How Pietro Fittipaldi narrowly qualified for his F1 debut this weekend

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Pietro Fittipaldi will make his Formula 1 debut at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix. He has been called up by Haas to stand in from Romain Grosjean, who is recovering from the burns he suffered in his fiery crash yesterday.

But a glance at Fittipaldi’s record reveals a surprising detail for a driver who is about to make his debut in the sport’s top flight: He hasn’t won a single race in his last three years of competition. Given that, how has he managed to accumulate the 40 superlicence points necessary to be allowed to race in Formula 1?

The 24-year-old has served as one of Haas’s two official test and reserve drivers during this year. The other, Louis Deletraz, has Formula 2 commitments this weekend.

Fittipaldi hasn’t raced (aside from virtual competitions) for much of 2020. However he did compete in the Asian F3 series earlier this year, where he collected the final superlicence points he needed in order to qualify to race in F1.

Start, Nurburgring, World Series V8 3.5, 2017
Fittipaldi won the final Formula V8 3.5 title in 2017
He took his first and biggest step towards earning his superlicence by winning the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship in 2017. This had previously been known as Formula Renault 3.5, until the French manufacturer pulled its backing two years earlier.

Fittipaldi won the championship against a weakened grid. Only eight drivers contested every round.

During the season the FIA announced the superlicence points awarded for winning the series would be slashed to 20 points for the following year. But the series collapsed before then, and Fittipaldi became its final champion, banking a valuable 35 superlicence points.

In 2018 he embarked on dual campaigns in IndyCar and the World Endurance Championship. However he started just one IndyCar race, finishing 23rd on the Phoenix oval, before suffering a leg-breaking crash during practice for the Six Hours of Spa. That cost him any chance of adding further superlicence points to his tally that year.

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Before the crash Fittipaldi was already in discussions with Haas over a role at the team. The following November he was confirmed as one of their test drivers for 2019.

Pietro Fittipaldi, Audi, Brands Hatch, DTM, 2019
A year in the DTM added nothing to his superlicence haul
That year he moved into the DTM with Audi, where the competition was tough. He managed just six points finishes and ended the year 15th, having failed to add to his superlicence total for the second year running.

But a vital ruling went his way in a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in December. They approved a request for Fittipaldi transfer the points he scored in 2017 to 2018, the year of his crash. That extended the window of opportunity for him to score the necessary points to make his F1 debut.

The Asian F3 series, which ran through the 2019-20 off-season, provided a useful opportunity. In slower cars than those he had won the V8 3.5 title with in 2017, Fittipaldi needed only to finish the season in the top five to reach the superlicence points threshold.

It didn’t start well. Technical problems contributed to a point-less weekend at Sepang. He managed a pair of seventh places in Dubai, and one non-score after breaking his front wing in a collision with Ukyo Sasahara. At the next triple-header in Yas Marina, Fittipaldi mustered a fourth place and a pair of fifths.

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With nine of the 15 races completed, he lay sixth in the championship, good enough for four superlicence points. That would leave him on 39 – one shy of the total he needed. Then something unexpected happened: A pandemic.

Devlin Defrancesco, who was leading Fittipaldi in the points standings, stood down from the series, citing concerns over exposure to Covid-19. Sebastian Fernandez, who was also ahead of Fittipaldi, dropped out too.

Fittipaldi therefore had an open goal in front of him heading into the final two triple-headers. However after a fourth and two fifths in the penultimate round, Sepang, he remained sixth behind the absent Defrancesco and Fernandez.

At the finale in Buriram he finally scored his first podium finish of the season with third place. More points fourth fourth and 10th in the final rounds meant he moved past Defrancesco and Fernandez, though W Series champion Jamie Chadwick relegated him back to fifth.

Even so, that meant six superlicence points, putting him on a total of 41, finally moving him past the threshold necessary to complete in F1. Thanks to that, a grand prix debut for the grandson of two-times world champion Emerson Fittipaldi beckons in just four days’ time.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “How Pietro Fittipaldi narrowly qualified for his F1 debut this weekend”

  1. Not exactly brilliant or even good, but best of luck to him, wish it was under better circumstances.

  2. But a vital ruling went his way in a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in December. They approved a request for Fittipaldi transfer the points he scored in 2017 to 2018, the year of his crash.

    He did not even need this, because the FIA changed the rules this year, due to Covid-19. The best three seasons in four years is enough, which also gives him the 41 points he needs.

    1. @silfenOr Three years out of four in general, meaning that points obtained in 2017 still count through next year.

  3. Fitness level for the high speed outer Bahrain track will be hard to achieve for all the drivers, let alone one who hasn’t experienced it at full speed this year. All the turns are in one direction as well.

    Ah well. Live while we’re young. That’s the story of my life. And other boy band references.

    1. @scalextric All bar, of course, T2, as well as the flat out left-hander after T4. Also, the first turn of the chicane before entering the back straight. Nevertheless, a high-speed track configuration alternative, Monza style, which isn’t going to be an easy one for him to make a debut start, especially at this notice. I bet he’s going to qualify last with Magnussen P19.

      1. Don’t forget ma boi Latifi is also there

  4. It seems Haas has found a driver matching the quality of the car. I wish him all the best!

    1. They’ve had Magnussen for a while now.. so I think they already had that covered

  5. I do remember at the time of his accident talking about how it would be sad for him to potentially lose out on valid superlicence points because of an enforced injury layoff. Its just disappointing that since then he hasn’t really made much progress. I do wonder how much a long layoff like that affects a young driver both physically and mentally?

  6. After last week is isn’t reassuring. There will be lots of high speed running this weekend. In qualifying a slow car the wrong place could be catastrophic. Hope he is up to the task.

    With unused, talented drivers like Hulk around it is really discouraging to hear such an un-distinguish driver is getting the nod.

    1. “With unused, talented drivers like Hulk around it is really discouraging to hear such an un-distinguish driver is getting the nod.”

      Undeniably true.

      But I am pleased that for once a team has actually decided to make use of its official reserve driver, rather than these reserve drivers who exist on paper but as soon as the main driver is out of the picture then the team suddenly start shopping around for a “name” to stand in.

      Because otherwise there’s not really any point in having an official reserve driver.

  7. Enough points or not, is it wise to plug in a driver that has not raced anything for a while?

  8. He did terrible in his short stay in IndyCar. I felt he was unqualified and over his head. Not expecting much.

    Get well Romain.

  9. I first took notice of Pietro when he won a Nascar division at age 15 (or something like that). His initial development as a driver was in the USA, and then Emerson sort of pushed him towards a career in europe to shoot for an F1 seat. I’ve got nothing against the kid, but I don’t think he’s got what it takes.

  10. @KeithCollantine Fittipaldi actually started the final five races of the 2018 Indycar season after he recovered from his broken leg.

  11. No I’ll will towards Fittipaldi, but I think this weekend is likely to show that Magnussen and Grosjean are really good drivers, and when you stick someone who’s gotten the results Fittipaldi has so far, I think we’ll find out the Haas is quite a bit slower than the Williams on merit.

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      1st December 2020, 5:42

      @helava
      How so? Bringing in an inexperienced F1 driver? That makes zero sense.

  12. What is going on here? They’re putting a driver in an F1 car who, technically, has enough super license points to drive an F1 car, but really doesn’t have the talent or ability to even drive an F2 car.

    Does Steiner even know the super sub Hulkenberg is available?

  13. Was about to point out that Hamilton earlier complained about an inexperienced steward, so where does he stand on an inexperienced driver that will probably be on the same piece of tarmac that LH wants.
    But, of course, I now here Co-Vid put paid to that.
    How does a Regional F3 + DTM + others make him legally capable of competently driving an F1????
    So, was Fittipaldi appointed reserve driver before he obtained his Superlicence???? Interesting if it is.

    As for super-sub Hulk, if I was Toto, would already have him organised to drive #44. Well, he has already shown his ability subbing in the junior pink Merc!!!
    With VB’s rotten luck this year, Toto will need a driver capable of beating Max. Hulk for the win – YEAH!!!

  14. Jose Lopes da Silva
    2nd December 2020, 15:06

    The trend goes on. I see people complaining about Fittipaldi and putting him down. Regarding Mazepin, it’s all “wish him well”. I don’t understand, but it’s just the way it is.
    Fittipaldi did not buy his seat. I wish him good luck, he has a huge task ahead!

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