Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on 12th December 1946, Emerson’s father was a football and motorsport commentator after World War II who started to dip his toes into the racing world when Emerson was a young boy. Emerson’s mum, too, took up racing as a weekend hobby. It didn’t take long for Emerson to be bitten my the motorsport bug, but as he couldn’t race cars in Brazil until he was 17 he found himself racing motorcycles at the age of 14. From there he raced bikes and even hydrofoils, became a mechanic, and even started selling car accessories at the age of 15, building exhausts, steering wheels and even magnesium wheels.
When he turned 17 he took up karting and just a year later he was racing cars, starting with a Renault Gordini in 1965. His first race didn’t go to plan, as brake failure caused him to spear off the track upside down, but with successes in other cars in other series over the following years, by 1970 he was on the Formula 1 grid with Lotus. A speedy ascension to F1? You could say that, but as his 14 wins and two Drivers’ Championships prove, he was a talent that deserved time at the top.
So here’s a brief look back at his 14 Grand Prix wins with Lotus and McLaren.
1 – 1970 USA
Fittipaldi took his first F1 victory in only his fourth Grand Prix, the US GP at Watkins Glen in 1970, driving the Lotus 72C. His win posthumously secured Jochen Rindt, Fittipaldi’s Lotus team-mate who was killed at Monza two rounds earlier, the 1970 Drivers’ Championship, as Jacky Ickx needed to win in the USA to have a chance of overtaking Rindt’s points total by the end of the year.
2 – 1972 Spain
Fittipaldi had to wait nearly two years for his next win, which came with the Lotus 72D at Jarama in Spain, 1972. It was also the first time two brothers raced at the same time in F1, as Emerson’s brother Wilson was called up to stand in for Brabham’s injured Carlos Reutemann.
3 – 1972 Belgium
Fittipaldi’s third win came in Belgium, at Nivelles circuit near Brussels rather than Spa-Francorchamps.
4 – 1972 Great Britain
Brands Hatch, round seven of the 1970 championship, was Fittipaldi’s fourth career victory. Fittipaldi was on something of a roll, as his win in Belgium was followed by a second place finish in France. Jacky Ickx qualified on pole followed by Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart, but in the end it was Fittipaldi who came out on top, battling with Stewart for much of the Grand Prix and winning by 4.1 seconds.
5 – 1972 Austria
Win number five came in Austria’s Osterreichring after a battle with Jackie Stewart and his Tyrrell 005 Ford. Fittipaldi was followed across the line by McLaren’s Denny Hulme and Peter Revson.
6 – 1972 Italy
Fittipaldi finished third in the 10th round of the season at Monza, becoming the youngest F1 champion at the age of 25.
7 – 1973 Argentina
Fittipaldi started 1973 on fine form, taking the win at the first race in Argentina in the Lotus 72D.
8 – 1973 Brazil
The second race of the year and Fittipaldi’s second win of the year, and his first win on home soil. The crowd went wild, as did Lotus’ Colin Chapman and Peter Warr, who both ran on to the track at the finish.
9 – 1973 Spain
Fittipaldi started in seventh position for round four of the 1973 F1 season at Spain’s Montjuïc street circuit with the Lotus 72E. Despite having to deal with a slow puncture, Fittipaldi took the win ahead of Tyrrell’s François Cevert and Shadow’s George Follmer.
10 – 1974 Brazil
Fittipaldi didn’t win again until round two of the 1974 season, finishing 1973 behind Jackie Stewart. But what a win it was, his second victory with his home crowd in Brazil, and racing for McLaren in the McLaren M23.
11 – 1974 Belgium
Fittipaldi’s second win of 1974 came at the Belgian Grand Prix in Nivelles, crossing the line less than half a second ahead of Ferrari’s Nicki Lauda.
12 – 1974 Canada
Victory number 11 came at the 1974 Canadian Grand Prix. Fittipaldi took pole position which he duly lost at the race start to Lauda, but Fittipaldi still managed the win, with Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni in second and Lotus’ Ronnie Peterson in third. The result? Fittipaldi and Regazzoni went to the final round in the USA at Watkins Glen tied on points… Regazzoni suffered some serious handling problems in the race and finished in 11th, while Fittipaldi came home in fourth, clinching the title race by three points.
13 – 1975 Argentina
The two-time World Champion started the 1975 season perfectly with a win in Argentina in the McLaren M23.
14 – 1975 Great Britain
Nine rounds later, at Silverstone, Fittipaldi took his final F1 victory. Heavy rain caused the race to finish early, with Emerson’s brother Wilson in the Fittipaldi FD01 Ford crashing out. The win brought Emerson to just 14 points behind championship-leader Nicki Lauda, but it was to be Lauda’s year, Fittipaldi finishing the season as runner-up.