On 27 June, the Club was delighted to welcome the legendary Emerson Fittipaldi to Pall Mall, where members and their guests were able to feast their eyes on the new EF7 Vision Gran Turismo track car and gain a personal insight into the racer’s successful career, as well as his new adventure in the automotive industry.
The car, designed by iconic Italian design company Pininfarina and race-bred German engineering firm HWA AG, is the result of the two-time Formula 1 World Championship and Indianapolis 500 winner’s dream to build a safe yet powerful track car for drivers of all capabilities. Revealed at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, the ultra-light, all carbon fibre EF7 GT car took three years to become reality and, according to Emerson, is one of his ‘biggest achievements’.
Following a three-course meal, renowned motorsport commentator Henry Hope-Frost took to the stage to give our special guest the worthy welcome he rightly deserved. He said: ‘To put into context just how much this racing legend has achieved in his career, and just how young he was when it all began, in 1970, he won his first Formula 1 Grand Prix, the day after I was born. And I’m 46; Sorry Emerson…’
Before diving into the days of motor racing gone by, Henry asked Emerson if he remembered a certain photograph, which had been sent in by Club member Tricia Mills and captures Emerson being interviewed by her husband John Mills when he was a producer for BBC2’s motoring programme Wheelbase. Pondering his response, he replied: ‘I remember the sideburns!’
Emerson continued: ‘Before I say anything else, I have to tell you it is a great honour for me to be here this evening. For me, there is no other Club in the world that has so much passion for cars and motorsport. England is the heart of motor racing. When I came over to Europe from Brazil to compete in Formula Ford in my early-20s, I was inspired by the passion for the sport here in the UK.’
Emerson won nine Formula 3 races in the Lotus 59, which was on display in the rotunda during the dinner, while competing in the British F3 Championship, of which he became the 1969 champion. For 1970, he moved up to Formula 2, joining the Lotus semi-works Team Bardahl. With six finishes in the points and four podium places, he ended the eight-race season in third place behind Clay Regazzoni and Derek Bell. While this result was very impressive for a newcomer to the series, the spotlight was on Emerson because of his activities in Formula 1.
Based on the success of the Cosworth DFV and Lotus 49/49B in 1968, Team Lotus was enjoying the reputation as one of the top Formula 1 teams and Colin Chapman used the third seat in the team for championship races as the testing ground for younger drivers. The seat was given to Emerson, starting with the British GP in July 1970. He scored a fourth place as the No. 3 driver at the next German GP.
‘I was competing in Formula 2 at the time, and Colin had asked me if I would race for him in Formula 1 at Team Lotus,’ explained Emerson. ‘I asked him if he could wait until mid-season, as I felt I wasn’t ready for Formula 1 as this point.’
When Henry asked what Emerson thought of the iconic Lotus 72 of 1970 and ’73, he said: ‘I loved that car. I spoke to the car and the car spoke to me – it was a match made in heaven.’
When Emerson won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1972, he was just 25, making him the youngest Formula 1 driver to ever win the title – a record he held for 33 years. ‘I wanted to retire when I won my first world championship,’ explained Emerson. ‘Much like Nico Rosberg, I thought, “what else is there for me to achieve? I’ve done it!” But my dad said he knew me well and that I shouldn’t retire and that I had more to come. He was right. I think I was too young to enjoy what I had achieved, but when I entered the IndyCar races, I was more grown up and I had fun.’
He added: ‘The Indy 500 is so big, and very different to any other race event in the world. To win a Formula 1 grand prix at my home circuit in Brazil was amazing, but to win in IndyCar, that was bigger. When I had my accident in Michigan in 1996, I was in quite a serious state. But, for me, it was part of my experience as a racing driver.’
Moving on to the story behind the EF7, which was parked alongside the Lotus 59 in the rotunda, Henry asked what inspired Emerson to embark upon the project. His response: ‘I had always dreamed of building my own GT car – a track car that is light and powerful but also safe and allows drivers of all skill levels to experience the thrill of high-performance driving. I wanted the EF7 to be a normally-aspirated car, so that it was easy to drive for gentleman drivers.’
He added: ‘A total of 39 examples of the EF7 will be made, which totals at the number of race wins in Formula 1 and IndyCar. To see the car here in the Club, alongside the Lotus 59, is an amazing feeling; the past and the future in one room.’
When Henry asked, ‘what’s next?’, Emerson said: ‘You always have to have a dream. To race with my grandchildren is my next goal. Perhaps in the 24 Hours of Sebring – I’ll do a half an hour stint…’
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