GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #18 - Emerson Fittipaldi

26-02-2020 19:00
by Adam Newton
General
GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #18 - Emerson Fittipaldi

Welcome back to GPBlog’s countdown to the top 50 F1 drivers of all time. We’re counting down the days to the season opening Australian Grand Prix on March 15 and today is just 18 days until raceday. Yesterday we looked at Kimi Raikkonen, who will be lining up on that grid, but today we’re going to look at Brazil’s first world champion, Emerson Fittipaldi.

Fittipaldi made his debut in F1 with at the 1970 British Grand Prix, and he made a big impact on the series in just his fourth race, when he took victory in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

Staying with Lotus the following season, Fittipaldi was elevated to team leader following the death of Jochen Rindt at Monza in 1970. He finished on the podium three times but was nowhere near the dominant Jackie Stewart.

Lotus ran the superb 72D in 1972 and Fittipaldi went to the next level. After retirement in the opening round in Argentina, he took P2 in South Africa and a second F1 win in Spain.

He took the championship lead after third in Monaco and followed that up with wins in Belgium and Britain to really take control of the championship.

He then took further victories in Austria and Italy whilst Stewart went through a bad patch, giving Fittipaldi his first F1 title in dominant style.

He then started his title defence in scintillating style by winning three of the first four races and finishing third in the other, taking a lead of 12 points over Stewart.

Unfortunately, he was about to undergo a dip in form, failing to score in four races in the middle of the season, allowing Stewart to overtake him in the standings.

Fittipaldi found it difficult to adapt to the new 72E and was being outperformed by teammate Ronnie Peterson. He only managed to score two podiums in the second half of the season and ended up missing out on the championship by 16 points to Stewart.

He opted to leave Lotus for 1974 and joined McLaren. He took a win at his home race in Brazil in race two and then again in Belgium in race five.

He was challenged by Ferrari pair Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni , along with the Tyrrell of Jody Scheckter. Following consecutive retirements in Germany and Austria, Fittipaldi dropped as low as fourth in the standings.

Second in Italy before a win in Canada as his rivals dropped points put him level with Regazzoni with just one round to go.

Scheckter also had an outside chance, but it was Fittipaldi’s title when the South African retired and Regazzoni finished 11th, with Fittipaldi’s fourth place giving him a second championship.

Fittipaldi continued with McLaren in 1975, starting the season with a win in Argentina and second in Brazil. However, Lauda came into good form in the middle part of the season, and victory for Fittipaldi in Britain was not enough to stop the Austrian taking his first title.

He then made the questionable move to join his brother Wilson’s team, Copersucar-Fittipaldi, scoring just two podium finishes in five difficult years before leaving F1.

He went on to have success in other categories, winning the CART title in 1989 and two victories in the Indy 500.

Fittipaldi’s career is a curious one, a two time champion that moved to a backmarker team seemingly in his prime.

It’s impossible to suggest the level of success Fittipaldi would’ve had if he stayed with McLaren, but his career is one of great success. Two titles and several victories in F1 and out of F1, Fittipaldi is a true legend of motorsport.

Read more about: Formula 1 McLaren

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