How good could Emerson Fittipaldi have been?

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    Profile photo of Fred Pink
    Fred Pink

    While answering another post I started thinking about Emerson Fittipaldi’s career. While it seems strange to think of a 2 time world champion as a wasted talent I always had the feeling we never really saw how good he could have been, at least in F1.

    Considering that when he left McLaren for his miserable time in his own team he was at the time the youngest ever F1 champion and in his prime, that James Hunt (in my mind a lesser talent) won the title in 1976 and three races in 1977 at McLaren, and his subsequent success in CART, it seems reasonable to assume that if he had stayed at either McLaren or another top team he could have added to his championship tally and perhaps have been a three or four time champion.

    I am interested to hear what the experts think his career could have been like if he had stayed in a top team, of his status both now and then and how he rates against the other double and triple champions?

    Profile photo of Kingshark

    Fittipaldi really did ruin his career by going with his brother to make an all-Brazilian team. Who knows how many titles he could’ve won had he stayed at McLaren, probably as many as Prost or Fangio (4-5).

    Profile photo of

    You should watch the Legends of F1 series his episode. He really put his all into that Copasucker effort and it really was a waste it seems. I wonder why it didn’t click? Had a great early result if I remember correctly.

    Profile photo of Lucas Wilson
    Lucas Wilson


    ‘Own-brand’ teams never really work for some reason. For example, Prost GP was rubbish and nearly bankrupted Alain. The only team of that genre that achieved any success was Stewart GP in 1999.

    Profile photo of Force Maikel
    Force Maikel

    @full-throttle-f1 You forgot Jordan Grand Prix and Brawn GP [constructors + drivers title 2009; with a Honda developed car of course ;-)]

    Profile photo of Lucas Wilson
    Lucas Wilson

    I only meant teams that were founded or co-founded by f1 drivers. I don’t recall Eddie Jordan or Ross Brawn being in f1 :-)

    Profile photo of plutoniumhunter

    Well uh… Mclaren? But anyway, I did think Emmo did have a lot more potential than the 2 WDCs he scooped up, shame really.

    Profile photo of Lucas Wilson
    Lucas Wilson


    lol you just ruined my argument. :-)

    Profile photo of safeeuropeanhome

    Jack Brabham didn’t do too badly either did he? And yes Bruce Mclaren in both F1 and Can-Am racing. Although both had mechanical engineering backgrounds, Brabham in particular and with no one really knowing much about aerodynamics in those days it would have been easier I guess. Wasn’t Enzo Ferrari himself a racing driver, although that might have been driving other peoples cars I’m not sure.

    As for Fittipaldi I think we can assume he would have won 1976, he was better than Hunt and with Lauda’s crash he would have been challenging beforehand and there to pick up the pieces. That late 70’s, early 80’s era was very open, particularly once Lauda retired for the first time and Peterson was killed.

    You had a different champion every year from 1977 to 1982, with the exception of Lauda all first time champions (although Mario Andretti was a racing veteran at this stage) so a driver with Fittpaldi’s experience would have been invaluable I’m sure. Mclaren didn’t actually win the title again until 1984 though and I think that’s pushing it to say Fittipaldi would have still been around driving for them. So I reckon 3 titles minumum. Anymore than that is debatable. He fell out with Chapman when he left Lotus so he probably wouldn’t have been driving for them in 78, so he would have to have bagged a Williams or Ferrari drive in all likelihood. Perhaps a Brabham or Renault although Prost couldn’t win a title in a Renault either. 1981 and 1982 were so open though that Fittipaldi in a decent car probably would have had a chance although he would have been at the end of his career by then. But then he won the Indy 500 in 1993 so he clearly still had it.

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