Pietro Fittipaldi: My grandfather opened the F1 gates for Brazil

Pietro Fittipaldi is a third-generation racer, whose grandfather Emerson put Brazil on the F1 map long before Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna made Brazil a powerhouse in F1, winning six titles in the 80’s and early 90’s.

The 19-year old, US-born Brazilian driver currently leads the MRF Challenge in Chennai...

Pietro Fittipaldi is a third-generation racer, whose grandfather Emerson put Brazil on the F1 map long before Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna made Brazil a powerhouse in F1, winning six titles in the 80’s and early 90’s. The 19-year old, US-born Brazilian driver currently leads the MRF Challenge in Chennai and in a chat in the paddock with Sportstar, he speaks about his double-world champion grandfather's influence on his career and Brazilian motorsports. Edited excerpts:

Question: How big an influence was your grandfather on Brazilian motorsports?

Answer: My grandfather is considered as someone who opened the F1 gate for Brazilian drivers. A lot of people have followed suit since my grandfather’s exploits. There is a big fan following for racing in Brazil though the fact that the country hasn’t seen a champion in the last couple of years has affected the sport a little bit. But with Felipe Nasr (Sauber F1 driver), Pedro Piquet (son of three-time champion Nelson Piquet) and myself coming up, there is again hope among our people and with it some expectations.

Talk us about how you started out and did your grandfather influence your decision?

I started racing go-karts when I was around five. My grandfather had stopped racing by the time I was born. But my uncle, Max Papis, the Italian driver, he was racing Daytona Prototype. My mom’s cousin Christian Fittipaldi was also racing. I used go watch them race. That’s what influenced me to take the plunge. I won karting championships in the United States. In 2011, I started racing Nascar and the next year I got opportunities to race in Europe.

At the beginning I didn’t want to, because I was doing so well in Nascar. It was my grandfather who persuaded me to go to Europe, like he did before winning two F1 world championships. I fixed a timeframe of two years in Europe, but in the second year I ended up winning the British Formula Renault championship. And here I am.

Does the Fittipaldi surname weighs heavily on your shoulder?

It doesn’t really. To be honest, I am like any other driver following the dream. The name doesn’t add any extra pressure.

How involved is your grandfather in your career?

Basically, he is my mentor. When I am down or have to make decisions, I turn to him for help. He keeps tracking my progress. He comes to one or two races a year. It’s a privilege to have him. But he doesn’t help me in the driving side. It’s been 25 years since he has driven and obviously the sport has changed a lot. But I would like to drive one of my grandfather’s cars some day. The black and gold Lotus with which he won his first championship in 1972 would be really nice.