When Haas works driver Romain Grosjean got injured at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the team called his reserve driver of two seasons, Pietro Fittipaldi, to sub in for the French driver in the final two races of the 2020 season.
Time can be a luxury, an opportunity, a golden ticket, especially in Formula One. Reserve drivers have to be ready for the unexpected, and when the phone rings, duty calls.
I believe Spanish painter Pablo Picasso once said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
In his Formula One bag, Pietro brought to Bahrain over 400 laps and 2,500 km covered, with the Haas F1 Team as their test driver, but until then, he has not had the opportunity to drive a Formula One car in 2020.
The following weekend, the 24-year-old step foot in the VF-20 to contest his maiden Formula One race weekend, the Shakir Grand Prix in Bahrain.
During an interview with Sports Pundit, he discussed the exceptional experience. Alongside this, Fittipaldi also gave insights into driving a Formula One car, his early start in go-karting, and the plans for the near future.
The first Brazilian to race in Formula One for just over three years would go on to finish an unprecedented season with two race weekends under his belt, a dream come true, and an appetite for more.
Sports Pundit: In 2019, you combined a Formula 1-DTM program, and then, you did not drove anything on track until the Sakhir GP early this month.
How did you keep yourself motivated, mentally, and physically prepared this last year?
Pietro Fittipaldi: “It has been a very challenging year, but also a very rewarding one. Working with a Formula 1 team is a dream for many people, so I am honored to have been able to focus on helping Haas [F1 Team] in developing the car, which is by itself a great reason to be motivated and focused.
“Of course, my passion is to push the pedal to the metal and be in the car racing, which is why the work done with Haas was so important, and I believe that my focus was ultimately rewarded, with the opportunity that they gave me in these last two races.
“It was a dream come true, and now we are going to work on the plans for next year.”
Pietro’s debut at the Shakir Grand Prix also marked the return of the name Fittipaldi to Formula One, which became synonymous with motorsport.
A lineage that dates back to the 70s when Emerson Fittipaldi began writing a history of passion and talent for the sport that continues to run in the family ever since - Pietro is the third generation to race in Formula One.
SP: Could you take us through the journey from the moment you got the call and the challenges you faced in between back-to-back races?
PF: “It was a learning journey. One of the things I had to work on is the difference between driving in dirty air and face traffic; I wasn’t very used to the car in that situation because, in practice, you don’t get a lot of that dynamic. When you have a lot of traffic around, you end up losing grip, and that was something I had to get used to very quickly.”
He added: “Memorizing many procedures was also a challenge, but I did not make any mistakes; it all happened very smoothly, and the team helped me prepare very well before the first race.
Thus, it was just memorizing because when you make a race start with a standard racing car, which is not a Formula 1 car, it is usually very simple.
“You get to the starting grid, you pull the clutch, or press it down. And there you are, waiting in first gear, you accelerate and then brake a little bit, and so on. But in a Formula 1 car, you have to stop on the grid, change the mode, change again, and set a certain spin.
“There are many things to take into account; the same happens with the pit stops. That was something that I really focused on because I did not want to miss anything while racing or practicing. So I focused on that, and it went well from the first practice.”
The Brazilians first qualifying session was compromised by a grid penalty due to changes in the power unit, forcing car #51 to start the race from the back of the field. Regardless of the challenge, he almost made it into Q2.
The 16th round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship saw Fittipaldi reaching the goal established with the team, to finish the race without any problems.
Gunther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team commented: “Pietro did a good job in his first race having not driven a Formula 1 car in a year. He drove a solid race. We now look forward to the final race of the season.”
SP: Recently, there has been some controversy about the conduct and responsibilities of a professional driver. What is your philosophy in that regard?
PF: “We all have to always improve as a human being, whether you are a Formula 1 driver, journalist, engineer … regardless of what your profession is. I always take this as an objective.”
SP: Taking a trip down memory lane, what role does karting play once the time comes to move on to compete in a formula car?
PF: “Karting is very important for all drivers. There is where everyone starts and where you learn the basics of motorsport.With a good karting experience, you get to formula cars much more mature than you would have had you not been through it.
“Actually, my brother (Enzo) and I have the Fittipaldi Brothers Drivers Course for young drivers in Brazil because we believe that background is very important.”
After achievements in go-karting, the Brazilian kicked off his career in 2011.
He claimed four wins, and 13 podiums, becoming the champion of the Nascar Whelen All-American Series.
Asked about his plans for next year, the Brazilian said he would like to stay in Formula One, to continue with Hass, outlining that he has not spoken about it yet with the team principal, Gunther Steiner.
Fittipaldi further expressed: “I have to prioritize the comeback to racing full-time next season. But like I said, I still want to stay in Formula 1.
“IndyCar is indeed a goal for next year. So if I can get the opportunity to race there next year and still be in Formula 1, it would be the ideal situation.”
He also pointed to WEC as a possible option for next year and indicated his interest in Formula E; the all-electric series is no stranger to the young driver, having tested and doing development work for the Jaguar Racing FE team before.
“I adapted well to the Formula E car; it is definitely something that I would also look at.”
A week ago, the 17th and final round of the season took place at the Yas Marina circuit, with some drivers bidding their farewells to Formula One, including Haas F1 2020 lineup Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix set a landmark worth celebrating, a century of races contested by the American team in the series.
After the season came to an end, Pietro - who rounded up two race finishes in two starts as a stand-in driver highlighted: “I was a lot more confident coming into this race [Abu Dhabi GP] from qualifying where we had been very competitive.
“I was really happy with how we had progressed, and with the early pace, we had.
“The team has done a great job with me in such a short space of time; they really helped me get ready. I’ve been very happy about this opportunity, and I am very grateful for it.
The opportunity to debut in Formula One came after four titles and 26 wins, achieved in other motorsport categories.
Over the years, Pietro held experience driving in some of the most important racing categories, such as IndyCar, Formula E, WEC, DTM, and the Japanese Super Formula.
In 2017, he won the World Series Formula V8 3.5 title at the Bahrain International Circuit, claiming six victories in historic circuits such as Silverstone or Hermanos Rodriguez; he also reached the podium on ten occasions, clinching ten pole positions.
That same year, he achieved the points needed to have his Formula One Superlicense issued by the FIA.
THE NAME FITTIPALDI IN MOTORSPORT
Brazil has produced some of the most successful racing drivers in motorsport; in 1951, Chico Landi became the first local driver to drive in a Formula One race.
However, it wasn’t until 1973 that the country holds a Grand Prix on home soil.
But the wait was worth it to all of those who watched from the trackside at the Jose Carlos Pace circuit - better known as Interlagos as the legendary Emerson Fittipalditi stormed to victory in his native Sao Paulo.
A year earlier, Fittipaldi had become the youngest Formula One World Champion at the age of 25, driving the iconic JPS Lotus 72; Brazil’s passion for the sport was only starting to grow.
The fans got used to seeing the Brazilian flag at the top of a podium to celebrate the incomparable Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, or Emerson Fittipaldi victories; Rubens Barrichello, or Felipe Massa in more recent times.
Fittipaldi, 74, achieved great success, adding to his name two FIA Formula One World Champions (1972 and 1974).
After leaving Formula One and a four-year hiatus, in 1984, he continued his career in America, entering the CART (IndyCar) series.
Fittipaldi is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and in 1989 he claimed the CART championship, leaving a dynamic mark.
His motorsport career as a racing driver came to an end in 1996 after suffering a terrific accident at the Michigan International Speedway while competing in CART.
However, he never stayed away from the sport he loves so much, following the development as racing drivers of grandsons Pietro and Enzo, 19; the latter, a Ferrari Academy Member who drove for the HWA Racelab team in the 2020 FIA Formula 3 Championship.
Last year, at the Senna Tribute, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to celebrate the drivers 25-year legacy, Emerson said to the press: “We must have a Brazilian in F1.”
A year later, his grandson made that wish come true in two consecutive races.
Representing the country on the Formula One grid was a unique moment in Pietro’s career and for the thousands of people in Brazil who cheered for him with enthusiasm.
At the event, Pietro and Emerson drove the iconic Lotus 97 T, in which Ayrton Senna won his first race in Formula One back in 1985 at the Portugal Grand Prix.