When it comes to Brazilian Formula 1 drivers, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet are often the first names that spring to mind. However, before these racing giants, there was a man who not only paved the way for their success but also became a trailblazer for Brazilian motorsports and an inspiration for generations to come: Emerson Fittipaldi.
A two-time Formula 1 World Champion, Fittipaldi’s life and career spanned a fascinating journey through the world of motorsports. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the life and legacy of Emerson Fittipaldi, delving into his early days, his most spectacular races, and the intriguing facts that make him a true racing legend.
Born on December 12, 1946, in São Paulo, Brazil, Emerson Fittipaldi hailed from a family with a rich motorsports history. His father, Wilson Fittipaldi Sr., was a renowned motorsport journalist and commentator, while his mother, Józefa “Juzy” Wojciechowska, was a Polish refugee who fled World War II. Emerson grew up alongside his older brother Wilson Fittipaldi Jr., who also became a racing driver.
Emerson’s passion for racing was ignited at a young age. He began competing in motorcycle races at the age of 14 and switched to karting by the age of 16. After achieving success in Brazilian karting championships, Fittipaldi transitioned to single-seater racing, competing in the Brazilian Formula Ford Championship in the late 1960s.
Rise to Formula 1
In 1969, young Emerson made the leap to Europe, joining the Jim Russell Racing School to hone his skills. He quickly attracted the attention of Lotus founder Colin Chapman, who offered him a seat in Formula 3. Fittipaldi scored nine victories driving the Lotus 59 run by Jim Russell and conquered the 1969 MCD Lombardy Championship. His undeniable talent led him to move quickly to Formula 1, debuting with Lotus in 1970. His first race was the British GP on 18 July at Brands Hatch, the seventh of thirteen races in that year’s Grand Prix season.
In only his fourth race, the 1970 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Fittipaldi claimed his maiden victory. At the age of 23 years and 297 days old, he became the youngest Formula 1 race winner at the time – a record that would stand for over three decades until Fernando Alonso broke it in 2003.
First World Championship
The 1972 season marked a turning point for “Emmo”. With the legendary Lotus team’s backing, he embarked on a season that would see him clinch his first Formula 1 World Championship, becoming the youngest World Champion in history at just 25 years three months old – a record he held until 2005 when Alonso surpassed him.
Fittipaldi’s 1972 season was nothing short of spectacular. Of the 12 races, he won five, including victories in the Spanish, Belgian, British, Austrian, and Italian Grands Prix. His consistency and determination led to a dominant championship victory, sealing the Constructors’ Championship for Lotus as well. He was the new king of formula one, Colin Chapman had found a new superstar.
Second World Championship
After a challenging 1973 season, Emmo made the surprising move to McLaren for the 1974 season. It proved to be a wise decision, as he secured his second championship that year, winning races in Brazil, Belgium, Canada, and the United States.
Fittipaldi’s success in 1974 further cemented his status as a racing icon. He was the first Brazilian to win multiple World Championships, and his triumphs served as an inspiration for future Brazilian drivers, including Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet.
Copersucar-Fittipaldi and the End of F1 Career
In 1976, Emerson and his brother Wilson Fittipaldi Jr. founded the Fittipaldi Automotive team, backed by Brazilian sugar and alcohol cooperative Copersucar. Emerson made a bold move to leave McLaren and race for his own team, beginning in 1976.
Unfortunately, the Copersucar-Fittipaldi team struggled to find competitiveness. Despite a few podium finishes, the team never achieved a race win. Emerson’s dedication to the team and desire to elevate Brazilian motorsports was commendable, but by 1980, after a partnership with Skol, Fittipaldi decided to retire from Formula 1, with his final race being the 1980 United States Grand Prix.
Years in Formula 1
Below is a list of the racing years of Emmo in Formula 1, along with the position he finished in the championship and the Grands Prix he won each year:
1970 – Team Lotus – 10th (United States GP)
1971 – Team Lotus – 6th (No wins)
1972 – Team Lotus – 1st (Spanish, Belgian, British, Austrian, and Italian GPs winner)
1973 – Team Lotus – 2nd (Argentinian and British GPs winner)
1974 – McLaren – 1st (Brazilian, Belgian, Canadian GPs winner)
1975 – McLaren – 2nd (Argentinian and British GPs winner)
1976 – McLaren – 6th (No wins)
1977 – Copersucar –12th (No wins)
1978 – Copersucar– 17th (No wins)
1979 – Copersucar -14th (No wins)
1980 – Skol-Fittipaldi Team – 24th (No wins)
Career in IndyCar
Following his Formula 1 retirement, that lasted four years, Emerson turned his focus to IndyCar racing in the United States.
He made his debut in 1984 and soon found success, winning the 1989 Indianapolis 500, becoming the first foreign driver to win the prestigious race since 1966. In 1989, Fittipaldi also won the CART championship. His second Indianapolis race victory is dated 1993.
Emerson Fittipaldi retired from professional racing in 1996 after a huge crash at the Michigan International Speedway. Today, he remains an influential figure in motorsports, working as a consultant, team owner, and mentor to young drivers.
Most Spectacular Races and Accomplishments
Emerson Fittipaldi’s career was filled with memorable moments and achievements. Here are some highlights:
1970 United States Grand Prix: Fittipaldi’s first Formula 1 win came in only his fourth race, making him the youngest race winner at the time.
1972 Spanish Grand Prix: This race marked the beginning of Emerson’s dominant 1972 season, where he claimed his first World Championship title.
1974 Brazilian Grand Prix: A home win in front of a passionate Brazilian crowd was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Fittipaldi’s career.
Second time Formula one world champion
1989 Indianapolis 500: Fittipaldi’s first victory in the legendary race, making him the first foreign driver to win the Indy 500 since 1966.
1993 Indianapolis 500: Fittipaldi’s second Indy 500 win, solidifying his legacy as one of the all-time greats in motorsports.
Curiosities and Facts
Fittipaldi’s nickname “Emmo” was given to him by British journalists, who struggled to pronounce his first name.
Emerson Fittipaldi was a guest star in the Brazilian soap opera “A Viagem” in 1994, where he played himself.
In the mid-1990s, Emmo was involved in designing a sports car called the “Fittipaldi F1.” Though it generated considerable interest, the project ultimately failed to reach production due to financial difficulties.
Fittipaldi is a member of the prestigious International Motorsports Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2001. This recognition further cements his status as a racing icon.
In 2012, He was appointed as an ambassador for the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety and Sustainability, using his experience and expertise to improve safety and environmental practices in motorsports.
Throughout his racing career, Fittipaldi was known for wearing a distinctive orange and blue helmet, making him easily recognizable on the track.
Quotes about Fittipaldi
Fittipaldi’s impact on the racing world was immense, and his legacy has been celebrated by fellow drivers, team owners, and motorsport personalities. Here are some quotes about Emerson Fittipaldi:
“Emerson was a fantastic driver. He was very smooth and very precise. I admired his style.” – Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 World Champion.
“Fittipaldi was an extraordinary driver. He had enormous talent and was very dedicated. His achievements in Formula 1 and IndyCar are a testament to his ability and determination.” – Ron Dennis, former McLaren team principal.
“Emerson was a pioneer for Brazilian drivers in Formula 1. His success paved the way for future generations, including myself.” – Ayrton Senna, three-time Formula 1 World Champion.
“Fittipaldi’s contributions to motorsports, both as a driver and a team owner, are invaluable. He will always be remembered as a legend in the world of racing.” – Mario Andretti, former Formula 1 and IndyCar Champion.
Emerson Fittipaldi has been married three times. His first marriage was to Maria-Helena Fittipaldi, with whom he had three children: Juliana, Jayson, and Tatiana. The couple divorced in the 1980s.
Fittipaldi’s second marriage was to Teresa Fittipaldi, and they had one child together, Joana. This marriage also ended in divorce.
In 2002, Emerson married his third wife, Rossana Fittipaldi, and they have two children together: Emerson Jr. and Vittoria. Fittipaldi has a total of seven children from his three marriages, and his large family is a significant part of his life.
Philanthropy and Interests
Throughout his life, Fittipaldi has been involved in numerous charitable endeavors. He has actively supported hospitals, children’s foundations, and education initiatives in Brazil. His philanthropic work also extends to supporting motorsports initiatives for underprivileged children, providing them with opportunities to pursue their racing dreams.
Emerson Fittipaldi has a passion for aviation and holds a private pilot’s license. He is also an avid collector of vintage cars and motorcycles, showcasing his deep love for all things automotive. In 1997 he miraculously escaped a plane crash when the ultralight aircraft he was piloting crashed into a swamp.
Legacy and Impact
Emerson Fittipaldi’s legacy as a Formula 1 star is undeniable. His groundbreaking achievements in the world of motorsports not only inspired future Brazilian drivers but also played a crucial role in expanding the sport’s popularity in South America.
Fittipaldi’s personal life and philanthropic efforts demonstrate his commitment to giving back to his community and fostering the next generation of racing talent. His impact on the sport, both on and off the track, makes legend Emerson Fittipaldi a truly unforgettable figure in the annals of motorsports history.
In 2007, Fittipaldi was the official starter for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the most prestigious endurance races in the world. This honor showcased his continued influence and respect within the motorsport community, years after his retirement from professional racing.
In conclusion, Emerson Fittipaldi’s journey from a young karting champion to a two-time Formula 1 World Champion and IndyCar legend is a testament to his passion, dedication, and immense talent. His trailblazing career has left an indelible mark on the world of motorsports.
Pictures from the top Emerson Fittipaldi GP74 01.jpg" by Gillfoto is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. 1969 F3 Guards Trophy Brands Hatch Emerson Fittipaldi Lotus 59.jpg" by The original uploader was 4u1e at English Wikipedia. Later versions were uploaded by DarkEvil at en.wikipedia. is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. 1971 Emerson Fittipaldi, Lotus 72 (kl).JPG" is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. A Escuderia Emerson Fittipaldi Copersucar, Jacarepagua, 1978.tif" by Sérgio Valle Duarte Wikidata has entry Q16269994 with data related to this item. is licensed under CC BY 3.0. "Emerson Fittipaldi's Penske at Laguna Seca" by StuSeeger is licensed under CC BY 2.0.