The Brazilian motorsport public took quite a long time to discover Formula 1 for two reasons. Firstly, Europe is the crib of Formula 1 since the beginning. Secondly, any sort of competition, if it wants to involve a Brazilian, can do through the Brazil nation. The first idol of the green-gold crowds, in the Formula 1 world, is Emerson Fittipaldi. He is a two-time world champion who, in the first half of the ’70, drove for two different teams: Lotus in 1972 and McLaren in 1974.
Yet calling him only Formula 1 world champion is too reductive to describe the greatness of a personality like the San Paolo driver one. The Brazilian, who has Lucanian origin, has in fact linked his name to the CART championship, where he won a title in 1989, and the Indianapolis’ 500 Miglia, winning twice in 1989 and 1993. After A.J. Foyt, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Rick Mears, he is the most successful driver in the top open-wheel championships together with Juan Manuel Fangio and Mario Andretti.
Emerson Fittipaldi was born at San Paolo on Thursday 12th December 1946. He is the son of dad Wilson, who was an amateur motorcycle driver to then become a sport journalist. Wilson did some races with Sedan cars after WW2. He then earned his living as a radiophonic and television commentator with the football matches. Then he moved on with commenting the motorsport races, the things that he loved the most. Thus, he started focusing entirely on those.
Emerson’s mom was also an enthusiastic person. In 1952, when the future world champion was almost six years old, she was driving a Mercedes-Benz 180 diesel car at Interlagos. The famous circuit was inaugurated in 1940. Two years later, in 1954, Wilson brings Emerson to watch a motorcycle race in a San Paolo public park. It was a dangerous place to race with bikes. On that day, John Surtees won the race at the wheel of a Manx-Norton. John is a fantastic driver, initially on two-wheels and then on four. Many years later, Emerson will be happy to tell John that he saw him winning the San Paolo race, when he was only 7 years old.
The cars are Emerson’s first love. In order to be able to race in Brazil, he must be at least seventeen years old. In the meantime, he can start driving bikes at the age of 14. Thus, as soon as Emerson turn 14, he enters a couple of races at the wheel of a small 50 cm³ bike who he personally prepared. This way Emmo learns to be a mechanic on his own with trials and mistakes whilst formally studying mechanical engineering. Soon after, the Brazilian starts to work on Wilson and Carlos Pace’s kart, older brother and friend respectively. Emerson will be very proud of his mechanic role when Wilson will become Brazilian kart champion.
Although, the races cost a lot and Emerson is only a teenager. Yet, the Brazilian will use to his advantage the fact that he is able to be a good mechanic. In fact, at the age of 15, Emmo starts a car accessories business and patents an aluminium steering wheel, with leather finishes. He then sells them as Formula 1 steering wheel to the Brazilian drivers and their Volkswagen Beetle. Emerson also sells magnesium, sports exhaust and conversions of double-carburettor engines as well as building mini-karts.
At the age of 16, Emmo buys a motorcycle that has a much bigger engine. When his parents discover this, the bike is taken away from him. They forbid their son to race in it. Frustrated, the Brazilian tries his luck on hydrofoil races, which is something that Wilson was already doing for quite some time. These hydrofoils mount outboard engines that are very fast and incredibly dangerous. Unsurprisingly, in one race, Wilson approaches a wave a little too quickly, at around 70 miles an hour (113 km/h), and raises a little too high the bow of his hydrofoil. The result is that the boat suddenly flips upwards, performing a violent loop in mid-air. There is enormous shunt. Wilson escapes from the shunt unscathed. The two brothers see this episode as a lesson and decide to quit the hydrofoil races to focus on mainland.
Thursday 12th December 1963. At age 17, Emmo is finally old enough to race in karts for the following season. The Brazilian makes his first amateur race, on a track outside San Paolo, and wins it. This is just the prelude to a path that will lead him to become Brazilian kart champion in 1965. At 18, Emerson feels the desire to race with cars. The Brazilian starts with a Renault Gordini, a small Sedan that has a rear engine. The first race is at a street circuit of the San Paolo university city, in 1965. A couple of laps until the end, Emmo excessively wears the brakes. At the end of the start/finish straight, he takes a corner way too fast and smashes against the perimeter fence. The car blows up, hurtling through an area where the spectators are watching the race. Emmo miraculously does not hit anyone.
This is the last time, in all his racing career, that he rolls over in a racing car. Emmo luckily does not have any injuries but the car is completely destroyed. Soon after, the Formula Vee category starts to take place in Brazil. It is an open-wheel single-seater racing formula based on pre-1964 Volkswagen Beetles. Emmo obviously decides to participate in it. In this case as well, the Brazilian work on the car on his own, covering it with a fibreglass body supplied by his friend Jerry Cunningham, an Anglo-Brazilian guy. The work on the car is done in a small factory near the Interlagos circus. In 1967, Emerson becomes Brazilian’s Formula Vee champion. In the same year, The Brazilian also win the 6H Interlagos race at the wheel of a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. The next year, he was the 12H Porto Alegre winner.
In 1968, Jerry Cunningham and Emerson Fittipaldi discuss at length on what to do next. The Brazilian knows and demonstrated that he is fast enough to win races in Brazil. However, he also understands that he would not be good enough to compete with the best drivers in the world - who are all European and most of them British. As a 21-years old Brazilian guy, who never left his home country, Emmo considers drivers such as Graham Hill, Jim Clark e Jackie Stewart as heroes of another universe. Jerry confides in Emerson that he should be the one to take the plunge and go to England.
Thus, on February 1969, the duo flies from San Paolo to Gatwick. When the British Boeing 727 Caledonian lands at Gatwick, Emmo’s mind is tormented by two thoughts: "What a grey, foggy and cold country" to "I cannot believe that I am now in Hill, Clark e Stewart’s land". A thrill of excitement suddenly runs through the Brazilian’s back. Emerson says to himself: "If I can start only one Grand Prix, I will be happy. It will be enough".
The most obvious path for Emerson to take is Formula Ford but he does not have any cash. Thus, he decides to offer his mechanic services to a guy called Dennis Rowland. The latter accepts Emmo’s offer and brings him to work at his office in Wimbledon, south of London. Here, Emerson works on the set-up of the Ford Cortina engine. The payment corresponds to an engine for a Formula Ford car, a Merlyn. With it, the Brazilian has scheduled to race in England during the spring and summer of 1969.
June 1969. Fittipaldi wins his second race in Formula Ford at Snetterton. He would then go on to win two more races in succession with the small car that will soon gain the nickname of Magic Merlyn. The reason of it is that, at the end of the 1969 season, the car will be sold to Colin Vandervell. The latter will win many races in 1970 before giving it to Jody Scheckter. The South-African driver will in turn also win races in 1971. Jody will then sell it but will then re-buy it to per restore it. Afterwards, he will put the Magic Merlyn in his private collection in the Hampshire villa, in England, together with famous Formula 1 cars such as the Ferrari T4 (with which he will become the 1979 World champion), the Wolf WR1 (finishing 2nd in the 1977 World championship), the beautiful McLaren M23 and others.
In the meantime, Jim Russell is keeping a close eye on Emerson. So much so that he invites Emmo to race with the Lotus 59 Formula 3 in Guards Trophy, at Brands Hatch. The Brazilian’s mechanic is Ralph Firman. The latter will establish the Van Diemen company in 1973. The latter will become one of the most successful cars’ manufacturers in the history of Formula Ford. The two work together well. Emmo is unable to qualify for the first Formula 3 race. However, he would then win the second one and would finish 3rd in the third one. It is not a bad debut in Formula 3 at all. More importantly, after winning the second race, the Brazilian demonstrates to himself that he is able to compete with the young and brilliant European drivers, having beaten the likes of Ronnie Peterson and James Hunt, just to name two. James was driving a Brabham BT21 whilst Ronnie Lotus 59, which was the same car that was driven by Emmo.
In this circumstance Colin Chapman, Lotus’ founder and team principal, notices Emmo’s performance as so does Frank Williams. Both call Emmo to congratulate on his debut performance. After winning for the third time in Formula 3, Colin calls the Brazilian a second time and offers a Formula 1 seat. On the spot, Emerson is amazed but refuses the invitation. He does not believe to be yet ready to do this step. In the meantime, Frank flies over to Emmo’s Norwich home, ins Norfolk, on a private jet, to also offer a seat in Formula 1. The Brazilian once again refuses.
Colin Chapman, despite the refusal, continues to keep an eye on the Brazilian. The Lotus patron doesn't let this talent, that he has in his hands, slip away. In the midst of 1969, he immediately makes Emmo debut in Formula 2. Emerson does not win any races but confirms that he has the capacity and the talent, both driving and car’s development, to make the step to Formula 1. Those are skills that patron Chapman likes very much.
In the following year, in 1970, Emmo feels ready for a Formula 1 seat. Thus, when Colin calls him again for an invitation to drive one of the Lotus cars in a Formula 1 Grand Prix the Brazilian answers affirmatively. The Hethel team needs a third driver in their quest to take the world championship away from Jochen Rindt. Emerson tries a Lotus 49 at Silverstone: the test satisfies the Lotus team. It is thus decided that Emmo’s debut in Formula 1 will take place at the British Grand Prix on Saturday 18th July 1970, a Brands Hatch. It is a circuit that Emerson loves.
Emmo’s teammates are Jochen Rindt, in the brand-new Lotus 72, and Graham Hill, two-time world champion at the wheel of a Lotus 49, the same model that the Brazilian will also use. Emmo feels nervous yet exited at the same time and qualifies in 22nd place. This may not seem like the best of debuts but the Brazilian is happy with this result. He achieved the goal that he had had for himself on that grey and foggy, when he landed at Gatwick just over a year before. Even better news for Emmo: Graham will line up next to him, in 23rd place. The following day, despite having a technical problem in the Lotus 49 at the end of the formation lap, Emmo makes his way through the field together with Graham Hill. Jochen wins the race, at the wheel of the Lotus 72, whilst Hills is n 6th place at the chequered flag. the Brazilian finishes in 8th place.
Two weeks later, at the German Grand Prix held in Hockenheim, Emerson is able to score an impressive 4th place finish in the race, at the wheel of a Lotus 49, after starting 13th. He takes his first 3 points in Formula 1. Jochen Rindt wins once again. Jochen is an amazing driver and an adorable guy. Since the first Formula 1 test at Silverstone, the Austrian is incredibly gentle with Emmo. He is very helpful, always eager to see his young teammate is preparing for the Grand Prix races in the right way.
The following race is in Austria. Jochen’s engine blows up whilst Emmo is at least able to finish 13th. The worst is yet to come. Immediately after this race, it is time to look forward to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Emerson is really excited to race in Italy. On Saturday morning, a bit before qualifying, the Brazilian has breakfast with Jochen at the Hotel de la Ville. It is the place where most of the drivers, to this day, are staying at. In this circumstance, Jochen says to his young teammate:
"Emerson, I do not want to race in Formula 2 and in Formula 1 next year like I did previous years. Bernie [Ecclestone, Jochen’s manager and commercial partner] and I would like you to race for us in Formula 2 next year, what do you say?"
"Jochen, of course I accept your offer".
The two shake hands. A couple of hours later, though, Jochen loses control of the Lotus 72, at the high-speed Parabolica corner, at the end of a qualifying lap. He slams into a guardrail post and passes away. Emerson Fittipaldi does not qualify for the race and will also miss the Grand Prix in Mont-Tremblant. This is because Colin decides that the Lotus team will not take part in the Canadian Grand Prix. At 23, the autumn of 1970 is a period of time where everything seems to be going wrong for Emerson, who is away from his family. Colin decides to take part with his cars in the following United States Grand Prix, which will take place at Watkins Glen. When Emerson arrives at Glen, he knows that he does not have enough experience to be the n.1 driver at Lotus.
Consequentially, Emerson feels enormous pressure to perform. On Saturday, he qualifies in 3rd place with the Lotus 72. This result gives a moral boost to the team. However, during the evening, Emmo starts to develop a high fever that forces him to go to bed early. The Brazilian cannot sleep and calls a doctor to prescribe some medicines. During the night, Emmo does not sleep at all. The following morning, he feels tired and indisposed. Everything seems to go wrong and he feels nervous and uncomfortable. Although, when the mover waves the chequered flag to indicate the start of the start, everything suddenly seems to change for the better. Emmo drives well behind and Rodriguez’s B.R.M.
The Lotus 72 seems competitive. Emerson is growing in confidence at the wheel of the British car despite being unable to overtake neither Pedro or Jackie. Emmo is confident that he can at least finish 3rd and starts to think impatiently about his first podium appearance in Formula 1. When Jackie’s Tyrrell retires due to an oil leak, Emerson has the possibility of finishing 2nd behind and Pedro’s B.R.M. Emerson tells to himself that 2nd place will be enough. What the Brazilian does not know is that Pedro is starting to run out of fuel. With eight laps to go, Pedro dives into the pits for a quick re-fuel and drops to 2nd. Emmo, in his fourth race appearance in di Formula 1, is leading. The remaining laps are like a dream for the Brazilian.
At the end of the final lap Emmo sees that Colin is running across the track and throwing his cap in the air. As a child, Emerson saw so much pictures of Colin doing the same move with Jim Clark and Graham Hill. Now it is his turn to enjoy Colin’s celebration. Emerson Fittipaldi wins the 1970 United States Grand Prix. Incidentally, the maiden victory is really important for him and the Lotus team. Let’s consider that this win, together with Sweden debutant teammate Reine Wisell’s 3rd place finish, prevents the Ferrari driver Jackie Ickx to score enough points to take the championship fight to Mexico. With this result, Ridt wins the world championship despite losing his life. It is the first and only posthumously awarded driver’s title in Formula 1 history.
The season ends in Mexico three weeks later. Fittipaldi does not finish the race due to an engine problem during the first lap. This finale does not detract from the Brazilian’s extraordinary (half) debut in Formula 1. Within a couple of races, Emerson has already made a name for itself in Europe and becomes the first Brazilian to win a Grand Prix in the top-class competition for open-wheel racing.
With such premises, 1971 should have been the consecration year. Yet in the world of motorsport, it is quite common for events to not follow the seemingly most logical route. Emerson, for this 1971 season, will again drive alongside Reine Wisell. Colin Chapman has a project in mind that has the goal to create a turbine Formula 1 car. The new Lotus 72D, which will debut in the second race in Spain, turns out to not be a worthy car for the title. The car would even struggle to finish on the podium. The most disappointing result was in Monaco, where he manages to finish 17th. Seems do not improves as weeks go by. The project is thus completely abandoned at the end of the season.
The Brazilian is able to run noteworthy races during the summer. In France, at Le Castellet, and in England, at Silverstone, he scores two 3rd place finishes. In Austria, he scores 2nd place, finishing only four second behind race winner Jo Siffert, B.R.M. The latter thus wins his second and last victory in Formula 1. Emerson will only then take a points-finish at the Monaco Principality. Throughout the other races, he has many retirements due to an unreliable car.
After abandoning this failing idea in 1971, the team goes back to work on the Lotus 72D. It is the evolution of the Lotus 72 that won the championship two weeks prior. The car to beat this season is Tyrrell, reigning world championship with Jackie Stewart. Emerson Fittipaldi drives alongside Dave Walker, last year’s test driver. The latter replaces Reine Wisell, who moved to B.R.M. The first race of the season takes place in Argentina, at the Buenos Aires circuit. Lining up in 5th place, Fittipaldi’s race (in raining conditions) ends 2/3 of the way through the race due to a suspension issue. The defending champion Stewart wins the race and boosts the ambitions of keeping the world title. It is not a great start for the Brazilian.
Despite the DNF, Emerson does not get discouraged. In fact, on the second race at Kyalami, in South-Africa, he steps onto the podium by finishing in 2nd place, behind new championship leader Denny Hulme. Emerson then goes on to win the third round of the championship in Spain, at Jarama, under rainy conditions. Starting on the second row of the grid, Fittipaldi overtook everyone and imposes a frenzied rhythm. Ferrari’s Jackie Ickx is the only to not being lapped, finishing in 2nd place albeit 18 seconds behind the winner. The others were lapped by the Brazilian. At Monte-Carlo, the Brazilian could win again after taking a precious pole position on Saturday. Although, as the rain pours down throughout the race, he must give way to the B.R.M. French driver, Beltoise.
The latter thus would win B.R.M.’s first and last victory of the race. Ickx finishes in 3rd place. Fittipaldi must only wait until the Belgium Grand Prix, at Nivelles, to take the second win. With pole and e victory, takes the lead in the world championship with 28 points, 9 clear of Hulme. Stewart is a further 7 points behind. The latter then goes back to winning ways in France ahead of Emmo’s Lotus. At Brands Hatch, in England, the race order is inverted between the two rivals. At the end of the English round, the gap between them is still 16 points whilst Denny Hulme is losing ground. He is in fact 22 points behind Fittipaldi. Thus, the 1972 championship seems like a two-horse race between Emmo and Jackie.
Jackie Ickx then wins the German Grand Prix, which takes place at the Nürburgring circuit. Both contenders are unable to finish: thus, the gap remains the same. With four races to go, the Formula circus moves to Austria and specifically at Spielberg. Emerson Fittipaldi, after taking pole position, withstands Denny Hulme daring comeback from 7th and achieves a crucial victory. The New Zealand driver is 2nd, 1.18 seconds behind Emerson. Stewart, finishing 7th and outside of the points, is now a long way behind in the standings. He is in fact now 25 points away from Fittipaldi.
With three races to go, the title is only a formality for Emmo. In Italy, in fact, the Lotus driver does not miss the first match point. Taking advantage of Ickx and Regazzoni’s retirements for Ferrari, who appeared very competitive in qualifying yet very unlucky during the race, Emerson wins his fifth win of the season. Emerson Fittipaldi is thus the first Brazilian driver to become Formula 1 world championship. Despite winning the next two races, with Fittipaldi finishing 11th in Canada and retiring in the United States, Jackie Stewart is unable to continue fighting for the title.
In 1973, Fittipaldi therefore presents himself as the reigning world Champion on the grid. Will all odds. In fact, the Lotus 72D is still the car to beat. The Lotus team, in the meantime, is working on the brand-new Lotus 72E. However, the drivers’ line-up of the British team is a bit different. Dave Walker will not be Emerson’s teammate anymore after scoring no points last season. The talented 29-years old driver, Ronnie Peterson, will drive alongside the defending world champion. In previous years, the Swede took a number of podiums at the wheel of the underperforming March car.
The most dreaded rival remains Tyrrell, with Jackie Stewart driving alongside the French driver Francois Cevert and in some races, with New Zealand’s Chris Amon. Emerson’s start of the season goes off to a great start. Emerson wins three, out of the first four races, in Argentina, Brazil (with a great home triumph at Interlagos) and Spain, at the wheel of the debutant 72E. Stewart though is a constant and reliable driver. Within Emerson’s extraordinary start of the season, the Scottish driver win the third round of the champion in South-Africa and steps on the podium in the previous two races. In Spain, he is forced to retire due to brake problems. Ronnie Peterson instead retires three times, out of the four races. Despite the unlucky start, it is a learning curve for Peterson to adapt to the new car and understand its limits.
The Belgium and the Monaco races are dominated by the Scot. On the other hand, Fittipaldi è forced to make do with two podiums, including a 3rd place finish at Zolder and a 2nd at the Monte-Carlo street circuit. At the end of the first six rounds, Emmo continues to lead the driver’s championship with 41 points, following by Jackie with 37. The arrival of summer, however, initiates a sudden and unforeseeable drop of performance for Emerson and the Lotus team. In Sweden, Emmo is forced to retire for brake issues. In France and in Great Britain, he is involved in racing incidents. Despite Peterson taking his first maiden win in France, Stewart is able to overtake the Brazilian in the standings. After Silverstone, it is now 42 against 41 in favour of the Scot.
The bad luck does not leave Emerson in the following three Grand Prix, obtaining only one point in Germany. In the Netherlands, he retires due to physical problems and accuses engine-related issues in Austria. This time though, Stewart capitalises on Emerson’s misfortunes and is able, with an upgraded and much competitive Tyrrell 006, to win the firstly mentioned races and to be on the podium in Austria, behind Peterson. The Swede is fully blossomed and projecting towards the lead of the championship. Stewart still leads with 66 points whilst Emmo is stuck at 42. The many technical problems that the reigning world champion is having start to raise suspicions. Emmo accuses Colin Chapman to favour his Swedish teammate, who is showing a competitiveness that he never had before until now. The relationship with the team becomes tense.
The most controversial episode was at Monza, in the third-to-last round of the championship. Peterson and Fittipaldi are in the lead of the Italian Grand Prix. Yet Emerson absolutely needs to keep his championship hopes alive with a win. He thus expects Peterson to let him through at the right time to take the victory. It will not go as Fittipaldi would have likes Ronnie Peterson triumphs at Monza, resisting the multiple and repeated attacks from the Brazilian. Thus, he finishes in 2nd place, only 0.8 tenths behind the Swede.
Jackie Stewart, thanks to an honest 4th place, is World Champion for the third time. Fittipaldi is upset with the Lotus team and with his teammate who, according to him, did not respect the pact. Lotus, in the meantime, wins the constructors’ title, thanks to Peterson’s win. This result will not be enough to avoid the divorce between Emerson and the Lotus team at the end of the season. For a while though, the Brazilian identified a team who would not only offer him a n.1 role but also a competitive car, after the sensible progress made in the last two seasons.
Fittipaldi thus chooses Ford Cosworth powered McLaren. He will drive alongside world champion Denny Hulme. The car prepared for the title fight is the McLaren M23, designed by Gordon Coppuck. Before the start of the season, the Woking team conducts many tests and improve the car. Teammate Hulme wins the season opener in Argentina whilst Emmo finishes in 10th after mistakenly shutting down the engine. In this period of time, the airboxes are critical because they suck dust from the whole circuit and sometimes opening the Formula 1 cars’ butterfly valves. The team, not wanting this to happen at the end of a long straight, fits an electronical principal switch on the steering wheel. Emerson did not expect to touch it but, during the race, he did and the engine shut off. It is shame because the old circuit of Buenos Aires has the longest and fastest and longest curve in the entire Formula 1 calendar and the M23 is extremely good in taking that corner.
Finishing 10th in the first race for McLaren means even more pressure for Fittipaldi. The second race of the season is in Brazil in front of his home crowd. Emmo and his sponsors together chose McLaren. However, after this race, the Brazilian is called to respond to the media’s and the public questions: who took the right decision? The Brazilian Grand Prix responds to all negative questions. Emerson Fittipaldi wins at San Paolo starting from 1st position on the grid. The timing is perfect. This triumph represents the first McLaren victory and his first consecutive one in Brazil. Winning the home Grand Prix is very special for Emmo since Interlagos is the place where he started racing at age 14. It is also fantastic to have a home winner for Brazil but it is also good for the team because it gives them confidence and enthusiasm for the following races.
Carlos Reutemann, at the wheel of a Brabham, takes the maiden win at the South-African Grand Prix. After it, the real championship contenders are identified: rising start Niki Lauda and Ticino driver Clay Regazzoni at the wheel of the two Ferrari 312 B3-74. The Ferrari drivers finish 1-2 at the Spanish Grand Prix at the Jarama circuit, after stepping on the podiums three times before in the previous races. Fittipaldi returns to victory in Belgium ahead of Niki Lauda on the line, before three consecutive points finishes at Monaco, in Sweden and in Holland. After the first eight Grand Prix, the title fight is wide open. Fittipaldi is leading the championship with 31 points, followed by Lauda, with 30, and e Regazzoni with 28.
At Digione, in France, the Lotus team takes victory with Ronnie Peterson. The two Ferrari cars finish on the podium while Emmo retires out of the race due to an engine failure. Nevertheless, McLaren continue to improve the car and plan ahead of the following races. The 1974 British Grand Prix is a prime and interesting example of it. During the season, the M23 car had numerous problems mainly on bumpy circuits. Gordon Coppuck, as a consequence, designs a new rear suspension that has a different geometry. This upgrade helps a lot the two McLaren drivers at Brands Hatch. The English tracks has many bumps and an enormous compression in the downhill section after the first corner. Emerson is unable to take victory, crossing the line to finish 2nd place after starting from 8th. In the standings, Fittipaldi still leads with 37 points, followed Lauda and Scheckter, both joined with 32 points, and Regazzoni with 31.
The double trip to centre-Europe, in Germany and Austria, is a nightmare for Fittipaldi. At the Nürburgring, Emmo is involved in a contact with teammate Hulme. A couple of laps later, the Brazilian retires. In Austria, it is the engine that gives up on him when he was fighting with Regazzoni for 3rd place. The Swiss driver, winning in Germany and a 5th place in Austria, is able to take the lead of the drivers’ standings with 46 points, a 5-points lead over Scheckter. Emmo is a further 4 points behind. There are three races to go and everything is up for grabs.
It is time for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Niki Lauda lines up in pole position (after losing ground in the championship). Regazzoni starts ahead of Fittipaldi. The events seem to favour Ferrari to triumph in Italy. However, both Maranello drivers are forced to retire due to engine-related issues. Peterson, in the Lotus, takes victory ahead of 2nd placed Fittipaldi. The latter, with this result, is now only 3 points behind the leader. He is still in the running to take the second world championship title.
The last two race of the 1974 season are thus becoming more important. Four drivers are in contention for the championship: Emerson Fittipaldi, Clay Regazzoni, Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter. Mosport Park in Canada, headquarters of the penultimate Grand Prix, is very rugged. it could become an obstacle for McLaren has Gordon Coppuck changed the design of the rear suspension in the M23 car throughout the season. Luckily, the suspension change does also work at the Canadian track and Emmo is able to take an amazing pole position.
Mosport is a small track. It is not very long but is extremely challenging to drive and to set-up. Apart from the roughness, there are many climbs and curves that have a blind entrance. At the start, Niki takes the lead but Emmo is not worried. The Brazilian has great faith in his car, which would have become faster as the fuel goes down. Strategically, the drivers need to find a good balance between full and empty fuel tanks. Emmo likes to set-up the car to be much faster with low fuel during the second half of the race.
In the same way, the Brazilian driver gives more importance to the physical training given how challenging is Grand Prix racing nowadays. Emmo, in particular, wants to be also be much stronger at the end of a race. Thus, through the season, he trains with the Brazilian football manager. This programme helps the driver to become much more prepared and become fitter compared to others. This is shown during the Canadian Grand Prix. In the second half of the race, Emmo is still in very good shape and leads the race after Niki and Jody are forced to retire. The M23 continues to improves as laps tick by and the fuel starts to go down. Emerson Fittipaldi wins, with a 13-seconds lead over Regazzoni. Peterson finishes in 3rd place. After taking the win, the Brazilian becomes the new championship leader level on points with Clay Regazzoni.
The championship is thus decided in the last race of the 1974 season at Watkins Glen, United States Scheckter, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi are in contention for the championship. This is because the South-African is 7 points behind the Brazilian and still has a change to take the title. On Saturday’s qualifying, Fittipaldi will start ahead of Regazzoni. This is the last time, through his entire career in motorsport, that Emmo would only sleep four hours the night before the race. During the night before the Indianapolis 500 race or before taking the 1972 championship with Lotus, he was also slept for only eight hours. Emmo has never faced a situation like this one, being level-on-points with Ferrari rival Clay Regazzoni.
Emmo feels the pressure to perform for himself and the entire McLaren team: the sponsors have great expectations. The Brazilian lines up in 8th place. At the end of the first lap, Clay is ahead of him. This, Emmo decides to close on him. After courageously tackling the uphill S-section, he is right behind the gearbox of Clay Regazzoni. He then tries to send the Ferrari driver off line during the straight before using the outside line at turn 1. In response, the Swiss driver pushes his rival towards the grass. Emmo already knows it since he considers Clay a great driver. Despite it, the Brazilian does feel like going side-by-side with the Ferrari driver.
"I will go back on track. If both cars touch, we will crash".
Emmo thinks this a moment later after putting the front tyre against the Ferrari, right next to Clay’s cockpit. The Brazilian’s car jerks but is still able to go side-by-side with his Scottish rival. The latter did not expect this and though that Emmo would have backed out. It was an unexpected surprise. In the following moments, both arrive side-by-side in the braking zone. Emmo has the inside line and is able to overtake Clay. The Brazilian is much faster at this point of the race and immediately ekes out an advantage to the Ferrari driver.
The last race of the season unfortunately will not only remember for an uncertain epilogue until the last breath. It will also feature the fatal incident of Helmuth Koinigg. He is involved in a frightening crash where he practically died on impact Despite this, the race must go on. In the most important moment of the season, Ferrari disillusioned expectations given that Lauda retired and Regazzoni is forced to battle in the midfield. In the end, Reutemann takes his third win of the season. Fittipaldi does not take any risks. Finishing 4th, he scored three point that are necessary to become world champion for the second time. McLaren’s party is complete after sealing the constructors’ championship for the first time.
The season is over. Emerson releases interviews to journalists and television crews, describing how he was able to overtake Clay Regazzoni during the first lap and pays tribute to McLaren’s professionalism and enthusiasm. Entering the Seneca or Lodge bar, Emmo finally realizes that he is a two-time world championship and that McLaren has won the constructors. The mechanics are going to their hotel rooms to relax after an exhausting yet rewarding season. It is an amazing and fantastic feat to win both the drivers’ and the constructors’ titles for McLaren. That evening, the team puts on a fantastic party at the Seneca bar. Emmo was never a drinker and does not get drunk during the feast. Instead, most of the McLaren drivers let go and drink as if there were no tomorrow given how hard they worked throughout the season.
In 1975, Fittipaldi wants to become championship for a third time. If he is able to do this, his name would be placed alongside big drivers such as Jack Brabham and Jackie Stewart. The German Jochen Mass signs for McLaren and will take Hulme’s place alongside Fittipaldi. As it was the case last year, there is an opponent who is ready for redemption that has a great talent: Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver is ready to be crowned championship. Nevertheless, the season gets off to a good start for the Brazilian, winning the season opener ahead of James Hunt’s Hesketh. In Brazil, Fittipaldi finishes in 2nd place behind fellow countryman Carlos Pace, in the Brabham.
The first disappointment of Fittipaldi’s season comes at the South African Grand Prix. In the first stages of the race, Emmo is up to 4th place but then picked up an engine misfire. Due to this issue, he was forced to make numerous visits to the pits. Losing hand over fists to the others, he will not be classified. In the meantime, Scheckter thus takes the maiden win in Formula 1 for Tyrrell. In the first races of the season, the two Ferrari drivers do not show off yet picked up precious point for the final standings.
This leads to the controversial Spanish Grand Prix, scheduled at the Montjuic street circuit. Most GPDA members do not consider safe the track. Some guard rails are either installed in very dangerous points or not fixed to the asphalt. On Friday, the drivers decide to take part in the two free-practice sessions given the danger of the guard rails. Jacky Ickx and Vittorio Brambilla only make some insight laps. The organization decide to re-assemble them with the help of the teams’ mechanics. On Saturday, some driver (including Fittipaldi, Lauda, Hill and Jarier) make a walking tour of the track, accompanied by a CSI delegate. From the inspection, the drivers continue to express their perplexity towards the track situation.
The drivers, who took part in the GPDA meeting, announce that they will not take part in the two free-practice sessions. Other drivers though (Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Bob Evans), who do not belong in the organization, decide to race instead. The CSI continues to push the driver to participate in those sessions. A second GPDA meeting is held on Sunday which emphasizes a drift on the drivers’ front. As a consequence, Wunderink, Evans and Ickx take part in Saturday’s first free-practice session in order to do some insight laps of the track. The drivers thus vote on whether or not to participate to the race during an additional meeting. If they decide to not do so, the organisers have threatened to confiscated the drivers’ cars, that are inside the Olympic stadium, used as a paddock, by the Guardia Civil.
This confiscation would have blocked the cars in Spain for a couple of months. This threat pushes the teams and drivers to at least take part in the qualifying session, at 16:00. Faced with this prerogative, almost all drivers accept to race. Everyone except one: Emerson Fittipaldi. The latter is convinced that racing in the Montjuic street circuit is too dangerous. In order to prove his point, he thus goes out on track, do the three laps that are required by the regulations to then not qualify for the race. The Irony of fate is that the race is won by teammate Jochen Mass. Thus, the standings do not change at the top.
From the fifth round onwards, the M38 starts to show its limits. The car is struggling with the handling and grip. The upgrades that are brought during the year do not bring the expected results. On the other hand, Niki Lauda, in the 312T, wins four of the following five races that are on the calendar from May to July. The only exception is Zandvoort, where he finished in 2nd place behind Hunt. Fittipaldi, in those races, only scores one points at Monaco and a 4th place in France. With 9 races gone, the Ferrari Austrian driver has 47 points compared to Fittipaldi’s 24. Considering this, the story of the world championship is practically already written.
It is time to look forward to the British Grand Prix. For the first time in his career, Tom Pryce starts on pole position for Shadow-Ford. At the start though, Carlos has a better start and with the use of the grip from 2nd place spot and gets ahead of the Shadow-Ford driver. Meantime, the two Ferraris are shuffling around with Clay Regazzoni getting the better of teammate Niki Lauda for 3rd place. Behind the top 4 are James Hunt, Jody Scheckter, Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi. On the 2nd lap, the racing action ramps up. Hunt overtakes Scheckter at Copse corner for 5th position whilst Fittipaldi muscles his way through to take the position away from Andretti. The latter made a mistake at Beckett's.
Four laps later, the Italian-American driver gives up another position to Tony Brise. At this point of the race, the two Ferrari drivers are driving very fast. So much that Regazzoni gets ahead of Pryce on lap 9. Soon after, the Scot closes up on Pace and takes the lead of the race. In the tail end of the field, Brise tries to attack Hunt but goes wide in doing so. As a consequence, the Hill driver is forced to come back to the pits after having an excursion moment that punctures a tyre. Whilst this is happening, Mario Andretti tries to defend 10th place against Jean-Pierre Jarier but makes a mistake at Woodcote that flattens the tyres. Due to this, the Parnelli driver is forced to makes an unscheduled pit-stop and is now in 21st position.
Lap 13. Regazzoni leads the race followed by Pace, Pryce, Lauda, Scheckter, Fittipaldi and Hunt. In the meantime, dark clouds are appearing on the race track. The possibility of rain is very high. On the 16th lap, Pryce gets through Pace for 2nd place. Two laps later, rain starts to pour on the Stowe area. The situation is not reported to Regazzoni, who spins at Stowe. Clipping the barriers, the Ferrari driver limps back to the pits to change tyres and the damaged rear wing. He re-joins the track in 21st place. Pryce thus re-takes the lead but is the first of many drivers to crash due to the slick tyres aquaplaning in the wet asphalt.
Lap 19. With two unseen move, Jody Scheckter makes good use of the rain to overtake Lauda and Pace. The South-African is on charge. one lap later, he overtakes Pryce to take the lead. On the 21st lap, Niki Lauda and Scheckter dive into the pits for the rain tires. The Scuderia Ferrari team does not put the tyre properly and it causes a slow puncture. The Austrian is once again forced to pit to change it. Pace moves into the lead, followed by Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt.
On the 27th lap, the leading trio decide to not change tyres given that the rain is getting lighter. From the back of the pack though, Scheckter is arriving thick and fast behind the trio. Soon after, the South-African re-takes the lead of the race once again. Fittipaldi, in an attempt to defend against the Tyrell driver, misses the breaking point and loses a couple of places to James Hunt and Jochen Mass. However, Pace also makes a driving error and gets overtaken by the mentioned duo. At this point, the rain has stopped and there are dry lines forming on track. Mario Andretti thus makes the decision to put the slick tyres once again.
Halfway through the race, Mass gets through Hunt whilst Fittipaldi does the same with Pace. On lap 30, Jean-Pierre Jarier, on rain tyres, overtakes four drivers (Pace, Fittipaldi, Hunt and Mass) for 2nd place, behind Jody Scheckter. After the latter’s pitstop, Jarier finds himself in the lead of the race. James Hunt though is closing up very quickly on the French driver who, after two laps, dives into the pits to change tyres. The Hesketh driver is now leading the race, to the joy of the British fans, ahead of Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Jody Scheckter, Jochen Mass, Mark Donohue and Vittorio Brambilla. On the 36th lap, Mass spins and gets relegated to 8th position whilst Scheckter overtakes Jarier. Soon after, the latter also makes a mistake that gives way to Mark Donohue and Vittorio Brambilla (now 5th and 6th respectively).
Hunt will maintain the lead of the race until lap 42. An exhaust splits in the Hesketh which causes the engine to lose power. This is enough to get overtaken by Fittipaldi at Stowe. During the following lap, the British driver is continuing to struggle with this reliability problems and has no answer to Pace. Around the 45th lap, torrential rain is beginning to pour again on track and Emerson Fittipaldi decides to dive into the pits to put the rain tyres. The Club corner becomes a true meeting place for cars. One after the other, Carlos Pace, Jody Scheckter, John Nicholson, Brian Henton, Dave Morgan, James Hunt and Wilson Fittipaldi joins that point of the track for a quick excursion.
This situation is proving to be extremely dangerous for the marshals who cannot safely help the drivers to escape from the cockpits. They are even risking of being run over by some single-seaters. The Same situation is also happening at Stowe corner, with Donohue, Mass, Watson and Depailler going off track. The race direction thus decides to stop the race. With 56 laps completed, Fittipaldi still has the satisfaction of winning the British Grand Prix a Silverstone for the 14th and last time in Formula 1. Carlos Pace and Jody Scheckter are on the podium, one lap behind the winner.
At Monza, Lauda obtains 3rd place (behind teammate Ragazzoni and Fittipaldi), which is enough to seat his first championship title with one race to go. Fittipaldi thus closes 2nd in the drivers’ standings. Demotivated by a season far below his expectations, Emerson could continue with McLaren. However, he is mindful of the difficult coexistence with Ronnie Peterson. Thus, instead of dividing the McLaren garage with a potential rival for the title, he chooses to accept the offer of his older brother Wilson. Let’s give some background to this proposal. Wilson jr founded a team, the Copesucar-Fittipaldi, supported by Brazilian sponsor Copersucar. It is a Brazilian team 100%. Emerson replaces his brother as a driver and brings to the team some British engineer and designer Maurice Philippe, his friend and ex Lotus designer.
Despite the important names joining the Brazilian team, 1976 is a disappointing year. The Copesucar FD03 lacks competitiveness in both high and low-speed tracks. Emerson only scores three-points finishes in the United States, Monaco and Great Britain race, finishing 16th in the drivers’ standings. The title fight is instead a question between Niki Lauda’s Ferrari and James Hunt’s McLaren di. The season is influenced by Lauda’s famous incident at the Nürburgring. In the end, Hunt takes home the 1976 world championship title.
In the beginning of 1977, the FD04 Copesucar-Fittipaldi starts to show some progress compared to last year. However, it will soon turn out to be an illusion. The season is dominated by Niki Lauda and Ferrari. During the first races, the Austrian is forced to race with last year’s car. The San Paolo drivers has a good start to the season, finishing 4th in the Argentinian and Brazilian Grand Prix. At the Long Beach street circuit, in the United States, he crosses the line to finish 5th. The new F5 car arrives in Belgium but the long-awaited leap forward in performance is not forthcoming. The Cosworth engine is underpowered and thus, in the following races, the Brazilian retires for reliability issues. In Italy and Germany, the Brazilian is unable to qualify for the race. He would also score a 4th place finish in the Netherlands, before closing the season early to concentrate on 1978.
The Copesucar F5A car seems to have some potential. In some track conditions, it can exploit the Goodyear tyres better than anyone else. Thus, Emerson continues to demonstrate that he is not getting old, as sometimes start to write through the international press. After a disappointing debut race Argentina, a podium finally arrived at the team’s home Grand Prix at the Jacarepaguà circuit, near Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, the subsequent races disillusion these good premises. Soon after, Fittipaldi sinks back to the tail end of the field.
The second half of the season goes a bit better. The upgrades start to work on the new Copesucar-Fittipaldi car. Emmo will then score two 4th places in Germany and Austria and two 5th place finishes in the Netherlands and United States. In the drivers’ standings, he finishes the season in 10th place whilst the team is 7th in the constructors’, with a total of 17 points. Mario Andretti is crowned the world champion, at the wheel of the Lotus 79.
1979 is undoubtedly the worst year of the Brazilian world champion’s career. The F6 car is neither competitive nor reliable. Emerson, beforehand, convinced designers Peter McIntosh and Ralph Bellamy to join the project of the Copesucar-Fittipaldi after working for Lotus. The season starts with a 6th place in Argentina start at the wheel of last year’s F5, scoring one point. The rest of the season will only bring many retirements and several finishes outside the top positions. The points scored in Argentina will remain his only one. Ferrari and South-African Jody Scheckter are the championships after an exciting fight with Jacques Laffite.
In 1980, Copesucar disengages from the project and is replaced by sponsor Skol. In the meantime, the team is called Fittipaldi Automotive. This time though, the Brazilian is driving alongside the Finn Keke Rosberg, who will immediately finish on the podium in Argentina. Emerson will also do so at the United States Grand Prix, at Long Beach. Brazilian compatriot Piquet wins his first race of in his Formula 1 career. At Monaco, Emerson will further add to his tally with a points-finish, after starting from 18th place. The second half of the season is less than satisfactory. The lack of reliability will not will no longer allow him to conclude any races in the top-6.
At the end of the season, unmotivated by poor results, Emerson Fittipaldi decides to retire from the world of Formula 1 at only 34 years of age. To his credit: 14 wins, six pole positions, six fastest laps and, more importantly, the championship titles in 1972 for Lotus and in 1974 with McLaren. After retiring, Emerson Fittipaldi continues to be part of the Fittipaldi Automotive team as Team Manager. Chico Serra is chosen to drive alongside Keke Rosberg. In 1981, the drivers are the least of problems for the Brazilian team. The car is not competitive at all, the funds are scares and sponsor Skol decides to quit.
In those conditions, it is difficult for the team to finish the races let alone thinking about scoring points. Serra is still able to finish behind the top-6 during the first race in the Unites States. In the second half, the car is even unable to qualify for the race. The only exemption is at the Las Vegas race where Rosberg achieves a 10th place finish. This season, however, will be remembered for the lap of honour performed by Emerson before the home Grand Prix in Brazil. The hug of the Brazilian fans is worth much more than a difficult second half of his career. Emmo is thus able to have an unforgettable commotion moment that he will forever remember.
Despite the enormous difficulties, the Fittipaldi Automotive team is able to start the 1982 season. This time it is only with one driver, Chico Serra. Rosberg is in fact joined Williams (with whom he will win the title). The season is unfortunately along the same lines as the previous one. At the Belgium Grand Prix though, Serra finishes in an impressive 6th place which will only the only point scored by the team in 1982. This is the Fittipaldi Automotive team’s last season in Formula 1 in which Emerson will have an active role in the world championship.
The Formula 1 chapter is now closed for Emerson Fittipaldi. Yet racing is still a big part in his life. Thus, in 1984, Emmo starts to race in the American series and is able to warm the hearts of the fans, as he did in Europe. Sunday 1st April 1984. Emmo makes his debut for Patrick Racing. It is American team for which he will race for until the end of 1989. In 1985, he takes his first victory in the CART championship CART in Michigan. Three more wins will come during that season. In 1989, the Brazilian wins the CART championship, collecting five victories. On the same day, he triumphs at the Indianapolis 500 race.
The following year, in 1990, Emerson goes to Penske Racing until 1995. With this team, Emerson will take eleven more victories. In 1993, he comes close to take the championship, finishing only eight points behind Nigel Mansell. Despite this disappointment, the Brazilian wins for the second time the Indianapolis 500 race. Nel 1996 Emmo switches to Lola, without achieving any significant results. The adventure in the CART championship ends with 22 victories, 65 podium, 17 pole position, 12 fastest laps and the 1989 championship at the wheel of the Penske-Patrick Racing car. In the 2000s, Fittipaldi goes on to drive at the Grand Prix Masters, category reserved for ex-Formula 1 drivers. Out of three race, he steps on the podium once in 2005.
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno