As well as working with Wilson, Divila got involved with Emerson’s Lotus 69 F2 in ’71: “We modified Emerson’s car quite a lot, and eventually it was almost all our car and we had quite a successful year with it. That was the first step towards designing our own car.”
With his confidence now sky high, Divila went radical for the first Fittipaldi F1 car, the FD01. Wilson explains: “At that time we had a maximum size for front and rear wings in the regulations, so we had to try to find a way to make the car faster in a straight line. Because of that we had the first F1 car in modern history to enclose the engine and the gearbox completely. Our car was very, very streamlined. And we decided that if I sat lower we could have our airbox lower. But making a decision like that for your first F1 car is a mistake!”
Wilson tested the car at São Paulo’s Interlagos circuit. “That was okay,” says Divila, “because Wilson knew the place backwards. But when we went to Argentina for the first race he couldn’t see the apex at any of the corners!” Wilson went out in a fiery accident, but work was simultaneously being carried out on a second car, which Wilson raced in Brazil and in which the driving position was propped up.
“It was a bit of a cock-up,” admits Divila of the ’75 season. “We were very young (Divila was still only 27), we did not have enough experience and technically we were too brave. There were a lot of good ideas, but even in England it would have been difficult to do them!”
Emerson joined the team from McLaren for ’76 as driver, while Wilson decided to stand down. The move shocked the F1 world. “I was in negotiations to continue with McLaren,” says Emerson. “But I don’t think Teddy (Mayer, the team boss) was very fair with what he offered to me.” (Divila reckons that, to stay at McLaren, his old friend had been offered three-quarters what Niki Lauda was to earn at Ferrari). “Wilson was building a new car for ’76 that was conventional and looked good and Richard was doing very well. I thought ‘Why not? It’s the time to go now and decided to do it. It was a very difficult decision, but I had a lot of idealisme to have this team materialise.”
Fittipaldi set some stunning times in testing at Interlagos prior to the season-opening Brazilian Grand Prix and was third fastest on the first day of qualifying. He then sprained his elbow in a charity tennis match and slipped to fifth on Saturday. “For the race we fooled ourselves by installing one of the first electronic-ignition engines,” says Divila. “We thought, ‘If it’s new it’s better’. A small pickup on the front wasn’t well tightened, it moved forward and touched a little aluminium plate you have at the front of the belt-drive, so we had aluminium chips flying around everywhere and it was cutting out. We changed everything in a pitstop, but it’s a shame — I’m sure we could have had a podium.”
The relationship had started well but soon deteriorated. Emerson had his own ideas on engineering and Divila was not pushy enough to fight his corner. “I could control Wilson quite well because we had a working relationship right back to Formula Vee,” he says, “but Emerson was out of my control. I didn’t have the authority to tell someone who had a very good reputation as a test driver that he’s barking up the wrong tree. He was an extremely good test driver when he had someone like Colin Chapman, but for his old karting mate it was difficult to say no.”