Pietro Fittipaldi will make his Formula 1 debut at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix. He has been called up by Haas to stand in from Romain Grosjean, who is recovering from the burns he suffered in his fiery crash yesterday.
But a glance at Fittipaldi’s record reveals a surprising detail for a driver who is about to make his debut in the sport’s top flight: He hasn’t won a single race in his last three years of competition. Given that, how has he managed to accumulate the 40 superlicence points necessary to be allowed to race in Formula 1?
The 24-year-old has served as one of Haas’s two official test and reserve drivers during this year. The other, Louis Deletraz, has Formula 2 commitments this weekend.
Fittipaldi hasn’t raced (aside from virtual competitions) for much of 2020. However he did compete in the Asian F3 series earlier this year, where he collected the final superlicence points he needed in order to qualify to race in F1.
He took his first and biggest step towards earning his superlicence by winning the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship in 2017. This had previously been known as Formula Renault 3.5, until the French manufacturer pulled its backing two years earlier.
Fittipaldi won the championship against a weakened grid. Only eight drivers contested every round.
During the season the FIA announced the superlicence points awarded for winning the series would be slashed to 20 points for the following year. But the series collapsed before then, and Fittipaldi became its final champion, banking a valuable 35 superlicence points.
In 2018 he embarked on dual campaigns in IndyCar and the World Endurance Championship. However he started just one IndyCar race, finishing 23rd on the Phoenix oval, before suffering a leg-breaking crash during practice for the Six Hours of Spa. That cost him any chance of adding further superlicence points to his tally that year.
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Before the crash Fittipaldi was already in discussions with Haas over a role at the team. The following November he was confirmed as one of their test drivers for 2019.
That year he moved into the DTM with Audi, where the competition was tough. He managed just six points finishes and ended the year 15th, having failed to add to his superlicence total for the second year running.
But a vital ruling went his way in a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in December. They approved a request for Fittipaldi transfer the points he scored in 2017 to 2018, the year of his crash. That extended the window of opportunity for him to score the necessary points to make his F1 debut.
The Asian F3 series, which ran through the 2019-20 off-season, provided a useful opportunity. In slower cars than those he had won the V8 3.5 title with in 2017, Fittipaldi needed only to finish the season in the top five to reach the superlicence points threshold.
It didn’t start well. Technical problems contributed to a point-less weekend at Sepang. He managed a pair of seventh places in Dubai, and one non-score after breaking his front wing in a collision with Ukyo Sasahara. At the next triple-header in Yas Marina, Fittipaldi mustered a fourth place and a pair of fifths.
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With nine of the 15 races completed, he lay sixth in the championship, good enough for four superlicence points. That would leave him on 39 – one shy of the total he needed. Then something unexpected happened: A pandemic.
Devlin Defrancesco, who was leading Fittipaldi in the points standings, stood down from the series, citing concerns over exposure to Covid-19. Sebastian Fernandez, who was also ahead of Fittipaldi, dropped out too.
Fittipaldi therefore had an open goal in front of him heading into the final two triple-headers. However after a fourth and two fifths in the penultimate round, Sepang, he remained sixth behind the absent Defrancesco and Fernandez.
At the finale in Buriram he finally scored his first podium finish of the season with third place. More points fourth fourth and 10th in the final rounds meant he moved past Defrancesco and Fernandez, though W Series champion Jamie Chadwick relegated him back to fifth.
Even so, that meant six superlicence points, putting him on a total of 41, finally moving him past the threshold necessary to complete in F1. Thanks to that, a grand prix debut for the grandson of two-times world champion Emerson Fittipaldi beckons in just four days’ time.