Emerson Fittipaldi (São Paulo, Brazil, 1946) is a character who needs no introduction, as the particular cliche goes. A two-time champion of both Formula 1 and the Indy 500, he represents one of the most emblematic and award-winning personalities in motorsport history.
His career is full of milestones and records, including being the first Brazilian to win the title in the world’s top single-seater category and the youngest at the time – 25 years old in 1972, a record held by Fernando Alonso for three decades was later surpassed.
Emmo, as he is also affectionately known, is not only a legend revered on the race track, but also the most prominent member of a dynasty that – beyond the borders of motorsport and sports journalism – has conquered politics.
In an interview, he shows us how he intends to face the last major competition of his long career: winning a seat in the Italian Senate.
What do you think is the biggest problem in Italian society today? Much is said about the demographic winter it is going through.
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The solution is our young people from Latin America, from Venezuela to Argentina, who can come to Italy. We have to offer them jobs and give them lots of opportunities. Joint work between the Italian government and the countries of South America.
Certainly many would like to have the opportunity to start a new life where their family origins lie.
It’s a serious Italian problem, but a great opportunity for us South Americans. Italy is a wonderful country, a country that has everything young people need.
What qualities do you see in Giorgia Meloni, your party’s candidate for Italy’s prime minister? You compared her to none other than Alain Prost.
I think she’s someone who has very strong leadership. When she called me I wasn’t sure if I would take it [the proposal to run for senator], but she won me over with her confidence and purpose. She is a person who speaks with confidence and sincerity who is very strategic and confident.
Why would someone who has already achieved legendary status in sport choose to go into politics? Do you worry that it will affect your public image with fans who don’t share your ideas?
A very interesting question because I was a close friend of Carlos Reutemann, “Lole”, who was Senator and Governor of the Argentine province of Santa Fe for many years. He often spoke to me about the difficulties and challenges he faced as a politician.
I want to give back to future generations everything that sport has given me in my life. I think sport is discipline, a healthy mind, a healthy body, teamwork, knowing how to lose and how to win. It forms a character for youth.
What similarities are there between political forces like Fratelli d’Italia and the Bolsonarism you supported?
Both are centre-right projects that we want to see succeed in Brazil and Italy to have countries with more freedom, more opportunities, more tourism and more foreign investment.
We hope that Bolsonaro’s Brazilian philosophy and that of Giorgia Meloni – which are similar – will be a success, because we are aware of the problems that arise in countries historically ruled by the left, such as Cuba and Cuba Venezuela.
We know the history of the USSR from the 1920s to the fall of the Berlin Wall. And I felt in my own skin, in my own flesh, the devastation caused by the communist revolution from Russia.
It is important to keep this in mind: my mother was born in Kyiv, Ukraine is part of the USSR. She and her family lost everything and migrated to Brazil when the communist revolution took place, which was a disaster. She had to go to Hamburg in a carriage with my grandfather when she was only 7 years old to escape the hell of thousands upon thousands of people. For most of her life she did not believe in God and carried a great sadness because as a little girl she experienced this tragedy; but just before she died and through a miracle that happened in our family, my mother accepted Christ.
That is why we fight to ensure that future generations have a government that gives them more opportunities and that families can grow in an environment of progress. A choice between progress, freedom and Christianity.
God created man – I am very Christian – and gave him freedom. We must always have the freedom to choose, to express ourselves, to act. Of course, if we do something wrong, we have to deal with the consequences, but we have to have freedom. Losing it is something very serious for people.
Just look at what is happening in Venezuela. Therefore, we must win to give our children a better future. The family is also a precious value for us. Family is a safe haven for everyone.
What is your main goal as a senator?
I want to promote the sport. Promote culture, because sport is culture. I also want to promote Italy, its history and heritage, which we, orundihave the opportunity to get to know each other.
Very young children from the age of 3 or 4 already use mobile phones or computers and do not play sports. Later, as teenagers, they go out into a dangerous world.
In sports, on the other hand, you are better protected from drugs, alcohol and all the temptations of the street. So I wish that children and young people have a better future through sport, its promotion and encouragement.
After the sport there is something very important. I spoke to a great university called Università eCampus to ensure that an engineering, doctorate or law degree obtained in South America can be recognized in Italy.
I am trying to open many doors for cultural exchange to academics from the American subcontinent so that they can work on Italian soil.
Another goal I have is to facilitate immigration for orundi, making it much easier to get a passport, for example. If you consider that in Brazil we have more than 30 million orundithen comes Argentina and then Venezuela.
It will all be difficult, but we will master it with a lot of work and joy. I want to bring values into politics.
Was Formula 1 more epic and risky in its winning years? How would you compare it to the contemporary version of the competition?
F1 is a category that has undergone major changes, especially in terms of safety. In my time it was very dangerous, it was a very high risk. Throughout my F1 and Indy career, from 1970 to 1996 – the year I had a very big accident – I lost 37 colleagues.
Today, safety is much better, racetracks are better designed, emergency medical care is faster, and the rescue team is more efficient at keeping the driver alive. The driver’s uniforms, helmets, etc. are also better. And especially the car, which is built entirely of carbon fiber and has a safety capsule.
In short, everything is better today, thank God. Today, for example, every centimeter that the car turns on the race track is measured analytically. There is very precise data on corner entry behavior, the driver’s pedal position and so on. The electronic part has seen a big jump in information for drivers and teams.
Everything you explain represents undeniable progress, but isn’t the gain in security somehow detrimental to the show?
It’s different but F1 racing for the last 3 years has been very close, very exciting. It’s a very beautiful sport that’s growing a lot in the world.
What do you think of the signing of your compatriot Felipe Drugovich at Aston Martin?
Feli Drugovich is a reserve driver, just like my grandson Pietro at Haas. He’s good, but he’s not an effective driver.
We in Latin America have a lot to do. For now [on the F1 grid] We only have Checo Pérez, who is very talented and very fast. F1 used to have seven or eight Latin American drivers, now Europeans dominate. We must fight to regain our competitive position.
Would you like to leave us a few impressions on the 50th anniversary of your honor as Formula 1 World Champion?
For me it was a gift from God. I celebrated it the week before last. It was a moment of great happiness to return to the Monza circuit after 50 years and to drive the car that won me the world championship.
Knowing his interviewer was from Venezuela, Fittipaldi spoke warmly of a recent meeting with motorcycle champion Johnny Cecotto, a sporting icon of that country whom he considers a “great friend”. He also wanted to send a big hug to his “Venezuelan brothers” and wish them a better future.
Silvio Salas, Venezuelan, is a writer and social communicator interested in geopolitics, culture wars, and civil liberties // Silvio Salas, Venezuelan, is a social interest communicator on issues of geopolitics, civil liberties, and cultural guerrilla.