Fittipaldi - Brazils first champion 18 Oct 2004
Emerson Fittipaldi remains the youngest driver ever to win a Formula One drivers' title. He also played a huge role in making the sport the phenomenon that it is in Brazil, a tradition continued by the likes of Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna.
Fittipaldi came to Europe in 1969, having won the Brazilian Formula Vee title in 1967. His progress was rapid so rapid in fact that by 1970 he was driving a Formula One car for Colin Chapmans Lotus team. He drove just five races that year, and in the fourth, his first in the now legendary Lotus 72, he won. That victory at Watkins Glen was merely a sign of things to come.
They didnt come quickly, though. The 1971 season yielded no further wins, though Fittipaldi did make the podium on three occasions, in France, Britain and Austria. It was enough to give him sixth place in the drivers championship, three spots above Swedish team mate Reine Wisell.
The turnaround came the following year. With the D version of the Lotus 72 all but perfected, Fittipaldi took win number two at round three in Spain, finishing almost 20 seconds clear of Jacky Ickxs Ferrari. Further victories in Belgium, Britain, Austria and Italy followed and with it Fittipaldis first world title at the tender age of just 25.
Flushed with Fittipaldis success, Brazil duly joined the Formula One Championship calendar for 1973, with, suitably enough, a race at the Interlagos circuit in his native Sao Paulo. And his fans were not disappointed.
Fittipaldi arrived for his first home race, round two of the campaign, having already won the season opener in Argentina. Lotus team mate Ronnie Peterson upset the plan slightly by taking pole, but at the start Fittipaldi immediately seized the lead, one that he would keep to the flag, finishing 13 seconds ahead of Jackie Stewarts Tyrrell.
Fittipaldis strong start to the 73 season continued, with podium places in the next four races, including another win in Spain. However, a string of retirements in the later rounds meant he lost his title to Stewart, the man he had beaten to the crown the previous year.
With the 1974 season came a move to McLaren and with it a return to championship winning form. Fittipaldi again delighted his home fans with a second successive triumph at Interlagos, muscling his way past Carlos Reutemann and Ronnie Peterson after a poor start from pole position. Belgium and Canada were his only other wins that season, but consistent finishing brought him title number two, by just three points from Ferraris Clay Regazzoni.
Still with McLaren, Fittipaldi maintained his momentum going into 1975, winning round one in Argentina. He also won at Silverstone in a bizarre race that saw almost the entire field crash out in very wet conditions. It was to be his last Grand Prix victory and he went on to finish the year as runner up to Niki Lauda in the driver standings.
Fittipaldis serious Formula One career effectively ended when he made the shock announcement that he was quitting McLaren at the end of 1975 to join brother Wilsons fledgling Copersucar/Fittipaldi team for 76. In the following five seasons, he would make the podium just twice, the highlight being a second place in his home race (which by then had moved to the Jacarepagua circuit near Rio) in 1978.
Fittipaldi bowed out of the sport at the end of 1980, moving on to a successful career in the US CART series, taking the title, and the first of two Indianapolis 500 wins, in 1989. He eventually retired from racing in 1996.