Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi became the youngest double world champion of the time in 1974, helping McLaren to its first drivers' and constructors' titles in the process. He talked about his time with the team and his career after Formula 1 Q:...
Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi became the youngest double world champion of the time in 1974, helping McLaren to its first drivers' and constructors' titles in the process. He talked about his time with the team and his career after Formula 1
Q: What prompted you to leave the Lotus team in favour of joining McLaren prior to the 1974 season?
Emerson Fittipaldi: In July of 1973 I was already looking for another team to drive for during the next season. Tyrrell, Brabham and McLaren were all possibilities. I was actually with the people from my sponsors, choosing between teams, and we decided to go with McLaren because they had advantages over the others."
Q: McLaren was home to some good people and the M23-Ford looked quite competitive. Did all of that play into your decision?
EF: I felt the McLaren organisation was very good at the time. The M23 was also a car with outstanding performance. "I met Teddy Mayer and Phil Kerr [joint Managing Directors of McLaren at the time] and they gave me a lot of confidence to go to McLaren. Many of the mechanics were from New Zealand, and they were very strong people. I felt there was a good energy and team spirit there. McLaren was more organised and efficient than Lotus. The Lotus 72 was a very good car, but McLaren was better organised in terms of logistics, and there was a much better understanding between the team members. It was very strong.
Q: You won the world championship with McLaren in 1974, becoming the youngest double world champion of the time in the process. Was leaving McLaren at the end of 1975 to found and lead the Copersucar team one of the biggest regrets of your career?
EF: It was a very tough period, but thanks to that, I was able to do my Indycar career. Otherwise I would have retired from Formula 1 forever and that would have been it. I'd have never gone to race in the United States. The four years when I had my own team were very tough. It was a much bigger challenge than I anticipated.
Q: The sport has certainly changed a lot since your Formula 1 days, particularly in terms of safety. What do you make of those changes and how they have altered the way drivers go about things?
EF: The safety has improved so much and the odds are now in favour of the drivers in any form of racing -- Formula 1, CART, the Indy Racing League. The cars are much stronger. The last Formula 1 driver to be killed was Ayrton Senna in 1994, and that shows how much things have improved. At the beginning of the 1970s, the odds of surviving were seven to one. We had 20 or 21 established grand prix drivers and, unfortunately, we lost three every season.
Q: You took a lot of pressure for boycotting the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix for safety reasons [improperly secured guardrails]. Did you realise the impact that your decision would have at the time?
EF: I was the defending world champion at the time, and, unfortunately, I was right. It was a critical time for me. My sponsor had invited a lot of its executives and clients to Spain and we had a big dinner on Saturday night. I told Teddy Mayer, "Teddy, you pay me to take risks, but not this type of risk. I have to accept risks when I race, but not this type of risk. I'm not starting the race". Teddy said, "I understand and I'll back you up, but you have to tell the sponsors." So at dinner, I told the people, "I hope you're going to be very excited for the race, but, unfortunately, I won't be driving!
Q: Did some of the safety advances in the 1980s influence your decision to return to racing Indycars in the United States?
EF: Well, I think the 1980s brought a big change with the introduction of carbon fibre as a material for the design of chassis. The drivers had protection for the first time, and that was a big transition for safety. It was much more efficient. There is no way I would have survived the big crash I had at the Michigan Superspeedway oval in 1996 even five or six years earlier. And it continues to get better and better."
Q: You tested a McLaren M16 Indycar in 1974?
EF: What differences did you notice between that and the Formula 1 cars that you had driven? "Yes. I drove Johnny Rutherford's Indy 500 winner at Indianapolis in September of that year. I liked the car very much, but, because the car was quite fragile, I decided not to race it. I drove two days and went quite fast. My style of driving allowed me to adapt very quickly to high-speed corners. Johnny was very good to me, and [American racing legend] A.J. Foyt was there as well. They took me around and showed me the track. The car had big wings, lots of downforce and a lot of power -- about 1,000 horsepower in total."