Here’s an F1 trivia question: what is the only surname that has been carried by three different World Champions?
The answer is Hill!
Graham Hill you will know, and of course his more recently successful son, Damon, and the other one? That would be Phil Hill, the American who took the title for Ferrari in 1961.
Damon Hill remains the only son of a World Champion to take the title – he did so memorably in 1996 for Williams, having taken the fight to Michael Schumacher – but there are many examples of sons of successful F1 drivers also making it to the top echelon of the sport.
Then there are brothers who both raced, and other family connections. Motor racing, you see, it’s in the blood.
In the USA, the domestic racing scene has been dominated by family dynasties: the Andrettis, Unsers, Foyts and Pettys.
These are names that remain revered in Indycar and NASCAR circles, and rightly so.
Below, I will talk of family connections in F1, and there are more than you might believe!
The Early Days
It’s often forgotten that Alberto Ascari – the last Italian to win the world title for Ferrari – was never a Formula 1 champion.
This was because in 1952 and 1953 – Ascari took the title both seasons – the World Championship for Drivers was run to Formula 2 rules.
The reason lay with a lack of available Formula 1 machinery, while F2 was rife.
Alberto was the son of Antonio Ascari. Antonio started racing in 1919 mainly for Alfa Romeo,
He would end his life in a racing car in the 1925 French Grand Prix, in which he crashed while leading.
Alberto, then 7 years old, would go on to be one of the greats of the post-war years.
A strange aside here: there are many apparent coincidences that appear to link the deaths of both Ascaris, not least the fact they both died in racing cars (hardly a surprise) at the age of 36 years, on the 26th of the month, each after a lucky escape four days before.
Make of that what you will!
A race of note here is the 1953 British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, which Alberto Ascari won with ease.
That race saw the one and only Grand Prix start for one James Robert Stewart, better known as Jimmy.
The Scotsman qualified 15th in a Cooper-Bristol – a fine effort that put him ahead of some notable names – but did not make it to the end of race, spinning out on lap 79 out of 90. Jimmy’s brother – John – eight years his junior, would also get the racing bug.
He’s better known as Jackie – now Sir Jackie Stewart – who took the world title in 1969, 1971 and 1973, and is regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
The Hermanos Rodriguez
The late 1960s saw more South American drivers coming to Europe to race, following in the footsteps of the great Juan-Manuel Fangio, five-times World Champion in the 50’s.
Important to us here are two brothers from Mexico who would make no small mark on both F1 and sports car racing.
Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez hailed from Mexico City, and had both displayed prodigious talent behind the wheel back home.
Pedro, the elder brother by 2 years, made his Grand prix debut for Lotus at the US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, in October 1963.
His brother, Ricardo, had made his debut at the Italian Grand Prix, Monza, two years previously.
Driving for Ferrari, Ricardo qualified 2nd fastest, but would retire early on with mechanical issues.
He remains the youngest driver to race for Ferrari, at just 19 years and 208 days.
He had done enough to make the world stand up and watch, but his was to be a tragic career.
During the 1962 Mexican Grand Prix – for which he had been left high and dry by Ferrari’s failure to appear (due to a metal workers strike in Italy and also internal team friction) – he crashed the Rob Walker-entered Lotus he had bagged a drive in at the famous Peraltada, the long and fast corner that closes the lap.
Ricardo Rodriguez was killed instantly. A national hero, the country mourned their young star en masse.
Pedro was in two minds as to whether to quit the sport in the aftermath of his brother’s death, but opted to continue.
He would win but two grands prix – South Africa in 1967 at the wheel of a Cooper-Maserati and at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, in 1970, where he took his BRM to a stunning victory on the super-fast circuit.
Pedro Rodriguez would lose his life in a sports car race at the Norisring, Germany, in July 1971, when a tyre disintegrated on his Ferrari, causing him to lose control.
He was at the time regarded as the bravest of the brave, and was co-driver in the winning Ford GT40 at Le Mans in 1968, among other famous sports car victories.
The Mexico City circuit at which current Mexican Grands Prix are held is now named ‘Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez’ in memory of the two brothers who made motor racing so popular in the country.
The Brazilian Invasion
In deciding who to include in this article, I have been reminded of the sheer number of family connections between F1 drivers.
I only have space for those of note – perhaps I’ll talk of some of the lesser known examples another time – but any article on this subject has to include a section on one of the most famous and extensive racing families of all – the Fittipaldis.
You might think the story begins with the two-times World Champion, Indy 500 winner and 1989 CART Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, but you’d be wrong.
In fact, the family connection goes back to his father – Wilson – and mother Juzy, who in the post-WW2 years, had both raced production cars in Brazilian domestic series.
It’s possible this is the first motor racing family in which the mother has played an active racing part!
Wilson Fittipaldi Snr was responsible for organising motor races in Brazil in the 1950’s, and became a big name in the sports thanks to this.
It would be no surprise, then, that his son took a shine to motor sport, and began racing home-built karts in the 1960’s.
But we’re not talking about Emerson just yet, this was Wilson Jnr, who was three years older than his soon to be more famous brother.
Often forgotten, Wilson was a handy racing driver who started 35 grands prix over three seasons.
He began his career with Brabham in 1972 – having shown undoubted talent in F2 the year before – and while he scored some strong finishes, his career points total amounts to just 3pts.
This is perhaps because, in 1974, he took the daring and unusual decision to set up his own team, named ‘Copersucar Fittipaldi’.
As sole driver in 1975, the best finish he could achieve was 10th, and Wilson Jnr retired from racing to manage the team from 1976 onwards.
A couple of interesting points – the Fittipaldis became the first brothers to compete together in a Grand Prix when Wilson Jnr made his debut in a Brabham in Spain in 1972.
He finished a creditable 7th, while Emerson won.
Also, they became the first brothers to score points in the same Grand Prix during the 1973 season – in Argentina where Wilson finished 6th and Emerson again won, and in Germany, in which Wilson crossed the line 5th, one place ahead of his brother – a feat that would not be matched until Michael and Ralf Schumacher finished 1st and 3rd in the 1998 Italian Grand Prix.
Wilson Jnr’s son, Christian Fittipaldi, would also make it to Formula One and make more than 40 starts with smaller teams.
Like his father, he never got the necessary break, but has enjoyed a successful career in Indycar and sports car racing with many notable wins.
Emerson, meanwhile, had been the rising superstar of the early 1970’s, and had begun his superb F1 career with a few starts for the works Lotus team in 1970.
The tragic death of lead-driver Jochen Rindt at Monza in the September of that year saw Emerson elevated to number 1 Lotus driver after just 5 F1 races.
In his first win as team leader, at Watkins Glen for the US GP, Fittipaldi confirmed his ability with victory, setting the scene for success to come.
Emerson Fittipaldi would become World Champion with Lotus in 1972, and again with McLaren in 1974.
For 1976, however, he decided to drive for the home team – Team Fittipaldi. The result was a career that stalled, and did not recover until he reappeared in IndyCar later on, where he would go on to enjoy great success.
The Fittipaldi dynasty has not yet had its fill; Emerson’s two grandchildren Pietro and Enzo are also racing drivers, and Enzo is a member of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy.
The Other Jacques Villeneuve
Damon Hill may be the only F1 Champion son of an F1 Champion, but he’s not the only son of a grand prix winner to have won the title.
Jacques Villeneuve came to F1 in 1996 with the then-successful Williams team. He had won the CART championship the previous year – which included victory in the Indianapolis 500 – and brought with him a reputation for speed and talent. In his first Grand Prix, the Australian at Melbourne, he duly put his car on pole position and would have won but for an oil leak late in the race.He finished second to team-mate Hill. Villeneuve would take his first F1 victory at the fourth race of the season, the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, and would win three further races in 1996 to finish second in the rankings behind Hill.
The 1997 season would be a remarkable one, and Villeneuve began in style by taking pole position at Melbourne by some 1.7 seconds from new team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
He would get no further than the first corner, where he was involved in a collision. As the year developed it became clear this was to be a straight fight for the title between Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari.
Villeneuve went into the final race of the season – the European Grand Prix at Jerez – a single point adrift of Schumacher.
He had finished fifth in the previous race in Japan, which would have put him a point ahead had he not been disqualified for ignoring yellow flags.
The 1997 Jerez race would go down in history when Schumacher, seeing Villeneuve take a chance and dive down the inside of the Ferrari, turned into the Williams deliberately.
The collision ended Schumacher’s race, but Villeneuve was able to continue and take third – and the World Championship.
Here’s a fact for those of you who like this sort of thing: not once during the 1997 season did Schumacher and Villeneuve share a podium.
That remains one of the most remarkable statistics in F1 history.
Nothing would match Jacques’ 1997 season as he made career choices that left him nowhere, and he would not win in F1 again.
So, where’s the family connection? Of course, F1 fans of any age will have heard of his father, the late and revered Gilles Villeneuve, who enjoyed an all-too brief F1 career in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Few drivers have left a legacy as lasting as Gilles’, yet the Canadian won just 6 grands prix over almost six seasons in F1.
Gilles drove all but one of his Grands Prix for Ferrari, the exception being a debut for McLaren at Silverstone in 1977, and became a tifosi favourite. He remains so today, and his daring style could be said to epitomise a Ferrari driver.Gilles’ story, up to and including his tragic death at Zolder on May 8th, 1982 – a date etched in my mind – has been told time and time again, but suffice to say his wins in the Ferrari 126C at Monaco and Jarama in 1981 were inch-perfect performances in a car that should not have been close to the front, and that are in direct contrast with his reputation as a wild and irresponsible driver.
And the other Jacques Villeneuve? That would be Gilles’ younger brother, Jacques, also a talented racing driver who achieved success in CART racing including a victory and several podiums.
Yet, his F1 foray is all but forgotten.
At the tail end of the 1981 season, the Arrows F1 team offered Jacques Snr drives in the two North American rounds at Montreal, Canada, and the absurd Caesars Palace circuit, in the car park of the casino in Las Vegas.
The presence of the Canadian probably drew in some additional sponsorship, yet he failed to qualify for both races. He would make a final effort in F1 for the Canadian race in 1983, this time with the tiny RAM team, but again would not make the cut.
Jacques enjoyed title-winning success in the Can-Am series, and remained a top-line competitor in snowmobile racing – in which he has won several major titles – which is where he and his illustrious brother began their racing careers.
So Many More
I could fill pages with past, present and future F1 sons of champions and race winners – Mick Schumacher, who this year races in F2, will surely drive in F1 and perhaps follow in the footsteps of his famous father – but that’s it for now.
Perhaps we’ll revisit this subject, as there are many more stories to tell!