Emerson Fittipaldi

Born:
12th December 1946 (Age 70)
Sao Paulo
Nationality:
Brazilian
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

A double Formula 1 world champion by the time he turned 28 years old and a star of Champ Cars during his second career, Emerson Fittipaldi was a trailblazer for Brazilians racing overseas. The winner of 14 Grands Prix, he may have achieved so much more from his 144 race starts if he had not spent five seasons as an owner/driver. That he eventually returned to win both the Champ Car title and Indianapolis 500 is testament to a talent undiminished by those difficult fallow years.

Upbringing and meteoric early career

The younger son of noted Brazilian journalist Wilson Fittipaldi Sr, 'Emmo' was named after American author Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both of his parents – his mother was of Russian decent – had been amateur racing drivers and his father was a driving force behind the São Paulo 1000 Mile race when it was introduced in 1956.

Emerson and older brother Wilson Jr both raced motorcycles and hydrofoils before switching to karts – the former winning the São Paulo title in 1965. With Formula Vee introduced to Brazil in 1967, the brothers built their own chassis and entered the series. Of the seven qualifying rounds, Emerson won five and finished second in the other two to dominate the championship. He also won that year’s 125cc national karting title and finished as runner-up behind Carlos Pace in GTs. His 1968 GT campaign was marred by gearbox issues but the brothers ended the year by winning a 12-hour race in the rain, Emerson gaining revenge on Pace in the process.

Wilson had already tried his hand in Europe and Emerson sold his Formula Vee car in 1969 to finance a three-month trip to the continent. Completely unknown in European racing circles at the start of the season, he acquired a Formula Ford Merlyn Mk11A and was soon winning races. That led to his Formula 3 debut driving a Jim Russell-entered Lotus 59 that was prepared by a young Ralph Firman. He won his third race at Brands Hatch and ended his impressive year by clinching the British F3 title.

Formula 1 race winner with Lotus

He began 1970 by driving a Lotus 61 in the Brazilian Temporada FF1600 series – beating Ian Ashley to the title thanks to victories at Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Interlagos. Now much in demand, he signed with Lotus Components for that year’s European Formula 2 Championship. His Bardahl-sponsored Lotus 69 scored back-to-back third-place finishes at Montjuich Park and Rouen-les-Essarts and he was second at Imola.

Third in the final F2 standings, Fittipaldi had already made his Grand Prix debut by then, his Gold Leaf Lotus 49C-Ford finishing eighth in the British GP. Fourth in the German GP at Hockenheim, he was promoted to lead the famous team in tragic circumstances. Champion elect Jochen Rindt was killed during practice at Monza and Fittipaldi, in just his fourth GP start, won at Watkins Glen to confirm the Austrian’s posthumous crown.

Fittipaldi’s first full season as an F1 driver in 1971 proved something of an anti-climax after his rapid ascent. Now living in Lausanne, he suffered early reliability problems and missed the Dutch GP after he and his wife were injured in a road accident in France. He finished third in the French and British GPs on his return and was second in Austria. Sixth in the 1971 World Championship, he won F2 races at Járama, Crystal Palace and Albi to continue his winning progress.

The youngest World Champion so far

With his Lotus 72-Ford now fully sorted and resplendent in the black-and-gold colours of John Player Special for the first time, Fittipaldi emerged as the youngest world champion to date in 1972. Victories in the non-championship Race of Champions and International Trophy were followed by his second GP win at Járama. Further successes in Belgium, Great Britain, Austria and Italy clinched the title with two races to spare. At the tender age of just 25 years, eight months and 29 days old, Fittipaldi was the first South American since Juan Manuel Fangio to win the world championship.

Ronnie Peterson was his new team-mate for 1973 and they battled Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart for the title. Fittipaldi won three of the first four championship rounds but a run of three mid-season races without a point hampered his cause. He injured his ankle during practice at Zandvoort and was gradually overshadowed by the Swede. When Peterson beat him into second position at Monza, Stewart was confirmed as world champion with Fittipaldi eventually finishing as runner-up.

McLaren’s first World Champion

Without the guarantee of number one status at Lotus, Fittipaldi accepted Marlboro’s generous retainer and moved to McLaren for 1974. Armed with the Gordon Coppuck-designed McLaren M23-Ford, Fittipaldi won his home GP at the start of the season before repeating that result on the bland Nivelles circuit in Belgium. A third victory in the penultimate race of the year in Canada gave him a share of the points lead before the deciding United States GP. Fourth position at Watkins Glen was enough to emerge from the three-way title showdown as champion for a second time – three points clear of Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni.

His title defence began with victory in the 1975 Argentinian GP and Fittipaldi was second in both Brazil and on the streets of Monte Carlo. He then survived a rain storm at Silverstone to win the crash-strewn British GP and was second in Italy and America. However, this was Niki Lauda’s year so Fittipaldi had to settle with finishing as runner-up once more.

Formula 1 career in decline with the family team

Having finished in the championship top two for the last four years and still only just 29 years old, Fittipaldi stunned the motor racing world by joining the team that his brother had formed a year before. Well rewarded by sponsors Copersucar, this was the beginning of an uncompetitive five years with Fittipaldi Automotive. Three sixth-place finishes were the sum total of his 1976 campaign behind the wheel of the Richard Divila-designed FD04.

Things briefly looked up at the start of 1977 with Fittipaldi finishing fourth in both Argentina and Brazil. He repeated that result in Holland and was fifth in Long Beach but 12th in the championship was in stark contrast to his recent title-winning form.

Long-term friend and the “D” in the original designation of the Fittipaldi F1 cars, Divila was replaced by Dave Baldwin and the resulting Fittipaldi F5 provided the team’s finest moment. Emmo qualified seventh for the 1978 Brazilian GP and prompted joyous scenes by finishing the race in second position – albeit nearly a minute behind Carlos Reutemann’s winning Ferrari.

He scored a solitary point during 1979 but returned to the podium for the final time by finishing the 1980 Long Beach GP in third position. Sixth in Monaco, he retired as an F1 driver at the end of the season to concentrate of managing the team. Fittipaldi Automotive struggled on for two more seasons before closing its doors at the end of 1982.

Success on his return in North America

Fittipaldi initially concentrated on his business affairs although he did not remain out of the sport for long. He tested a Spirit 101B-Hart at Rio de Janeiro before the 1984 F1 season but it was in Champ Cars that he returned. Driving a year-old March-Cosworth for IMSA driver Pepe Romero’s WIT Promotions team, he finished fifth on his comeback at Long Beach before retiring from the Indianapolis 500. A couple of races followed in H&R Racing’s new car before Fittipaldi replaced the injured Chip Ganassi at Patrick Racing. Fourth at Mid-Ohio on his debut for the team, he remained for the final five races of the season.

The full-time driver of Patrick’s number 40 March 85C-Cosworth during 1985, he finished second at Long Beach and the Meadowlands and led the Indianapolis 500 for 11 laps. His return to form was confirmed by victory in that year’s Michigan 500 as he adapted to racing on ovals with impressive ease. He qualified third at Phoenix in October and lost a strong second-place finish when he punctured a tyre.

The team attracted sponsorship from Marlboro for the 1986 Champ Car season with respected engineer Tony Cicale now directing operations. Among the most competitive drivers while his car was on track that year, Fittipaldi’s campaign was hampered by a succession of retirements. The highlight was his fine victory in the rain at Elkhart Lake but seventh in the championship did not reflect his pace. Patrick switched to Chevrolet power in 1987 but struggled, especially on ovals. Fittipaldi scored back-to-back road course victories at Cleveland and Toronto as he slipped to tenth overall.

He began 1988 in a March 88C-Chevrolet and finished second at Indianapolis. Further podiums followed at Milwaukee and Portland before he switched to a Lola T88/00 for the remainder of the campaign. He qualified on pole position at the Meadowlands but was denied victory after banging wheels with Al Unser jr. It all came good in September when Fittipaldi won on successive weekends at Mid-Ohio and Elkhart Lake.

Fifteen years after winning his second world championship and in his sixth Champ Car season, Fittipaldi won both the Indianapolis 500 and the national title during 1989. His victory in America’s greatest race was dramatic indeed as Fittipaldi’s Patrick Racing Penske PC18-Chevrolet and the Galles Lola of Unser Jr fought a late battle for the lead. They touched going into Turn 3 with a lap to go and Unser crashed out at high speed. Fittipaldi was able to control the resulting slide and he continued on to Victory Lane. Three successive mid-season wins included coming from last position in Detroit and he sealed a popular title success by winning on Nazareth’s quirky short oval.

The Penske Years

Fittipaldi and Marlboro moved to the three-car Penske Racing for an inconsistent title defense in 1990. He qualified on pole position for both the Indianapolis and Michigan 500s and led almost as many laps as eventual champion Unser Jr. However, it was October before he won his only race of the year (at Nazareth) and fifth overall was a disappointing return.

Penske slimmed down to a two-car Marlboro-sponsored operation in 1991 but the PC20 proved to be a difficult car to set up. Fittipaldi recovered from a slow start to the year to win at Detroit and score another four second-place finishes. The 45-year-old was fifth in the final standings for a successive season.

Fittipaldi opened his 1992 account by winning in Surfers Paradise and finishing third at both Phoenix and Long Beach. Second at Portland, successive victories at Cleveland and Elkhart Lake thrust him into a four-way title fight. Further successes at Mid-Ohio and in Nazareth’s non-championship Marlboro Challenge followed but Fittipaldi was eventually restricted to fourth overall.

The Champ Car World Series was given an increased international focus when reigning F1 champion Nigel Mansell joined Newman-Haas Racing in 1993. Fittipaldi made the most of a late restart to pass the Englishman and win the Indianapolis 500 for a second time. He won twice more to finish as championship runner-up, just eight points behind Mansell.

Penske fielded three PC23s in 1994 with Paul Tracy and Unser Jr joining the Brazilian veteran. With Mansell’s interest in the series wavering it was left to the Marlboro-sponsored “superteam” to dominate proceedings. Unser emerged as a worthy champion with Fittipaldi and Tracy second and third in the standings. Victory in Phoenix was one of 10 podium finishes but Fittipaldi was disappointed at Indianapolis – crashing out of a secure lead just 15 laps from the finish.

Fittipaldi’s 1995 campaign was an inconsistent final season with Penske as the team struggled to make the Mercedes-Benz-powered PC24 work with its Goodyear tyres. Fittipaldi won at Nazareth once more (his 22nd Champ Car victory) before both he and Unser failed to qualify at Indianapolis. All too often hindered by poor grid positions, a couple of fifth places were his best results after that Indy debacle.

The end of his career

When Roger Penske chose Tracy ahead of Fittipaldi for the 1996 season, he formed a satellite team with Carl Hogan to run a semi-works car for the Brazilian. Fittipaldi impressed by qualifying on the front row and finishing fourth at both Nazareth and Milwaukee. However, he was sidelined with severe neck injuries when he crashed on the opening lap of the Michigan 500. A year later, Fittipaldi hurt his back in a light plane accident in Brazil so he announced his retirement from racing.

With flourishing business interests in Brazil and North America, Fittipaldi ran a Champ Car team during 2003 and was the figurehead for Brazil’s team in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. There have also been the occasional returns to racing as well. He was second at Kyalami in the inaugural Grand Prix Masters event for retired drivers during 2005. Most recently, he drove an AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia in the Interlagos round of the 2014 World Endurance Championship.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
2014 World Endurance Championship
AF Corse
1 0 0 0 0
2006 Grand Prix Masters
Grand Prix Masters
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
2005 Grand Prix Masters
Grand Prix Masters
1 0 1 0
0% win rate
0
1996 PPG Indycar World Series
Hogan-Penske Racing
12 0 0 0
0% win rate
18th 29
1995 PPG Indycar World Series
Marlboro Team Penske
16 (1) 0 2 1
7% win rate
11th 67
1994 PPG Indycar World Series
Marlboro Team Penske
16 2 10 1
7% win rate
2nd 178
1993 PPG Indycar World Series
Marlboro Team Penske
16 2 9 3
19% win rate
2nd 183
1992 PPG Indycar World Series
Marlboro Team Penske
16 2 7 4
25% win rate
4th 151
1991 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Marlboro Team Penske
17 2 6 1
6% win rate
5th 138
1990 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Marlboro Team Penske
16 2 6 1
7% win rate
5th 144
1989 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
15 4 8 5
34% win rate
1st 196
1988 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
15 1 5 2
14% win rate
7th 105
1987 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
15 0 3 2
14% win rate
10th 78
1986 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
17 2 5 1
6% win rate
7th 103
1985 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
15 0 4 1
7% win rate
6th 104
1984 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
H&R Racing
Patrick Racing
WIT Promotions
9 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
15th 30
1980 F1 World Championship
Skol Fittipaldi Team
14 0 1 0
0% win rate
15th 5
1979 BMW M1 Procar
BMW Motorsport
1 0 1 0
0% win rate
17th 12
1979 F1 World Championship
Fittipaldi Automotive
15 0 0 0
0% win rate
21st 1
1978 F1 World Championship
Fittipaldi Automotive
16 0 1 0
0% win rate
9th 17
1977 F1 World Championship
Copersucar-Fittipaldi Automotive
14 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 11
1976 F1 World Championship
Copersucar-Fittipaldi Automotive
15 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
16th 3
1975 F1 World Championship
Marlboro Team Texaco
13 (1) 0 6 2
16% win rate
2nd 45
1974 F1 World Championship
Marlboro Team Texaco
15 2 7 3
20% win rate
1st 55
1973 European F2 Championship
Team Lotus
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
15 1 8 3
20% win rate
2nd 55
1972 1972 Torneio F2 1st -
1972 European F2 Trophy
Team Lotus
5 3 3 3
60% win rate
0
1972 F1 World Championship
John Player Team Lotus
World Wide Racing
12 3 8 5
42% win rate
1st 61
1971 1971 Torneio F2 1st -
1971 F1 World Championship
Gold Leaf Team Lotus
World Wide Racing
10 0 3 0
0% win rate
6th 16
1971 Rothmans F5000 Championship 1 0 1 0
0% win rate
0
1971 European F2 Trophy
Team Bardahl
6 3 4 3
50% win rate
0
1970 F1 World Championship
Gold Leaf Team Lotus
5 (1) 0 1 1
20% win rate
10th 12
1970 European F2 Trophy
Team Bardahl
6 (1) 0 3 0
0% win rate
3rd 25
1969 1969 Lombank British F3 Championship 1st -

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