How does a young driver celebrate the conclusion of his two-race Formula 1 debut?
“It took 26 hours to get from Abu Dhabi to North Carolina,” Haas F1’s Pietro Fittipaldi told RACER. “So I got up at five this morning because I had jet lag, and then I had to wait for my girlfriend to get up, but I woke her up and I was like, ‘Let’s go to good old Cracker Barrel!’ And then we went, ate some pancakes. Just unbelievable. It was so good. Hey, I’m living the dream, and I love the pancakes over there.”
It’s hard not to love the Miami-born Brazilian.
Awestruck by the chance to stand in for the injured Romain Grosjean at Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, the 24-year-old performed well at the season finale. A leak in his car’s pneumatic system turned a one-stop race into three trips to pit lane, which blighted any chance of a decent finish, but he left the circuit brimming with confidence.
“It had been nine months since I had driven any race car, and a year since I drove in the Formula 1 car, so I wanted to make sure I was ready with all the procedures at Bahrain,” said the 24-year-old. “But there’s little things that I wasn’t used to, so I couldn’t really feel ‘in the moment.’ At Abu Dhabi, it was a more normal weekend.
“I was a lot more confident with everything, a lot more comfortable, and it was kind of crazy. They were doing the ‘End Racism’ moment, and I had Lewis Hamilton three positions down from me, there was Vettel with me, and I had all these guys, like Daniel Ricciardo, all these guys that I grew up watching, and I was there with them. That’s when it hit me, like, ‘Man, I’m one of the 20, racing with these guys.’ Like, ‘Man, we made it to Formula 1.’
“It’s a great opportunity that Haas gave me and they had the trust to put me in the car. Nowadays, money is always a thing in racing, but to arrive and be hired by a team to go and race, it’s very difficult to do that nowadays in any type of racing. And to be hired by Haas, to race in Formula 1, it was a huge opportunity for me.”
The next chapter for Fittipaldi is looking increasingly like a return to IndyCar. An attempt to pair him with Tony Kanaan at A.J. Foyt Racing fell through when the 2013 Indy 500 winner signed with Chip Ganassi Racing. As RACER recently wrote, Fittipaldi is tipped to lead Dale Coyne Racing’s program where he completed six races in 2018.
“I’ve been trying to get back in IndyCar ever since the 2018 season finished, just because I love the style of racing,” he said. “It’s great people, the environment is something I’m very used to. I lived in the States my whole life, so it’s just something that I’ve been also involved with, and both my uncles racing there. Coming back to IndyCar, it would be a dream. And I adapted really well to the car in 2018.”
Provided the budget can be assembled for a full-season IndyCar campaign, Fittipaldi wants to race without limitations. In his first foray with Coyne, a component failure caused a crash at the FIA World Endurance Championship event in Spa that left Fittipaldi with a broken leg to nurse in the No. 19 Dallara DW 12-Honda.
“I couldn’t exactly show a hundred percent what I could do,” he said. “I did one race before I had my accident, and when I came back — some people don’t know, but I was actually racing with my left leg broken. The doctor basically molded a carbon brace so I could do it, and I needed painkillers before the race. But when I came back to Mid-Ohio and I did my first race back, I was braking at 50-percent of the brake pressure that you have to apply, so I was completely off the pace. And it was painful, but I couldn’t drive how I would normally drive.
“That hurt me a bit because I couldn’t show people what I can do, and I’ve always wanted to come back and really prove myself again in IndyCar. I finished ninth in Portland, and we qualified pretty well there. So we are talking to teams, definitely looking at coming back for next season. Nothing is done yet, but we are working on it.”