“I was dreaming one day….”
Emerson Fittipaldi stepped onto the F1 throne near the end of the reign of Jackie Stewart. And, for a while out there, he was every bit the JYS. Polished and classy at the wheel of Lotus 72s and McLaren M23s, Emerson also emerged as a major crusader for circuit and car safety. Many drivers spoke the right words in Barcelona,1975, when the guardrails provided only casual protection…but it was Emerson (plus his brother, Wilson, and Arturo Merzario) who took the first flights home in protest. It was only when Emerson arrived at Geneva airport on Sunday afternoon that he heard that five bystanders had lost their lives in Rolf Stommelen’s horrendous accident. Emerson’s legacy therefore says it all: Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa…plus 24 others. The Brazilian Grand Prix has been a firm fixture on the F1 calendar since the day Emerson almost-won that non-championship race at Interlagos, 1972. David Phipps’ race report in Autosport the following Thursday said it all: “It was as if Pele had missed an open goal,” wrote David of the last-lap drama that robbed Emerson in front of his home crowd. He would make up for that disappointment by going on to win three Grands Prix in his native country – two at Interlagos and one (non-championship) in Brazilia. On a frantic Thursday in Sao Paulo prior to this year’s edition, I spoke to Emerson in his downtown office. As is always the way with Emerson, his eyes did most of the talking. Call it infectious enthusiasm for a sport he has always loved.
Another gem, and a new thing for me to Emerson talking in such an informal setting. If I had any power at the Beeb I would give you your own programme! I seem to have a vague recollection that Emerson had a third accident, a road one when he wrote of his 3 Litre Capri, or is my memory playing tricks with me? I may be getting mixed up with someone else.
Thanks – yes, he did have a big accident in the Capri (in France, I think). I’ll always remember Maria-Helena describing the scene afterwards. “We’d been to the supermarket and we had something like two dozen eggs in the back. It was a mess…”
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