INTERVIEW

Christian Fittipaldi

Christian Fittipaldi was one of the quieter stars of 1991. While Michael Schumacher overshadowed all the F1 new boys, Christian had a solid first season in F1. He has a lot to live up to, of course. His father Wilson was a Formula 1 driver in the mid-Seventies and Uncle Emerson is a legend, having won two F1 World titles (1972 and 1974), run his own F1 team and then gone racing in America and added the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship to his curriculum vitae in 1989.

Christian started racing karts at the age of 11 was twice in the top six in the World Karting Championships and then waltzed through the junior formulae

Christian Fittipaldi like a man with a famous name and lots of money behind him. He arrived in Europe in 1990 driving for West Surrey Racing in British F3. He won one race and then moved on into Formula 3000. Driving for Keith Wiggins's Pacific Racing he won the championship. People began to sit up and take notice, to look seriously at the 21-year-old Brazilian. Having a famous name will get you a long way in motor racing, but you need talent to make it in F1.

"There is one thing I will never forget about last year," says Christian. 'It was in South Africa before the first race. I went running round the circuit on the Wednesday evening with JJ Lehto. After we finished running we were sitting in the pits talking and he said: "It is so nice to finish a Grand Prix and it's even better when you finish in the points." I thought he was crazy. I was fresh from F3000 I had won the championship and I expected to be scoring points all the time in F1. It was only afterwards that I began to realise just how difficult F1 really is. Now I value it 10 times more than I did I started. I agree totally with JJ. It is a great feeling just to finish a race. You don't ever really see that because in general the public only want to know about the guys who are winning. When I finish a race now I'm really delighted.

"At the start of last year I was going quickly, but I didn't know why I was going fast. I drove flat out all the time. I learned a lot of things, but the most important lesson was to understand why I was going quick or why I am going slowly. I know if the problem is within me or the car and I think this will be important for the future.

So he sees last season as a successful one?

"I can't complain," he says. 'I don't know if it was successful, but I know that at the end of it I was very happy. I took it as a learning year. I said at the start that I wanted to do as many laps as possible to learn. No matter how good a driver you are the car has to help. After two or three races I realised how hard it was. Then I had my accident in France."

It was a big shunt Christian's Minardi-Lamborghini crashing backwards into one of Magny-Cours's concrete retaining walls.

"The actual accident wasn't the worst thing in the world," he says. 'There wasn't a lot of pain or anything like that.'

But Christian had damaged one of the vertebrae in his neck. He would have to miss the British, German and Hungarian GPs. He came back in Belgium but failed to qualify. It was similar story in Italy.

"I just wasn't driving on the limit," he explains. "I was way off the pace and I didn't know it. Firstly my neck wasn't strong enough and secondly I wasn't harsh enough. I was braking 20 metres before everyone else at the end of the straights. Obviously if you lose one tenth in one corner and another in the next, it all adds up and by the end of the lap you have lost a whole second. It was really bad for my confidence. That didn't start to come back until Estoril. Things went a little better and in the race it all went quite well. I was planning to do a race with one pit stop and if I had done that I would have been the only driver to do it. I was up to 10th and I was fighting with the Dallaras of Pierluigi Martini and Lehto who had new tyres and I was hanging in there. Unfortunately I had to pit with about 15 laps to go. After that I slept for two days and when I woke up it was all totally different. It seemed like a whole new life started for me.

"Then came Japan where I finished sixth. Suzuka is a very demanding circuit, but everything went perfectly. The car ran well and I finished sixth. The best thing was that it was a competitive sixth. It wasn't because others fell off and I was the last one left. Fifteen cars finished that race. That one point gave me the same sort of feeling I had when I won a race in F3000. Winning the F3000 championship is going to be something I will never forget but my first point in F1 was also special.

"My confidence is back now and since the accident I have a different approach to. I know exactly what I have to do in F1. Sure, I'm going to make a lot of mistakes. I am young and I have a lot still to learn, but I know what it takes.

This season Christian returns to Minardi, where he will be partnered by F1 newcomer Fabrizio Barbazza. With a year of experience he will take on the mantle of team leader.

"Minardi is a lot like a family. Everyone works really hard and Giancarlo was always there supporting everyone. When I was having problems after my accident he never lost confidence. There was one time when I wasn't going very well when he gave Gianni (Morbidelli) a lighter engine than mine, but that was the right decision for the team. For the rest of the time we were treated exactly the same. I have really enjoyed working with Giancarlo because he is totally honest.

"Minardi is a lot different from an English team. In some ways that is good and in other ways it is not, but I'm happy to race with them and I think they are happy with the work I did."

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