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Emerson Fittipaldi (São Paulo, Brazil, 1946) is a character who needs no introduction as the particular cliché goes. Double champion of both Formula 1 and the Indy 500, he represents one of the most emblematic and laureate figures in motorsports history.
His career is full of milestones and records, including being the first Brazilian to win the title in the world’s top single-seater category and the youngest at the time —25 years old in 1972, a record that would be surpassed by Fernando Alonso three decades later.
However, Emmo, the affectionate nickname by which he is also known, is not only a legend consecrated on the tracks but also the most prominent member of a dynasty that —transcending the limits of motor racing and sports journalism— has leaped the political arena.
In this interview, he shows us how he intends to face the last great competition of his long career: winning a seat in the Italian Senate.
What do you consider to be the biggest problem in Italian society today? There is often a lot of talk about the demographic winter it is going through.
The solution is our young people from Latin America, from Venezuela to Argentina, who can come to Italy. We must offer them jobs and provide them with many opportunities. Joint work between the Italian Government and the countries of South America.
Surely many would like to have the opportunity to start a new life where their family origins are.
It is a serious Italian problem but a great opportunity for us South Americans. Italy is a wonderful country, a country that has everything young people need.
What qualities do you see in Giorgia Meloni, your party’s candidate for premier of Italy? You have compared her to none other than Alain Prost.
I think she is someone who has a very strong leadership. When she called me, I was not sure I would accept [the proposal to run for senator], but she convinced me because of her confidence and her project. She is a person who speaks with confidence and sincerity, who is very strategic and self-confident.
Why would someone who has already achieved legendary status in the sports field decide to go into politics? Do you fear that it will affect your public image with fans who don’t share your ideas?
It’s a very interesting question, because I was a close friend of Carlos Reutemann, “Lole”, who was a senator for many years and governor of the Argentine province of Santa Fe. He used to talk to me a lot about the difficulties and challenges he had as a politician.
I want to give back to future generations everything that sport has given me in my life. I think that sport is discipline, a healthy mind, a healthy body, teamwork, knowing how to lose and how to win. It forms a character for the youth.
What are the similarities between political forces such as Fratelli d’Italia and Bolsonarism, to which you have lent your support?
Both are center-right projects that we want to see succeed in Brazil and Italy in order to have countries with more freedom, more opportunities, more tourism and more foreign investment.
We hope that the Brazilian philosophy of Bolsonaro and that of Giorgia Meloni —which are similar— will be a success, because we are aware of the problems that occur in countries historically governed by the left as is the case, for example, of Cuba and Venezuela.
We know the history of the USSR from the 1920s until the fall of the Berlin Wall. And I felt in my own skin, in my own flesh, the destruction that the communist revolution created from Russia.
It is important to keep this in mind: my mother was born in Kyiv, Ukraine being part of the USSR. She and her family lost everything and immigrated to Brazil when the communist revolution happened, which was a disaster. She had to leave with my grandfather, when she was only 7 years old, in a coach to Hamburg to escape the hell of thousands and thousands of people killed. For most of her life she did not believe in God and carried a great sadness, because when she was a little girl she lived through that tragedy; but shortly before she died, and by a miracle that happened in our family, my mother accepted Christ.
That is why we fight, so that future generations have a government that gives them more possibilities and that families can grow in an environment of progress. A choice of progress, freedom, and Christianity.
God created man —I am very Christian— and gave him freedom. We must always have the freedom to choose, to express ourselves, to act. Surely when we do something wrong we have to deal with the consequences, but we must have freedom. Losing it is something very serious for human beings.
Just look at what is happening in Venezuela. That is why we need to win, to give a better future to our children. Family is also a precious value for us. The family is a safe harbor for every person.
What is your main aspiration as senator?
I want to encourage sports. To encourage culture, because sport is culture. I would also like to promote Italy, its history and its heritage, which we, oriundi, have the chance to get to know.
Very young children, from 3 or 4 years old, are already using cell phones or computers, and they do not practice sports. Later, when they are teenagers, they go out into a world that is dangerous.
When you have sports, on the other hand, you are more protected against drugs, drinking and all the temptations of the street. So I hope that, through sports, its promotion and encouragement, children and young people will have a better future.
After sports, there is something very important. I spoke with a great university called Università eCampus to ensure that an engineering, doctorate or law degree obtained in South America can be recognized in Italy.
I seek to open many doors for a cultural exchange with those academically trained in the American subcontinent, so that they can work on Italian soil.
Another objective I have is to facilitate immigration for oriundi, making it much easier to obtain a passport, for example. Considering that in Brazil we have more than 30 million oriundi, then comes Argentina and then Venezuela.
All this will be difficult, but we will conquer it with a lot of work and joy. I want to bring values to politics.
Was Formula 1 more epic and risky in its winning years? How would you compare it to the contemporary version of the competition?
F1 is a category that has undergone major changes, especially in terms of safety. In my time it was very dangerous, it involved a very high risk. During my entire F1 and Indy career, from ’70 to ’96 — the year I had a very big crash—I lost 37 colleagues.
Today, safety is much better, the circuits are better designed, emergency medical assistance is faster and the rescue team is more efficient in keeping the driver alive. Also, the drivers’ uniforms, helmets, etc. are better. And especially the car, which is all built with carbon fiber and has a safety capsule.
In short, everything is better today, thank God. Now, for example, every centimeter that the car turns on the circuits is measured analytically. There is very precise data on corner entry behavior, the driver’s pedal position, and so on. The electronic part has undergone a great advance for drivers and teams in terms of information.
Everything you explain constitutes an unquestionable progress, but isn’t what is gained in safety somehow detrimental to the show?
It’s different, but F1 races in the last 3 years have been very tight, very exciting. It is a very beautiful sport, which is growing a lot in the world.
What do you think of the signing of your compatriot Felipe Drugovich by Aston Martin?
Feli Drugovich is a reserve driver, as is my grandson, Pietro, at Haas. He is good, but he is not an effective driver.
We in Latin America have a lot of work to do. Currently [on the F1 grid] we only have Checo Pérez, who is very talented, very fast. At one point F1 had seven or eight Latin American drivers, now the Europeans dominate. We have to fight to regain our position in the competition.
Would you like to leave us some impressions on the 50th anniversary of your consecration as Formula 1 world champion?
For me it was a gift from God. I celebrated it the week before last. It was a moment of great happiness to return, after 50 years, to the Monza circuit and to drive the car with which I won the World Championship.
Because he knew that his interviewer is from Venezuela, Fittipaldi spoke warmly about a recent meeting he had with motorcycling champion Johnny Cecotto, a sports icon of that country, whom he considers a “great friend”. He also wanted to send a big hug to his “Venezuelan brothers”, wishing them a better future.
Silvio Salas, Venezuelan, is a writer and Social Communicator, with an interest in geopolitics, culture war and civil liberties // Silvio Salas, venezolano, es un comunicador social interesado en temas de geopolítica, libertades civiles y la guerra cultural.
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