Talking Racing And Watches With Future F1 Star Pietro Fittipaldi
Hailing from Brazil, the Fittipaldi name has long been synonymous with auto racing. Today, the torch is passed to Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of the legendary Emerson Fittipaldi. Lucky for us, he's also a watch guy.
Emerson Fittipaldi's decade long conquest of Formula One and IndyCar/CART resulted in two F1 world championships, 14 Grand Prix wins, and two very special victories at the Indy 500. Racing runs in the blood of nearly all Fittipaldi family members. With Emerson’s brother Wilson also racing in F1 in the late seventies. Today, the family continues this tradition with Emerson’s grandchildren Pietro and Enzo embarking on careers in auto racing.
At just 22, Pietro has more on-track experience under his belt that most accomplished drivers. A graduate of the Ferrari young driver’s academy, Pietro has been racing for well over a decade. Competing across numerous categories including NASCAR, IndyCar, WEC, and multiple Formula stages. At the conclusion of the 2018 F1 season, Pietro was announced as a test driver for the America-based Haas racing team. A future superstar who also happens to be a budding watch connoisseur.
Interview with Pietro Fittipaldi
Just prior to his first F1 test with the Rich Energy Haas F1 team, I had the special chance to sit down with Pietro. His ambassadorship with the famed F1 illustrator (and now watchmaker) Giorgio Piola brought us together on this occasion. What followed was an enlighting conversation about Fittipaldi's career and his relationship with time.
Josh Shanks: Hey Pietro nice to meet you! I have to ask, what was your first nice watch?
Pietro Fittipaldi: For my first nice watch, my grandfather (Emerson) gave me this really thin yellow gold oval-shaped Longines.
JS: That’s very cool!
PF: Yeah, so I use that when I’m wearing a suit, like a black-tie event or something. That was the first watch I got, basically.
JS: Now I guess the million-dollar question is, are you allowed to wear watches in the cockpit?
PF: No. Actually, some drivers wear watches in the cockpit, like if you’re driving a closed cockpit car where you have more space, but when you’re driving an open-wheel car. I don’t know if you’re NOT allowed – but I don’t think you’re allowed – I know I’ve never worn a watch (during a race). There’s not much space when you’re turning the wheel. You actually hit your elbow and sometimes even your ribs when you’re turning the wheel on the side of the chassis. But every time I get out of the car I always put my watch back on.
JS: So, in terms of watches, were you always interested in watches? Was there any kind of family history there?
PF: Yeah. My grandfather (Emerson) had some limited-edition watches made for him by TAG Heuer. He’s done some limited editions with other brands. My father wasn’t really involved with racing, but he loved watches. He collects them, so I always grew up with having watches around and enjoying them.
JS: How did you get involved with Giorgio Piola?
PF: I’ve always followed his work. He’s one of the best technical journalists that there ever was in Formula 1. I’ve always read his articles on motorsport.com. Giorgio is always doing his drawings on F1 cars for Motorsport.com. He even has a special blog where almost every race weekend he draws the new updates to the F1 car designs. When I saw he launched his new watches I just loved the design. I think it represents motorsport really well.
JS: So, you have the (Giorgio Piola) Model 5, right? The forged carbon piece?
PF: Exactly, yeah.
JS: How do you like it?
PF: I like it a lot. You know, for me, it is a watch I use every day. I actually have it on right now. I like it to even use it on the racetrack. I really like the design, I like the carbon fiber. As I said, I think it represents motorsport well, so for me to wear that watch it fits me well for when I go to the track and doing active things. I really, really like it.
JS: So, you’ve just finished the 2018 IndyCar season, what are you up to in the off-season?
PF: You know, we have a long off-season in IndyCar because you finish the season in September and then you only start up again in February with testing. The first race isn’t actually until April, so it’s a really long off-season, so for sure I want to keep doing some carting, maybe even some testing in other cars just to keep my reflexes up, and hand-eye coordination and everything. I’m going to keep training. But since I had my injuries in May, I broke my leg and my right ankle, I’m still recovering. So, I’m definitely going to be making sure my leg recovers as much as possible through this off-season so I’m 100% when I get back next year.
JS: I saw the video of that and that was pretty wild, but it’s good that you’re on the mend.
PF: Yeah, I’m happy I was able to get back so soon after breaking my leg and my ankle. I got back just over 2 months. After my accident, I got back racing in Ohio with IndyCar. And like I said, I’m still not 100% yet. My right ankle is fully healed but my left leg, I broke the tibia, and since it’s is a bigger bone it just takes longer to heal. So, I’m just going to really focus on this off-season, now that we’re not racing anymore, to just keep training and keep doing physical therapy and make sure my bone fully heals before the next season.
JS: Next season, are you going to be returning with Dale Coyne?
PF: No, we haven’t confirmed anything yet. We are still looking at our options. We're doing F1 testing (with Haas) at the end of the year, but my goal for next year is to be racing an open-wheel championship and be doing a full season. But I’m not sure where we’re going to land yet, but we should know very soon.
JS:. In terms of F1 testing, that’s exciting. Is F1 a future goal for you?
PF: Yeah, of course. I think every driver has a goal of one day reaching Formula 1, as well as one day reaching IndyCar. For me, it was an honor to be racing in IndyCar this year. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t do the Indy 500 because of my accident but I definitely want to be doing the Indy500 soon, hopefully, next year. But, of course, I have a goal of also racing Formula 1 one day and if we can do some testing at the end of the year I think that will be very important.
JS: Is there any driver in Formula 1 that you root for now?
PF: Um, no driver in particular. I just like watching the races and seeing at the end who’s going to win the championship. There’s a tough battle going on between Mercedes and Ferrari now, so I think it’s going to be interesting. I think Hamilton still has it this year, but it will be interesting to see who’s going to win because Ferrari is getting stronger every year.
JS: Yeah, and now we’re seeing a bit more F1 action on the IndyCar side with Alonzo coming over to IndyCar (for the 2019 Indy 500).
PF: Yeah that’s the great thing about IndyCar. What I really enjoy about it is that it’s extremely competitive in terms of every team, basically, on the grid has a shot at winning. The differences between the bigger teams with bigger budgets compared to the smaller teams with less budget is not that different in terms of performance on the track, I think that makes things really interesting. You might have a big team like Penske that has an off day, off weekend and that gives a shot for even the smallest team to win. For example, like Dale Coyne Racing this year is one of the smallest teams on the grid and Sebastian (Bourdais), who is racing for them full-time, won a race this year. So, I think that’s what I really like about IndyCar, it’s that the competition is so close.
JS: You come from a rich family background in racing. Do you guys ever have friendly competitions between family members?
PF: Yeah, of course, there is always competition. My brother, Enzo, he’s 17. We've started racing – I started racing when I was 5, he started racing when he was 4 and my brother is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, so he’s lived in Europe, racing in Europe. He actually finished third in the German championship. He’s leading the Italian championship and he has the title decider in a couple of weeks, but I’m always extremely competitive with him. We don’t get to race on track because he’s younger than me, so he’s in a different series. Basically, we use simulators, and every time we’re on the simulator I set the best time then my brother sets the best time and it keeps going all day. So, for sure there’s a competition in the family.