Emerson Fittipaldi

Emerson Fittipaldi

Emerson Fittipaldi became the youngest world champion in Formula 1 history when he claimed the first of his two titles. After leaving grand prix racing he went on to enjoy further success in the CART IndyCar season when that series was at its competitive peak.

The Brazilian racer arrived in F1 with Lotus in 1970 and, despite his youth, soon became the team’s leading driver, following the death of Jochen Rindt at Monza that year. Fittipaldi scored the team’s first victory in the wake of Rindt’s death, at Watkins Glen, which was only his fourth start in a world championship race.

By 1972 the team’s 72 chassis had matured into a highly competitive proposition and Fittipaldi claimed six podium finishes in a row, including three wins, to take a strong championship lead at mid-season. With two further victories at the Osterreiching and Monza he put the matter beyond doubt, becoming Brazil’s first world champion. He remained F1’s youngest champion until Fernando Alonso broke his record in 2005.

Tyrrell and Jackie Stewart hit back hard in 1973 while Fittipaldi had his hands full with a competitive new team mate, Ronnie Peterson. Fittipaldi won three of the first four races but Stewart took the initiative in the points fight as the season went on. At the end of the year Peterson took three wins and Fittipaldi chose to move on, to McLaren.

Heavy Michigan crash ended Fittipaldi's career
Heavy Michigan crash ended Fittipaldi’s career
This proved a well-timed move as the team’s M23 chassis gave him a crack at another title. In a highly competitive season, Fittipaldi went into the final race tied one points with Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni. Neither reached the podium, in the finale, but fourth for Fittipaldi netted his second title.

After finishing runner-up to Regazzoni’s team mate Niki Lauda the following year, Fittipaldi made a move which shocked F1. He left McLaren late in the year to join brother Wilson’s Copersucar-backed team for 1976. The tiny team struggled to compete with the front-runners, though Fittipaldi scored a couple of podiums for before quitting in 1980.

He returned to racing four years later in the CART IndyCar series, eventually joining Patrick Racing and scoring his first victory on the daunting Michigan superspeedway in 1985. He continued to deliver wins over the following seasons, then produced a fine championship in 1989, winning five times en route to the championship and claiming victory in the series’ signature Indianapolis 500 race.

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The new champion joined the crack Penske outfit to defend his title the following year. Fittipaldi claimed a second Indy 500 win with them in 1993, upsetting the Indianapolis establishment by toasting his success with orange juice instead of the traditional milk. There was no further championship success, however: Nigel Mansell beat him to the title that year and team mate Al Under Jnr prevailed the following season.

Although 1995 proved his first win-less season, Fittipaldi plugged on for another year, now aged 49. But a heavy crash at Michigan prompted him to change his mind, and he called time on his career. However many members of his family followed him into racing, including his nephew Christian and grandson Pietro, who both raced in F1.