The Best and Worst of Emerson Fittipaldi

Emerson Fittipaldi was born into a racing family, both his parents raced production cars in Brazil and his father was a prominent motorsports journalist. He first started racing motorcycles at 14 years old before moving to hydrofoils at 16 (an odd career path today for an aspiring F1 driver). After his elder brother (Wilson) managed to flip a hydrofoil at 70 mph they both decided to switch to karts. From there they moved to racing Formula Vees and Emerson won the title in his second season at 21 years old. In 1969 he left Brazil and moved to Europe to pursue his racing career.

Starting in Formula Ford he moved up to Formula 3 within a few months and won nine F3 races and the 1969 MCD Lombard championship. For 1970 Fittipaldi moved up to Formula 2, finishing six of the eight races with three podiums. This was enough to give him third place behind Clay Regazzoni and Derek Bell. However from halfway through the year he was racing in F1 with Lotus finishing fourth in his second race and winning the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen (after being promoted to lead driver following Jochen Rindt’s death) before the end of the season. That was enough to give him tenth place in the drivers’ title from only five race starts.

In 1971 he continued with Lotus in F1 and finished sixth in the championship, but 1972 proved to be a dominant year, winning five of the 12 races that year on the way to becoming the youngest World Drivers Champion to date at just 25 years old. Fittipaldi was on his way to being a back to back champion the following year, winning three of the first four races. But things took a turn for the worse as the season wore on, and he ended up second to Jackie Stewart.

Moving to McLaren for 1974 Fittipaldi took another three victories on his way to his second title and followed this by another second place in 1975 taking two wins. By this stage of his F1 career, Fittipaldi had won two drivers’ titles with two different teams and had two second places, with arguably his first title in 1972 being the more impressive given his age and experience.

What followed has to rank as one of the worst team choices of all time. Instead of continuing with McLaren into 1976 (who let us remember won the drivers’ title with James Hunt driving after a season long battle with the Ferrari of Niki Lauda), Emerson Fittipaldi decides to Join his brother’s Copersucar sponsored team. For five seasons he struggled in this back marker team, failing to even qualify for three races and managing just two podium positions (second in Brazil in 1978 and third in Long Beach in 1980).   Following the particularly unsuccessful 1980 season, where he was comprehensively beaten by his young Finnish team mate (Keke Rosberg) Emerson Fittipaldi retired from driving and moved into managing the team alongside his brother. This was if anything even less successful now that Emerson had stopped driving and the team failed to score any points in 1981 and only a single point in 1982 before going into receivership at the end of that year.

Eventually Emerson Fittipaldi returned to racing, competing in the Champ Car series in 1984. Racing in the series until 1996 he won the championship in 1989 and the prestigious Indy 500 in both 1989 and 1993.


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