November 7, 2010: Brazilian former Formula One race car champion Emerson Fittipaldi in
his Lotus 72 model before the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.
(MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images)
RACING DRIVER Emerson Fittipaldi
long career in Formula One, CART and the Indy 500 but after two crashes that
nearly killed him — one in a car and one in a plane — he retired.
The plane crash also caused the Brazilian
to reassess his death-defying career, and realise there is more to life than
wealth and fame.
Fittipaldi enjoyed a charmed life during nearly three decades as a
professional driver, but wasn’t blind to the risks he took: “I
have lost many friends in racing,” he says solemnly. Of the 24 drivers
he competed against in his first grand prix in 1970, six were killed and one
paralysed from the waist down in racing accidents.
Emerson and son Luca after plane accident
He says: “When I began to drive Formula One in the 1970s, the odds of
surviving were seven to one, which were incredibly high risks. The odds of
surviving now are more like 800 to one. I had some huge crashes and yet I am
still here, thanks to God.”
When Fittipaldi finally announced his retirement from racing in 1997, in
addition to his two F1 World Championships and 14 Grand Prix victories, he had
one CART Championship, two Indianapolis 500 wins, and a total of 22 CART
Emerson and Rossana Fittipaldi attend the Laureus Sports Awards 2010 on March 9, 2010 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
(Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Laureus)
In 1996, during an Indianapolis race, he had an accident at Michigan
International Speedway at 320 km/h that broke his seventh vertebrae. If the
fracture had spread one millimetre further, he would have been a
As he recovered in hospital, Alex Dias Ribeiro, president of Athletes in
Action, visited Emerson, shared the good news of Jesus Christ with him and led
him into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I always believed in God, but it was he (Alex) who gave birth to my
faith in Jesus Christ,” Emerson told Isto È magazine in
“I think whoever does not believe in God or in Jesus has an empty life.
But we need to be called by God to wake up. After my accident in 1996 I was in
the hospital and Alex appeared with the Bible in my room.
“As a result I really believed in God and became a genuine Christian. It
changed my life for the past six years.”
Less than a year later, in September 1997, he had another accident while
flying his micro-light plane with his seven-year-old son Luca across his
orange tree farm estate in São Paulo, Brazil. Their plane lost power
and plunged 300 feet (91m) to the ground. Luca was uninjured, but Emerson
suffered serious back injuries.
It led him to remark that God was trying to tell him to retire: “Last
year I had a message from God. This time it was an order.”
Emerson Fittipaldi and his son Emerson Jr.
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
“Jesus is so great that I have no words to describe him, but I know for
a fact that he radically changed the history of our civilization. All that man
achieved until today is summed up in two eras — before Christ and after
Christ. Jesus is number one. He’s the most influential and important
person that ever lived on this planet and if we could only follow 20 per cent
of his teachings, this world would be a much better place to be.”
On the Jesus Film, among 44 tributes to Jesus from world-famous people,
Emerson said, “My tribute to Jesus would be that He has given us all
“His message is a message of hope and forgiveness and His life is a
message of kindness and salvation.
“This positive message of hope has lifted up my family and hopefully
made me a better person along the way. But I also know that when I stray, when
I err, that Jesus believes in forgiveness.”
Emerson realises he has hurt many people during his life, having had two
failed marriages, from which he had five children.
Of his first marriage, Emerson admits that back in 1980 “I was too
involved in the problems of trying to make the team work, and I neglected my
marriage and my personal life.”
He now attends Christian churches in Miami and Brazil with his third wife
Rossana, who is also a Christian, and four year old son Emerson Jr.
“Despite all the acclaim and international press he has received,
Emerson realizes that there is so much more to life.
“Life makes more sense with God,” Emerson told Isto È,
“and it is my duty to pass that to the people who surround me.”