Emerson Fittipaldi (b. 1946)
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Emerson Fittipaldi

Emerson Fittilapdi
The story of Emerson Fittipaldi almost parallels that of Juan Manuel Fangio, who also started from humble beginnings and rose to become a multiple World Champion. It is not coincidence, though, that both men come from South America, where chronic poverty often inspires young men to fight their way out of their environment to reach the top of their chosen profession.

Wilson Fittipaldi

Not that Fittipaldi was born into a poor family ... his father, Wilson, was a well known journalist who had reported on motor racing for many years, and had taken part in motor and motor-cycle racing himself. Born in Sao Paulo on 12th December 1946, Emerson, like his elder brother Wilson, was soon being indoctrinated with motor-racing lore. At the age of fifteen Emerson was taking part in 50cc motor-cycle racing, while his elder brother was participating in kart races.

The Sao Paulo Kart Championship

It was not long before Emerson graduated to karts and by 1965 he had won the Sao Paulo Kart Championship. He was noticed by several people at this stage; he was still only nineteen, yet he was given a place in the Renault Gordini team which raced in Brazilian events. He won the Brazilian Novices championship in the Renault and then moved into a Formula Vee car with which he was again successful, winning the Brazilian Championship in 1967. However, there was little real opposition, largely because Brazil possessed no proper motor-racing industry, unlike the USA and most European countries, so cars were few and far between, while strict import regulations restricted the sale of racing cars.

Most cars had to be built from production parts, so the Fittipaldi brothers began building up their own cars, using mostly Volkswagen components. They built and raced an Alfa Romeo GTA and a Karmann Ghia Volkswagen powered by a 2-liter Porsche engine. With the later Emerson finished second to Carlos Pace in the 1967 Brazilian GT Championship. A much more sophisticated car was built up for 1968, again powered by the Porsche engine, but it was unreliable and did not finish many events.

Formula Ford

By the end of the 1968 season Emerson knew that if he was going to get anywhere in international motor racing he had to go to Europe to discover if he was as good as the Europeans. He decided to go to England and arrived in March 1969. He had enough money for a Formula Ford car, so he bought a Merlyn Mk IIA, which was quite a successful car at the time. With a good engine, tuned by Denny Rowland, Emerson started on a storybook trail of victories, which led to numerous mentions in the motoring press.

Fittipaldi soon came to the notice of Jim Russell, the former racing driver who ran a racing school at Snetterton, and Russell offered him a drive in his new Lotus 59 Formula Three car. The extra power of the Formula Three car did not worry Fittipaldi and he again won a string of races, taking the Lombank F3 Championship with no less than eight straight wins. There was no looking back after that, for Colin Chapman of Lotus quickly snapped him up for the 1970 season to drive a Formula Two Lotus 69 alongside Jochen Rindt.

Fittipaldi was not as outstanding in the Formula Two car as he had been in the FF and F3 machines, but the Lotus 69 performed no better for Rindt, who had a multitude of problems. However, Fittipaldi finished second at Imola, and third at Barcelona and Rouen, to take third place in the European F2 Trophy. Other team managers were beginning to woo Fittipaldi, but Chapman forestalled them by offering Fittipaldi a drive in the Formula One team alongside Rindt and John Miles. Fittipaldi was given a type 49 to test and race while the others were using the new type 72. Chapman already suspected that Miles was not suited to Formula One and was looking for a replacement.

Fittipaldi's First FI Race

Fittipaldi's first FI race was in the British GP, where he finished a creditable eighth, following this with a good fourth place in the German GP at Hockenheim. For the Italian GP he was given a Lotus 72, but he made one of his rare mistakes and crashed in practice shortly before Rindt also crashed and was killed. The team withdrew from the race, but returned for the United States GP, when Fittipaldi was promoted to team leader, as Miles had left and had been replaced by Reine Wisell. There was great pressure on Fittipaldi, as he was leading the team in only his fourth F1 race and the car had the suspicion of weak brake shafts hanging over it - and many believed there was a possibility that these had caused Rindt's crash. However, Fittipaldi overcame these problems and coolly drove the car to victory.

The following year Fittipaldi remained as team leader, but the Lotus 72 was uncompetitive, probably as a result of Emerson's lack of experience, although he had a bad crash on the road which kept him out of racing for a few weeks. However, he finished second in the Austrian GP, third in both France and Britain to take sixth place in the World Championship. In 1972 everything came right for Fittipaldi and Lotus, and the Brazilian won the Grands Prix of Spain, Belgium, Britain, Austria, and Italy, finished second in South Africa and France and third at Monaco, to run away with the World Championship. He also won the Rothmans race at Brands Hatch, as well as the Race of Champions, the Silverstone International Trophy, the Republic GP at Vallelunga and a string of Formula Two races.

Fittipaldi's John Player Special Lotus 72D at Monza in 1973
Fittipaldi's John Player Special Lotus 72D at Monza in 1973. Fittipaldi finished second behind team mate Ronnie Peterson.

Fittipaldi's Texaco-Marlboro McLaren M23 at Monaco in 1974
Fittipaldi's Texaco-Marlboro McLaren M23 at Monaco in 1974.

Ronnie Peterson

For 1973, Fittipaldi was joined in the Lotus team by Ronnie Peterson, the brilliant Swedish driver. They were designated as joint number one drivers, which many pundits forecast would bring trouble to the Lotus team, whose 72s were being raced as John Player Specials. Fittipaldi won the opening events in Argentina and Brazil, much to the delight of his countrymen, then he won the Spanish GP and finished second in the Monaco GP, but from then on his luck ran out as he retired in a number of events. Both Fittipaldi and other observers felt that Colin Chapman favored Peterson towards the end of the season.

At Monza, this equal number one driver status problem reared its head. A win for Emerson would have kept his Championship hopes alive, but Ronnie Peterson, having led the race throughout, with Emerson running second, was allowed to win the race. To be fair, Ronnie had waved Emerson by to lead the preceding Austrian Grand Prix. Jackie Stewart's fourth place at Monza was sufficient to win him the title. Although Chapman offered Fittipaldi handsome terms to stay with Lotus for 1974, he was disenchanted with the team and accepted an offer to drive for the Texaco-Marlboro team.

A Home Town Win at Interlagos

Emerson won his home Grand Prix at Interlagos, the Belgian and the Canadian Grands Prix, which together with second places at Brands Hatch and Mosport, ensured him of his second World Championship. 1975 saw a repeat of his previous successes in South America with a win in Argentina and a second in Brazil. Second at Monaco, Monza and Watkins Glen, Emerson's other win was in the shortened Silverstone race, when he was in the right place with the right tyres when nearly everyone else was aquaplaning off the circuit. Emerson finished second in the Championship, and there was speculation to see whether he could maintain his impressive scoring rate: 1972, 1st ; 1973, 2nd ; 1974, 1st ; 1975, 2nd.

Wilson's Fittipaldi Racing Team

The motor racing world was astonished to find that Emerson had elected to join brother Wilson's Fittipaldi Racing Team which was handsomely financed by the Brazilian state- owned sugar producers, Copersucar. The Copersucar-Fittipaldi had been designed by Emerson's friend Richard Divila, and the car looked promising as Emerson qualified it fifth fastest at Buenos Aires for its first race. Unfortunately for Emerson, that was its best showing all year, and try as he might, he was unable even to qualify for some races. The Fittipaldi Racing Team was hardly a world class organization and the double champion regularly struggled, but despite the problems he remained with the team for five seasons - his best result a second place.

Fittipaldi decided to retire from racing at the end of 1980. He has since said that his last two years in Formula One were very unhappy: "I was too involved in the problems of trying to make the team work, and I neglected my marriage and my personal life", although at the time he cited the deaths of many of his colleagues as his reason. He was only 33, but had been racing in Formula One for a decade. He had failed to finish seven of the last ten races that year and had several times been outpaced by his Finnish teammate Keke Rosberg (a future champion himself). He moved into the management of the team alongside his brother. The team struggled on for another two years with minimal sponsorship, going into receivership at the end of 1982.

Patrick Racing

After leaving F1 in 1980, Fittipaldi took time out from major racing for four years, returning in 1984 in CART. The 38-year old spent his first season acclimatising to Indy Cars, driving for two teams before joining Patrick Racing as an injury replacement. He stayed five years with the team, recording six victories and solid finishes in the overall standings. In 1989 he had five wins and finished in the top five in every race he completed, giving him a CART championship. Among his wins was a dominant performance in the Indianapolis 500 where he led 158 of 200 laps and won by two laps, but only after a dramatic duel with Al Unser Jr. in the closing laps of the race.

With both drivers a commanding six laps ahead of third place Raul Boesel, Unser ran down Fittipaldi after a late-race restart and passed him for the lead on lap 196. Three laps later, Fittipaldi used lap traffic to his advantage to pull alongside Unser on the backstretch. Neither driver would give way, and the two cars touched wheels as they went through turn three side by side. Unser's car spun out of control to hit the outside wall, while Fittipaldi was able to maintain sufficient control to keep his car moving straight. In spite of the altercation, Unser saluted Fittipaldi from the infield with a double thumbs-up sign as he brought his car through turns three and four on the subsequent caution-slowed final lap.

Roger Penske

Roger Penske hired Fittipaldi for his racing team in 1990 and he continued to be among the top drivers in CART, winning a race with Penske for six straight years. In 1993 he added a second Indianapolis 500 victory by taking the lead from defending Formula One World Champion Nigel Mansell on lap 185 and holding it for the remainder. The race was more well known for him breaking Indy victory lane tradition when he drank a celebratory bottle of orange juice instead of the traditional bottle of milk. He was only the second driver to not drink milk at Indy since the tradition was founded in 1936 (and firmly established in 1956).

Fittipaldi owned several orange groves in his native Brazil, and wanted to promote the citrus industry. He was widely criticized and ridiculed for the action, even though he later took a sip of milk (after the television cameras were off). Fan reaction to the milk snub was highly negative, and he was booed a week later at Milwaukee. In the years following, many fans continued to hold the action against him. In interviews since, Fittipaldi explained his action, and apologised for the wave of negativity that followed.

Injured at the Michigan International Speedway

Fittipaldi returned to Indianapolis to drive the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car for the 2008 Indianapolis 500. Despite coming clean, he was again booed and heckled by some fans during the Public Drivers' Meeting. Approaching 50, he was still with Champ Car in 1996 when an injury at the Michigan International Speedway ended his career. Fittipaldi did not return to the series as a driver after the injury but in 2003 he made a return to Champcars as a team owner. Fittipaldi is currently acting as team principal for the Brazilian A1 GP entry. In 2005 Fittipaldi made a surprise return to competitive racing in the Grand Prix Masters event held at Kyalami in South Africa, finishing second behind former CART sparring partner Nigel Mansell. In 2008, Emerson and his brother Wilson entered the Brazilian GT3 Championship, driving a Porsche 997 GT3 for the WB Motorsports team.
Fittipaldi's updated 1976 Copersucar-Fittipaldi
Fittipaldi's updated 1976 Copersucar-Fittipaldi, in which he finished fifth in the South American Grand Prix.
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