Emerson Fittipaldi Renzo Zorzi Roelof Wunderink
Birthdays for Fittipaldi (above left), Zorzi (centre) and Wunderink (above right)

December 12 is evidently a good day to be born for aspiring F1 drivers, with no less than four former F1 pilots – Ken Kavanagh (87), Renzo Zorzi (64), Emerson Fittipaldi (64) and Roelof Wunderink (62) – celebrating their respective birthdays today!

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Born Thomas Kenrick ‘Ken’ Kavanagh in Melbourne, Australia, Kavanagh achieved greater success on two wheels than four, becoming the first Australian to win a motorcycle Grand Prix race when he took victory at the 1952 350cc Ulster Grand Prix, and also winning the 1956 Isle of Man Junior TT.

In a motorcycle Grand Prix career spanning almost a decade, he won five times and took an incredible 24 podiums in his 38 races with Moto Guzzi.

Kavanagh entered two Formula 1 Grands Prix in 1958 with a privately-run Maserati 250F, failing to qualify on debut at Monaco. At his next (and final) F1 appearance at Belgium, he qualified 20th quickest of the 28 starters, but failed to take the start when his engine blew during the warm-up.

He now lives in Italy.

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Born in the Italian province of Trento, Zorzi was a Formula 3 regular before making his debut with Williams at the 1975 Italian Grand Prix, where he finished 14th. He made a further appearance with the team at the following year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, and finished ninth.

He joined the Shadow outfit full-time in 1977, and finished sixth at the second round in Brazil (his only championship point), but was indirectly involved in the tragic accident at the South African Grand Prix that killed his team-mate Tom Pryce.

Having retired his car with an engine fire, he successfully put it out with his onboard extinguisher. But two fire marshals ran across the main straight beyond the crest of the hill, with one being struck at full speed by Pryce and killed, while Pryce was also fatally injured by the fire extinguisher the marshal was carrying.

Sadly for Zorzi, financial problems put paid to his involvement with the team a few rounds later, and he competed in the Aurora AFX F1 series with an Arrows before retiring and setting up a Pirelli driving school in Southern Italy.

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The man who started the flood of world-class Brazilian drivers into Formula 1 in the 1970s, Emerson Fittipaldi became the (then) youngest ever World Champion when he took his maiden title in 1972 at the age of 25 with Lotus.

Renowned for his smooth driving style and being a tactical racer, ‘Emmo’ also sported the meanest pair of sideburns ever seen in F1.

Emerson Fittipaldi, 1974 Alongside his (less successful) brother Wilson, Emerson was a prodigious talent in karting and junior formulae to the point that Lotus had signed him into a long-term deal after just a year of single-seater competition in Europe in 1969.

He made his F1 debut in 1970, and by his fourth race he found himself as de facto team leader following the death of team-mate Jochen Rindt, winning at Watkins Glen (just his fourth F1 race) to ensure Rindt took the sport’s only posthumous title.

He bounced back from a disappointing 1971 season to take the title the following year in the excellent Lotus 72.

Finding himself paired with Ronnie Peterson for 1973, they took several wins apiece, but pinching points off one another allowed Jackie Stewart to take the championship.

He took a big bucks offer and joined McLaren for 1974, which proved a clever move en route to his second championship, but lost out the following year to Niki Lauda’s Ferrari.

But in 1976, he stunned everyone by announcing that he would join his brother’s new Copersucar F1 team, but it proved a disastrous move and it effectively ruined much of the good he had achieved, and he retired from F1 racing in 1980.

He would later go on to achieve considerable success in the United States, twice winning the Indianapolis 500 and taking the 1989 CART championship title. His second Indy 500 win would prove controversial for his post-race behaviour, where he refused to drink the winner’s milk – an act that many die-hard Indy fans still never forgave him for.

Despite this, he continued to race well into his 40s, and retired from the American racing scene in 1996 after an accident at the Milwaukee International Speedway.

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Dutchman Roelof Wunderink was a Formula 3 driver in the 1970s, who made six Grand Prix appearances by dint of sponsorship from a Dutch security firm, who helped him buy a seat with Ensign in 1975.

Without much in the way of a motorsport pedigree – he only started racing at the age of 21 – he proved out in his pace and generally out of his depth, only manaigng to qualify for three championship races, retiring from two and proving too slow at the soaked Austrian Grand Prix to be classified as a finisher when it was red-flagged.

[Original images via Anton Sukup, The Cahier Archive and F1 Rejects]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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