Cristiano didn't start karting until he was 16 years old, relatively late for a racing driver, but he quickly rose through the formule, winning the 1993 Brazilian Formula Ford Championship, 1994 Formula Three Sudamericana Championship.
In 1997 Cristiano moved to America and raced in the Indy Lights series where he took rookie of the year, the following year he won the championship. Between 1999 and 2003 he joined the CART series, and won the championship in 2002 for Newman/Haas Racing.
In 2003 he joined Formula One with a seat at Toyota, and in his first season he scored 10 points, 4 more than his more experienced teammate Olivier Panis.
Cristiano left the Cologne besed team after the German Grand Prix in 2004, citing poor performance, however his replacements (Zonta and Trulli) didn't go on to score a single world championship point.
Upon leaving Toyota da Matta vowed never to race again in Formula One, as he felt the series placed too much emphasis on car performance.
Since then, he moved back to racing in the US racing Champ Car and sports cars.
While testing Champ Cars at Road America, Cristiano was involved in an accident with a deer. He hit the deer with the car's front right tyre, and then it hit him in the cockpit knocking him unconscious. He was airlifted to hospital where he underwent surgery to remove a subdural hematoma. Following the surgery he was put in an induced coma, to allow for the swelling to subside. Having recovered better and more quickly than expected Cristiano left hospital 40 days after the accident happened.
Since the accident he has tested and plans to race sports cars.
Cristiano's father, Toninho da Matta, was a 14-time Brazilian touring car champion.