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Obituary

Former F1 driver and team owner Wilson Fittipaldi dies aged 80

Former Formula 1 driver and team owner Wilson Fittipaldi passed away on Friday at the age of 80.

Wilson Fittipaldi

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The older brother of double F1 world champion Emerson and father of Indycar race-winner Christian had been ill for some time.

He had been hospitalised since Christmas Day, which was also his birthday, after he choked on a piece of meat. His family was unable to clear his airway, which triggered a cardiac arrest.

Born in Sao Paulo, he drove a wide variety of cars in his youth, encouraged by father and key Brazilian racing figure Wilson Fittipaldi Sr.

In 1966 he had a brief initial stint in Europe in Formula 3, but it was younger brother Emerson who first made a real impact when he went to the UK in 1969, reaching F1 with Team Lotus the following year.

Wilson made a full-time move to Europe in 1970, taking advantage of Emerson's success. That year he raced in F3 against the likes of Niki Lauda and James Hunt, winning a British championship round as well as a couple of non-championship events.

At the start of 1971, he made his F1 debut in a works Team Lotus entry alongside Emerson in the non-championship Argentinian GP.

That year he also moved up to F2 with a Team Bardahl Lotus. He scored points on six occasions, notably a third place at Hockenheim, and finished sixth in the championship in a field that included the likes of Ronnie Peterson and Carlos Reutemann.

Wilson Fittipaldi, Brabham BT37 Ford

Wilson Fittipaldi, Brabham BT37 Ford

Photo by: David Phipps

That propelled him into a seat with Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham F1 team in 1972, as team-mate to Graham Hill. He was third in the non-championship race at Interlagos and logged seventh places in Spain and Germany, but it was a generally disappointing year.

While continuing to race in F2, he remained with Brabham for the 1973 F1 season. Fittipaldi put in a storming drive in Monaco, which he would later pick as the race of his life, before retiring. He scored what would be the only points of his career with sixth in Argentina and fifth at the Nurburgring.

His only appearance in 1974 was with Brabham in a non-championship race in Brasilia before he took time out from F1 to put together his own team in Brazil.

Named after the sugar company which sponsored the team, Copersucar arrived on the grid in 1975, but the first car was uncompetitive, and his best result was 10th in the US GP.

Despite the team’s lack of form, Wilson convinced Emerson to leave McLaren and join him in 1976, and he retired from driving to run the team.

Several years of struggle followed, but second place for Emerson in his home race in 1978 was an early highlight.

A merger with the Wolf outfit for 1980 saw future world champion Keke Rosberg join the team as second driver, while that year it also gave a first F1 job to university graduate Adrian Newey. Emerson retired at the end of the 1980 season, and the team folded two years later.

Wilson Fittipaldi, Copersucar-Fittipaldi FD3

Wilson Fittipaldi, Copersucar-Fittipaldi FD3

Photo by: David Phipps

The older Fittipaldi returned to the cockpit in 1982 and competed in local stock car events, while also dedicating himself to managing the career of his son, Christian, who spent three years racing in F1 between 1992 and 1994 before turning his attention to the USA.

Father and son also had their great moments together, triumphing in the Mil Milhas Brasileiras in 1994, an event created by Wilson Fittipaldi Sr. In 2008 he shared a Porsche with Emerson in Brazilian GT events.

In 2020 Fittipaldi suffered a fall at his house and was hospitalised before being diagnosed with a cerebral haemorrhage. He underwent surgery to correct it and was released a few days later.

Even with his poor health, he remained active on social media and at motorsport events, and he was present in the paddock at last year's Brazilian Grand Prix.

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