When he first appeared on the Grand Prix circuit two years ago, the In joke among the camshaft cognoscenti was to ask, "Emerson...Who?" Then, when he won the 1970 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in only his fourth Formula I outing, a few began saying, "Emerson...Wow!" Now, as he has whipped his black and gold Lotus through this season's races with ever—increasing speed and success, the chorus has risen to full volume—"Emerson...Whoa!"
No way they are going to stop him. Rolling on with the inexorable momentum of his native Amazon, Brazil's Emerson Fittipaldi has swept aside repeated challenges from such Grand Prix grandees as Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme and Jacky Ickx to win this season's world drivers' championship going away. He locked up the title early in September at Monza with his fifth victory in 10 starts. A Canadian triumph last week (he ran 11th) plus a U.S. win this week would have equaled the late Jim Clark's record of seven F-I victories in a single season.
Not that E. Whoa of S�o Paulo and Lausanne needs a tie to underscore his significance. At the age of 25—mere babyhood in a sport usually dominated by graybeards—he is the youngest man ever to wear the title of world's best driver. By contrast, Juan Manuel Fangio, the giant of Grand Prix racing and the only other South American ever to win the title, was 38 years old in his first full season of European racing and 46 when he won his last of a record five world championships back in 1957.
Of the active Grand Prix drivers who have won world championships, Fittipaldi is the only one under 30—a triumph for the Now generation. Graham Hill, who won the title in both 1962 and 1968, is now 43; Denny Hulme, the 1967 champion, is 36; Jackie Stewart, winner in 1969 and 1971, turned 33 last June. Emerson is not unaware of these facts, nor unable to crack wise about them. After winning the Austrian GP at Zeltweg by 1.18 seconds over a hard—charging, heavy—breathing Hulme, he remarked: "I drove the last two laps like a lady being followed by a nasty old man."
Other nasty old men—plus a few nasty young ones—made the entire season anything but easy for Fittipaldi. He failed to finish in the opening race of the year, the Grand Prix of Argentina, which was won by defending champion Stewart, then came second to Hulme in the South African GP at Kyalami. But the first two races of any Formula I year are mere warmups, with the new cars either absent or still shaking down. By the time the Spanish Grand Prix rolled around in May, Emerson was ready, and so, finally, was his JPS Lotus 72D. "All through the 1971 season the machine had been balky and troublesome," Fittipaldi recalled recently. "But the basic design, we knew, was sound. It was a question of—how you say?—making of the parts a working whole. At Jarama they came together." Hotter than the Spanish sun, Fittipaldi burned up the 2.115—mile course with a record winning speed of 92.35 mph. His margin of victory over the second—place car of Ickx was 19 seconds—a gap that might have been a half a century by Grand Prix standards.
The Grand Prix of Monaco was next, the last world championship race that is still run on city streets. Monaco, even under the best conditions, provides the optimum test of driver judgment, gearboxes and brakes. It is no wonder that the active driver who has had the most success at Monte Carlo is ancient Graham Hill, a man who has never been known for "natural" speed, but rather for meticulous preparation and canny racing tactics. This year the difficulties of the course were further complicated by rain, thus making Monaco a tire test in addition to everything else. Veteran Jean-Pierre Beltoise and his massive BRM got the bite that the others were lacking and took the lead on the green flag. He was never headed, though Stewart gave him a hot chase before spinning out near the finish. Fittipaldi's inexperience in the wet was painfully evident; he finished well back in third place after a couple of grievous spins that fortunately did nothing to bend either the car or the Brazilian. " Monaco was a bad dream," he says. "I felt like eels in a frying pan."
The Belgian GP was held this year at Nivelles, a grudging concession to the complaints of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association that the fast Spa-Francorchamps course is too dangerous for today's cars. Stewart, who has led the six-year battle to outlaw Spa until more safety features are added, sped into a rainstorm there while leading on the first lap in 1966, left the road at 150 mph in Burneville Corner, knocked down a few stone walls and was trapped up to his armpits in a cockpit full of gasoline for some 35 minutes. "Spa is much peligrous" says Emerson in his unique blending of English and Portuguese—a patois his friends describe as "Porglish." He felt much more at home on the Nivelles course, winning the race by a hefty 26.5-second margin at an average speed of 113.33 mph, another record.
By now Stewart knew that the championship was fast slipping from his grasp. A new Tyrrell—Ford was ready for the Scottish defender when the motorized circus gathered at Clermont—Ferrand four weeks later for the French Grand Prix, but Stewart's teammate, the dashing young Fran�ois Cevert, dashed the new car to pieces during practice and Stewart was forced to fend off Fittipaldi's challenge in an older machine. It was Jackie's high point of the season. Needing all of his wiles on the ancient, potholed course, he used traffic and savvy to whip Fittipaldi by a convincing 27.7 seconds over the 190.35—mile distance. "Jackie is the toughest," says Fittipaldi simply. The track was tough as well: after the first few laps, rocks that had been kicked out of the shoulders onto the track turned the race into a Stone Age tribal war. Austria's Helmut Marko was hit in the faceplate by a rock slung back from a car ahead of him and may lose his sight in one eye. Just a minor peril on the glamorous Grand Prix circuit.
Despite his second—place finish in France, the sixth race of the season, Fittipaldi was still the point leader at the midway mark—34 to Stewart's 21, with Hulme in third place at 19. The pressure was on, but at Brands Hatch in the British Grand Prix, Fittipaldi demonstrated conclusively that his were not your ordinary Brazilian coffee nerves. Through an hour and three—quarters of unnerving lead changes, he kept his cool and he emerged with a 4.1-second margin over the tightly packed field when the checkered flag fell.
The inevitable bad luck of a racing season caught up with Fittipaldi two weeks later at the German Grand Prix, where he retired from second spot with a flaming gearbox, but remarkably it was only his second DNF in eight races, a convincing demonstration of the Lotus 72's newfound reliability. "The N�rburgring is still longest and hardest course of the season," he says. "They have make some safety improvements, but is still dificile. Now you not hit tree if you go off road, you hit guardrail—is much nicer, heh, heh!"