the catalyst for Fittipaldi to move to McLaren the following year.
His move to McLaren was a smart one, as the competitive car was also reliable in a close season which featured seven different winners. With five races to go, Niki Lauda led the championship, but failed to finish another race. With three to go, Fittipaldi was in fourth position in the standings and a race win behind leader Clay Regazzoni. Second in Italy and a win in Canada sent the pair in to the final race of the season at Watkins Glen tied on 52 points, but Regazzoni struggled and Fittipaldi took fourth place to seal his second title. He followed up with another competitive season in 1975, finishing second overall to Lauda.
Despite having been world champion twice and runner-up twice in consecutive seasons, Fittipaldi made a less smart move in 1976. Family loyalty and national pride drove him to team up with his brother at the Copersucar sponsored team they both owned. They couldn't recreate the successes they had previously enjoyed in lower formulae though, and after failing to qualify more times than he reached the podium over the next five seasons, he retired from Formula One.
The lure of racing was too much for Fittipaldi to resist, however, and he was eventually drawn back by an invitation to drive in IndyCar at Long Beach. A competitive finish saw him return full-time, going on to win the 1989 IndyCar championship as well as the Indianapolis 500, a race he won for a second time in 1993. Three years later, a heavy crash in Michigan left him with a broken neck, and a plane crash less than a year later convinced him to call it a day.
Strengths and Weaknesses
He drove his cars with precision and feel, nursing it through races that he was often working out in his head. He appeared unflappable, until outpaced by his team-mate Ronnie Peterson at Lotus, and then previously unseen mistakes started to creep in. National pride cost him many more world championships, but did pave the way for an influx of Brazilian drivers.
Winning in Monza in 1972 to clinch the world championship and become the youngest world champion ever - a record which stood for 33 years.
Going scoreless for 17 races in a car bearing his name across the 1979/80 seasons, which eventually saw him retire at the bottom of a sport he had once conquered.
"The racing driver's mind has to have the ability to have amazing anticipation, coordination, and reflex. Because of the speed the car goes."
"He was the computer. I would have a dinner with him, if the car wasn't handling well on the Friday, and would explain to him what it was doing at different parts of the track. He would go back to the garage, and call the mechanics. And by Saturday morning the car would be fantastic. Only Colin Chapman could do that. Of all the engineers I worked with, all the team managers, Colin was a genius who had the intuition to do it." - On Colin Chapman, who guided him in to Formula One.
Fittipaldi is still the subject of some abuse from Americans after he ignored tradition following his 1993 Indy 500 win. Fittipaldi drank a bottle of orange juice instead of the customary bottle of mile, because he wanted to promote the citrus industry.
He was easily recognisable due to his trademark sunglasses and sideburns.
His nephew, Christian, also raced in Formula One from 1992-94, and the pair even raced each other in CART in 1995 and 1996.
Brawn, Domenicali and Fittipaldi on FIA panel reviewing Bianchi crash (October 20, 2014)
One-lap wonders (September 13, 2013)
Poles apart (April 26, 2013)
Winning starts (March 15, 2013)
- Fittipaldi named president of new Drivers' Commission (March 9, 2013)
July 13, 2013
© Sutton Images
July 13, 2013
© Sutton Images
July 1, 2012
© Sutton Images