Emerson Fittipaldi

Full Name: 
Emerson Fittipaldi
Birth Date: 
12 December, 1946
Birth Place: 
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Driver Status: 

Championship Titles


Emerson Fittipaldi Biography

Emerson Fittipaldi F1 Career Overview

Emerson Fittipaldi began the rich tradition of Brazilian drivers succeeding in F1 and was the figure to forge the path for the likes of Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna to also become legends of their discipline.

A double World Champion, Fittipaldi’s time at the top was fairly brief; he won the 1972 F1 World Championship in only his second season of full-time F1 racing and then again two years later in 1974.

He was also twice runner-up around those campaigns before Fittipaldi’s F1 career took a downturn on the honourable but unsuccessful decision to join his brother’s eponymous Brazilian-flagged team before exiting at the end of the 1980 season.

Nonetheless, Fittipaldi went on to notch up success in the United States competing in CART and winning the Indianapolis 500 twice.

In 144 F1 starts Fittipaldi was a 14-time race winner, with 35 podiums and six pole positions.

His nephew Christian Fittipaldi raced in F1 with modest success between 1992-1994, while his grandson Pietro Fittipaldi made his F1 debut as a deputy for the injured Romain Grosjean at Haas in 2020.

Emerson Fittipaldi F1 Career - Team-by-Team

Lotus: 1970-1973

Beating a path to Europe from his native Sao Paulo, Fittipaldi - having originally set his sights on motorcycle racing - set himself three months to dazzle prospective scouts and land a motorsport career on four wheels, which he duly achieved with stints in Formula 3 and Formula 2 before getting his F1 shot.

With the iconic Gold Leaf-backed Lotus successfully benefiting from its performances with incoming sponsorship money, team manager Colin Chapman used a third entry to bring on potential new talent, of which Fittipaldi was included. 

Sharing the seat over the year with Alex Soler-Ring, in the year that saw Jochen Rindt clinch the world title posthumously, Fittipaldi went on to pitch as his full-time replacement by notching up his first victory in only his fourth start two races later at Watkins Glen.

That earned him his first full season in 1971 with Lotus and Fittipaldi repaid this faith with an impressive maiden campaign that yielded three podium finishes - with a best of second in Austria - en route to sixth in the overall standings.

With Lotus bringing significant updates to the 72D for the 1972 F1 season, Fittipaldi made excellent use of his car’s superior downforce and he was consistently the fastest driver on circuit. Recovering from a DNF in the opening round, a win in Round 3 at Jarama set the Brazilian on course for another four wins from the 12 round season. At the age of 25, Fittipaldi became the youngest F1 World Champion, a status he held until Fernando Alonso in 2005.

Fittipaldi’s defence year wasn’t so prolific and he came up against a formidable foe in double World Champion Jackie Stewart. While the 72D was quick enough for two wins from the opening three races and the updated 72E won on its debut in Fittipaldi’s hands, a dry run midway through the year would see him fall short to the Scotsman by 16 points.

McLaren: 1974-1975

Sensing Lotus’ erstwhile advantage was being whittled down, Fittipaldi embarked on a switch to McLaren for 1974 and instantly rediscovered his best form, winning on his second time out - emotionally - on home soil at Interlagos.

In a closely fought battle with Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni, though Fittipaldi won three races to his rival’s one, a dip in form during the closing stages tightened things up in the Swiss driver’s favour. However, with the third of those wins coming in the penultimate Canadian Grand Prix, it brought the pair level of points heading to the Watkins Glen finale.

In the race Fittipaldi and Regazzoni circulated in sixth and seventh respectively, but the Ferrari was struggling with its handling and it was forced to pit and drop down the order. Knowing Regazzoni had to always score at least one more point to win the title, the pressure was off Fittipaldi as a fourth place finish assured him of his second title in three years.

Facing up to the highly-rated Niki Lauda for 1975 in the Ferrari, Fittipaldi couldn’t live with the Austrian despite decent early season form, though two wins and four podiums assured him of the runners-up spot in the standings once again. 

Fittipaldi Automotive: 1976-1980

Over the winter Fittipaldi announced a shock switch to the relatively new Fittipaldi Automotive team founded by his brother, Wilson.

Though it wasn’t hard to understand the reasons for the move - not least the patriotism of it being a Brazilian set-up and coming with a sizeable amount of budget domestically - given Fittipaldi’s enduring status as one of F1’s top drivers of the time and the team’s inauspicious non-scoring debut in 1975 with Wilson at the wheel, it was greeted with a fair degree of scepticism.

With Emerson at the wheel - replacing Wilson who stepped back to focus on team management duties - the did subsequently enjoy a step forward, scoring its first point in Long Beach and another at Monaco and Brands Hatch.

However, the sporadic points were negated by other races where Emerson failed to qualify and generally the car didn’t make significant improvements during his prolonged five-year tenure in the eponymous outfit arguably befitting of its star pilot.

That’s not to say there weren’t highlights, including a brilliant second place finish in Rio in 1978 in a year that saw Fittipaldi crack the top six on six occasions. He - and another title-winning team-mate Keke Rosberg - added a podium each in 1980 but they were the scant notable results from an otherwise tough campaign. Seventh overall was the best Fittipaldi managed under his own name, in 1978.

Emerson’s exit at the end of the 1980 season saw the team struggle on for little more than a year after losing backing in the wake of its talisman’s exit and the team folded in 1982.

Emerson Fittipaldi - Beyond F1:

Fittipaldi stepped back from motorsport in the years directly after his F1 exit before making his comeback competing in the US-based CART series from 1984, where he remained until 1996.

He was competitive from the off, Fittipaldi landing his maiden win in 1985, eventually leading to a title victory in 1989 with Patrick Racing. It was in this year that Fittipaldi became one of the few drivers to win both the F1 World Championship and the Indy 500, the Brazilian achieving the latter for a second time in 1993.

His grandson Pietro Fittipaldi competed in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix with Haas F1, the team with which he is a reserve driver.