Apart from being the youngest World Champion after Fernando Alonso, Emerson Fittipaldi who won his first title at the age 25, went on to win his second just two years later. Born to Wilson Fittipaldi, a prominent Brazilian motorsport journalist and radio commentator, ‘Emmo’, and his older brother Wilson soon became enthusiastic supporters of motorsport. Named after American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, their father was reluctant to finance the participation of his boys. He eventually did not have to as the Fittipaldi boys became quite successful entrepreneurs while still being teenagers, with a custom car accessory business and then the Fittipaldi karts. They raced using their own karts, and Emerson, was more successful at it than his brother. He became the Brazilian kart champion at the age of 18 and in 1967, the Fitipaldis graduated to constructing Volkswagen-powered Formula Vee single seaters. Emerson even drove one of these cars to the Brazilian championship.

Born 12 Dec 1946
Nationality Brazil Brazil
Nickname Emmo

Due to his gaining success, Emerson stopped pursuing his mechanical engineering degree and decided to test his luck abroad. In 1969, Emerson reached England, without knowing the language he went and bought himself a Formula Ford. He was an instant success, and graduation to Formula Three also produced similar results, resulting in a Lotus Formula Two contract for 1970. Proving his mettle in F2, Emerson was soon offered a long term contract by Colin Chapman, Lotus boos, who then eased Emerson into his Formula One team by the end of the 1970 season.

He was meant to be an understudy to Lotus drivers Jochen Rindt and John Miles, as Chapman felt that Emerson’s rise had been too fast. After making his Formula One debut in the 1970 British Grand Prix, Emerson came in fourth in Germany and is Austria run was also noteworthy. Tragedy struck when during the practice session for the Italian Grand Prix, Jochen Rindt was killed. Emerson who had just suffered a crash earlier that day, was unhurt but badly shaken, and his remaining team mate John Miles was so affected by Jochen’s death that he left Formula One racing forever. So now it was up to Emerson to lead Team Lotus.

What followed was an unbelievable turn of events, with Emerson winning the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, bringing up team morale and ensuring that the 1970 driving title would be posthumously awarded to Rindt. The next season was marred by a road accident in France, in which though both Emerson and his wife Maria Helena were only lightly injured, the impact on Emerson’s confidence was much deeper.

In 1972, with the release of Lotus 72, the best in its category, Emerson was given the perfect chance, which he made the best use of and went on to win five of 12 races and secured the World Championship title at the age of 25, also earning the title of youngest title winner in Formula One history.

Known for his calm and analytical approach, Emerson was instantly liked by the media for his unassuming and almost self-deprecating sense of humor. In 1973, a rivalry began between Emerson and his new team mate Ronnie Peterson, who by the end of the season had nine pole positions while Emerson had only one, and he had also won four races against Emerson’s three. But the Brazilians consistent efforts ensured that he came second while Peterson came in third. In 1974, Emerson accepted a lucrative offer from McLaren and joined up for that season.

The term with McLaren was a huge success with Emerson, who in his McLaren M23 won in Belgium, Canada and Brazil and attained podium positions in four other races and also scored points in three more races to grab the 1974 World Champion title. The 1975 season saw him finish as runner up to Ferrari’s Niki Lauda.

In the most shocking move in his career, Emerson ended his term with McLaren and partnered with his brother to join the Copersucar team, which was funded by a Brazilian state-run sugar marketing company. Wilson Fittipaldi was not expected to contribute much to the team and all expectations were pinned on his illustrious younger brother, Emerson. But unfortunately even Emerson’s talent could do nothing for the team and it persisted from the period of 1975 till 1979. In 1980, the team name was changed to Fittipaldi Automotives, but its luck did not change and eventually the money from the Brazilian sugar company ran out and in 1982 the team folded, and Emerson returned to Brazil to run his family’s citrus farms.

Emmo’s association with racing did not end there and he came back to win the 1989 IndyCar championship and also the popular Indianapolis 500 race, twice. In 1996, he had a bad crash in the Michigan 500, and ended up with a broken neck. While recovering from this injury, Emerson still nursed his dreams of pursuing racing, but after his private plane crashed near his farm in Brazil, he severely damaged his back and that was the end of his racing dreams. He recovered from the injury, but never returned to race again.

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