Italy’s 60-year wait for a new F1 champion goes on

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The 2013 season marks 60 years since Alberto Ascari won his second world title.

Italy dominated the early years of the world championship. In the first four seasons every title was won by a driver in an Italian car, and three of those four drivers were Italians. At the time it would have been unthinkable that, 60 years later, Italy would still be waiting for another world champion driver.

Ferrari has gone on to become the most successful team in the history of the sport. But the success of Italy’s great team has seldom been matched by its drivers.

Many have tried to follow in Ascari’s footsteps: only Britain* has had more competitors than Italy’s 98. But while there have been race winners and runners-up, the wait for a champion goes on.

From Ascari to Bandini

Having won the championship for the second time Ascari turned his attention to a new Italian racing project: Lancia’s spectacular D50, which did not see racing action until the end of the 1954 season.

But the project collapsed after Ascari’s death while testing a sportscar at Monza. Italy mourned their lost champion and it fell to the next generation to succeed him.

Luigi Musso and Eugenio Castellotti both fitted the bill of young, handsome and talented but both were killed at the wheel. Like Ascari, Castelotti perished while testing a new Ferrari in 1957. Musso crashed to his death during the 1958 French Grand Prix while pursuing team mate Mike Hawthorn for the lead of the race.

Italian hopes were restored in 1961 by the tantalising prospect of Giancarlo Baghetti in a Ferrari. The young Italian caused a stir by winning his first two non-championship races in Syracuse and Naples, but the real sensation was caused by his remarkable and unique success in his first ever championship Grand Prix; the French Grand Prix at Reims.

From twelfth on the grid, Baghetti benefited from the mechanical misfortunes of others to find himself in second place entering the final lap. With a last gasp slip-stream manoeuvre, Baghetti edged his Ferrari ahead of Dan Gurney’s Porsche to win by inches and became the first – and so far only – driver to win on their debut. Baghetti’s promise faded rapidly after that fortunate win, with just two more points scoring races.

Lorenzo Bandini took up the mantle as Italy’s leading light and showed clear promise, putting his Ferrari on the front row in his first race for the team at Monaco in 1962. This extraordinarily talented Italian was touted as Italy’s best prospect since Ascari and his career had the backing of influential senior figures at Ferrari, notably team manager Eugenio Dragoni.

Bandini’s first victory at Zeltweg in 1964 underlined his status as a coming man. Team mate John Surtees won the championship that year but the pressure on Bandini was amplified as internal politics at Ferrari elbowed Surtees out of the picture the following year.

Now Bandini carried the hopes of an expectant nation at a time when Ferrari’s cars were no longer the front runners. At Monaco in 1967 Bandini flicked his Ferrari into the harbour-front chicane for the 82nd time when it got away from him, crashing into straw bales and exploding in flames. He succumbed to his injuries three days later.

Ludovico Scarfiotti was the next Italian driver to score a single win – a delirious home victory in 1966 – then perish at too young an age. After that nine years passed until the next success for an Italian driver.

In 1969, the year after Scarfiotti died, no Italian driver even started a race. Ferrari too were in the doldrums, only sending a single car to most rounds and skipping the German Grand Prix entirely.

Eighties resurgence

Vittorio Brambilla’s aggressive driving style earned him a reputation – and his sole victory celebration in F1 earned him some laughs. As he crossed the finish line of the rain-shortened 1975 Austrian Grand Prix, Brambilla raised both arms in celebration, only for his orange March to slide out of control and slam into the crash barriers. The victory was his, but it would be his only triumph.

Italy could lay claim to 1978 champion Mario Andretti. But Andretti’s family left Italy when he was eight and he became an American citizen in 1964, four years before his first appearance in an F1 car.

During the eighties and nineties F1’s Italian contingent first recovered, then boomed. This was thanks in part to a growth of Italian teams in the sport: Alfa Romeo returned first as an engine supplier then, from 1979 to 1985, as a full constructor. Minardi, Osella and others soon joined them.

But Italy’s next great hope made his F1 debut with a British team. Michele Alboreto spent three years with Tyrrell, winning the 1982 Las Vegas and 1983 Detroit Grands Prix and earning the call-up from Enzo Ferrari.

In 1985 Alboreto took on Alain Prost for the drivers’ championship, scoring a brilliant win in Monaco. But the performance and reliability of Prost’s McLaren told and in the second half of the year he seized the initiative from Alboreto. Prost sealed the title with two races to spare. Alboreto never won another F1 races and lost his life when the Le Mans car he was testing for Audi crashed at the Lausitzring in 2001.

For a while Italy was often the most represented country on the Formula One grid thanks to drivers like Elio de Angelis, Andrea de Cesaris, Bruno Giacomelli, Pierluigi Martini, Alessandro Nannini, Gabriele Tarquini, Alessandro Zanardi and others.

Riccardo Patrese came closest to championship success in 1992, finishing runner-up to team mate Nigel Mansell, but his single victory to Mansell’s nine and his team mate’s contracted number one status meant Patrese’s championship chances were not a realistic proposition. But he was Italy’s most successful driver for many years, scoring six wins in a career which had lasted a record-breaking 256 races when he retired in 1993.

In 1997 Jarno Trulli captured the imagination when he was called up from Minardi to drive for Prost as a substitute and led convincingly in Austria until his engine failed. He lost his F1 seat at the end of 2011 after scoring a single victory in Monaco for Renault seven years earlier.

His successor at that team, Giancarlo Fisichella, was another Italian driver billed as a future champion. He produced three wins but was emphatically seen off by Fernando Alonso while the pair were at Renault.

As of last year, Italy no longer has a driver on the F1 grid. The difficulties faced by a future successor to Ascari is exemplified by Davide Valsecchi, who won the GP2 championship last year but is yet to find a race seat. Other Italian drivers before him have succeeded in GP2 yet failed to find an F1 berth, such as 2008 champion Giorgio Pantano (who briefly raced in F1 in 2004) and 2011 runner-up Luca Filippi.

Although the Italian desire for victories has been sated by Ferrari’s continuing successes, the wait for a new world champion driver goes on. With Italians finding it hard merely to gain a foothold in F1 at present, it looks likely to last a lot longer.

*The USA has also had more drivers compete in rounds of the world championship, but most of these only raced in the Indianapolis 500 when it counted towards the title.

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52 comments on “Italy’s 60-year wait for a new F1 champion goes on”

  1. The same goes in MotoGP, they gonna wait a long way before italian champion is crowned after Rossi retires

    1. I think the same goes for any country other than Spain!

      1. Wait, there are people from other countries competing in MotoGP??

        1. haha, LMAO

    2. Indeed. Not just Italy but America has essentially nobody coming through either. However, Rossi has a kid brother, just turned 16 who will be making his first wildcard appearance in Moto 3 at Misano later on this season. Watch this space…

    3. And, may i add, Simoncelli death

      1. that was the real killer, it would have been Marco on that Honda

  2. Raffaele Marciello must be considered some chance of breaking the drought if he can make it to F1. Mind you, as this excellent article shows, there have been plenty of false dawns before.

    1. I don’t think many of them were as promising as Marciello, though. Plus, the Scuderia got Perez and Bianchi into F1 as well, so he’s under the wings of a rewarding driver academy as well.

      1. Perez joined Ferrari’s academy after he as confirmed by Sauber

    2. @npf1 I would say Telmex did more for Perez.

    3. Raffaele has a good chance to make it in F1, he has been very promising & now he is leading the Euro F3 with a gap of 72.5 pts (same system pts as in F1) with 3 events to go (9 races : 3 in each event)
      With the solid training he will get from the FDA & the support from Ferrari i expect him to be in F1 by 2015 or 2016

    4. I can see a line up of Bianchi-Marciello in like 2020, if all goes to ‘plan’. As Ferrari always like to have a top driver, not sure when Bianchi will make the step, still a few years off, after Alonso, Kimi, Massa are gone and there is a top driver in seat 1. Hulkenberg-Bianchi or Vettel-Bianchi would be a good pick! Or even Di Resta-Bianchi!!!

  3. Its amazing that there are no Italians in F1 or Americans. Scott Speed wasn’t that great, possibly the coolest name ever in F1 though ;-)

    America build an F1 car:

    1. Italians and Americans don’t get a free pass into Formula 1 just because they are Italians or Americans.

      1. @prisoner-monkeys No one is saying they do or should.

    2. Don’t think Scott Speed was that bad & I never got why he got as much criticism as he got & still gets.
      At STR he was faster than Liuzzi in the races more often than now & given that the STR wasn’t that good a car back then his performance against his team mate was really the only thing you could measure him against.

      I also still maintain that the penalty that dropped him out the point at Melbourne in 2006 was completely unjust.
      He got the penalty for passing DC under yellow’s after Liuzzi crashed, However DC had pulled over to the right side of the track & was practically stationary, It looked like DC was involved in the accident & had pulled off to the side with damage & thats why Scott passed him. It was a ridiculous penalty.

      He may not have been the greatest driver ever but he was well above average, Just like so many of the Ex-Red Bull backed single seater drivers who have found themselfs without a ride when Red Bull decided they were done with them.

      So many Ex-Red Bull young drivers now regret signing with Red Bull because when they drop you they leave you with no backing which hinders them in landing a ride anywhere else.
      Thats the only reason Algersuari’s been out of racing since the end of 2011, He’s got no backing & is going after seat’s in F1’s against drivers who have funding to sway teams in there direction.

      1. Not correct my man.. Scott Speed drove nascar with a big red bull painted on his door. So redbull helped him afterwards.

  4. In England, Germany, France and Mexico just to name a few their teams/industry support their drivers where as in Italy Ferrari couldn’t give them the time of day. Ferrari love it like that as they have the entire following of the nation.

    Imagine for one moment if Vettel was Italian, (3 time world champion at the tender age of 25 in a Red Bull beating Alonso and Ferrari year after year after year after year) and the fact that Italy has not produced a world champion for nearly 60 year’s, alot of Italian fans would now be following Vettel and Red Bull not Ferrari.

    Ferrari supply engines to a couple of other teams yet they don’t even help them in getting a drive in one of those teams like Mercedes and Renault do and other manufacturers have done in the past for driver’s of their nationality.

    There probably won’t even be another Italian driver in F1 in the next 60 years (certainly not if Ferrari have their way).

    1. It’s not Ferrari’s fault there isn’t an Italian driver in F1. Their job is to be the best team they can, they’re only going to hire a driver who’s good enough. Their nationality is irrelevant.

      1. ” they’re only going to hire a driver who’s good enough. Their nationality is irrelevant”

        Yeah like Massa.

        Yeah, like Massa

        1. To be fair Massa used to be pretty good when they hired him. Why they’re still keeping him is a whole different story altogether.

    2. Imagine for one moment if Vettel was Italian, (3 time world champion at the tender age of 25 in a Red Bull beating Alonso and Ferrari year after year after year after year) and the fact that Italy has not produced a world champion for nearly 60 year’s, a lot of Italian fans would now be following Vettel and Red Bull not Ferrari

      This is just your claim, just look at Michael Schumacher in Monza 2010, the man who won with Ferrari 6 WCC & 5 WDC in a row was easily forgotten ,the tifosi ignored him & were crazy cheering for Alonso who was making his comeback in WDC
      If Vettel was Italian you will see how many “boooooo’s” he will get in the Italian GP

      1. @tifoso1989 surely you are just reinforcing Denis 68’s point?

      2. @tifoso1989 Perhaps you are right, but I don’t think the tifosi simply ‘ignored’ Schumacher. From what I gathered from some people that go every year they still worship him like a god, just like any other Ferrari champion or race winner. They told me that in 2011 when Schumacher was having that fight with Lewis Hamilton they were massively cheering for him. Like you stated, he won 6WCC and 5WDC with the Scuderia. No way they would simply ignore him. Especially because they had to wait 21 years before he made it happen again after Jody in 1979

        Sure even Luca was a bit anoyed when he went to Mercedes but let me remind you why that was. They asked him to come back after Massa’s massive crash at Hungary 2009. He tested a car but his neck couldn’t be persuaded. The holy fire was back but in 2010 Ferando arrived and Massa was back. No reason to wait because he wasn’t getting any younger either. Ferrari never hatted him for it and neither do the tifosi.

    3. Dennis, where did you get such a total misunderstanding of Ferrari, they have always wanted an Italian driver that could win them championships, but in order to win championships they have employed, brits, canadians, germans, spaniards, finns etc. often the second seat has gone to a driver from the Italian diaspora like Barichello, so Di resta, or more likely Ricciardo could have an advantage in getting that seat if they prove themselves worthy.

      1. “Dennis, where did you get such a total misunderstanding of Ferrari, they have always wanted an Italian driver that could win them championships, but in order to win championships they have employed, brits, canadians, germans, spaniards, finns etc”

        Firstly which Brit, Canadian or Spaniard has won them a Championship in recent times?

        Secondly because they continue to retain such an underperforming driver like Massa. Gee I wonder if it has anything to do with Brazil being such an important market for FIAT and Massa being managed by the son of you know who?

        Think about it, When was the last time Ferrari did not have a Brazilian driver contracted for a full f1 season?

        I will spare you the effort of looking it up, 1999. Yes last century.

  5. Valsechi is quite promising!

    1. Yes he is, but the problem is that he’s Italian.

  6. There may not be any Italian drivers at present, but there are a few of Italian descent: Ricciardo, Bianchi, Massa and di Resta.

    1. Really? Wow!

  7. Great article. The most alarming observation is the rate at which drivers used to perish in F1.

    1. +1. Thank goodness fatalities are no longer a significant part of F1.

  8. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    19th August 2013, 14:35

    Maybe Raffaele Marciello can do something about this. From what I hear he is something of a young sensation and is currently riding a wave of success through the junior series. Shame about Valsecchi, and Filippi too, but although both are certainly better than some “pay drivers” that have got to F1, they were hardly great drivers. Great Italian talent is something that is seemingly in short supply, and with a struggling economy, I can hardy see much cash being invested in young drivers and driver support programmes. Same story with Spain too, but that didn’t stop one guy…

    1. That ONE guy you are referring to has professionally grow in Italy NOT in Spain

  9. Kevin Ceccon, Raffaele Marciello, Antonio Fuoco, Luca Ghiotto, Kevin Giovesi….all talented Italians, 2 of them are backed by Ferrari, but the rest might not have the dough to make it all the way…Ceccon certainly doesn’t…

    1. Raffaele Marciello is Swiss and only races with an Italian licence, to my the best of my knowledge he has never even resided in Italy, like Edoardo Mortara. Another name I would add to that list of young Italian drivers is Vittorio Ghirelli. But like the rest of them no cash no race in pay driver Formual One.

  10. Good article, but I see no mention at all for Clay Regazzoni.
    Why is that?

    1. @alfa145 He was Swiss..

      1. good point

  11. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    19th August 2013, 18:44

    what really surprises me is that the United States, being a country where motorsport is so well established, can’t produce some kind of Formula 2 USA, they have great tracks, and that would show they really have kids with the skills to be in a F1. And at the same time that could provide more followers for F1 there

  12. Perhaps the Tobacco sponsorship ban has hurt Italian motorsport as while it isn’t an Italian company Marlboro gave funding to a lot of the young Italian drivers through the 70s/80s/90s perhaps because of there deal with Ferrari.
    Go back & look at how many young Italian drivers through that time carried a personnel sponsorship deal with Marlboro.

    1. Interesting point, hadn’t thought about that.

  13. and the way things are going there won’t brazilian driver soon

  14. Wow! I did not know that so many drivers died in Ferrari’s! Does anyone know if Ferrari’s account for the most deaths in Formula 1? Keith could you do a list of this macabre statistic?

    1. I wondered the same thing when writing this article. I believe 7 drivers have died at the wheel of a Ferrari F1 car: Gilles Villeneuve, Lorenzo Bandini, Wolfgang Von Trips, Peter Collins, Liugi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti and Charles de Tornaco. That’s just F1 cars mind, not including Ferrari sports car fatalities such as Alberto Ascari.

      I believe Lotus would be next with 5: Ronnie Peterson, Jochen Rindt, Gary Hocking, Ricardo Rodriguez and Alan Stacey. Again that’s just F1 cars; Jim Clark was killed while driving a Lotus Formula 2 car for example.

  15. Does Ferrari deserve any stick for not having more (let alone one!) Italians in their young driver program? Probably not. As Keith mentions in one of his responses, Ferrari need to be the best team they can be. Perhaps Gorgio Pantano and Luca Fillipi should have deserved more recognition, but perhaps Ferrari didnt think they were good enough to warrant their support. It is no secret that Ferrari want drivers that fit their mould, that is to put the team before himself. Their philosophy is to put their eggs in one basket, the number 1 driver, and they typically go out and sign the best one available to them. The number 2 driver just needs to be good enough to finish second, which means he still needs to be bloody good.

    Although this logic doesnt necessarily apply to their current situation with Massa, he used to be pretty good and still can be on his day. However, thinking along those lines, perhaps Ferrari didnt think that the likes of Fillipi and Pantano were good enough to even play second fiddle?

    Ferrari should not need to foot a driver just because he is Italian, thats nepotism. They are a team that has the luxury of picking and choosing its drivers in both its race team and its development program. Cant fault their choices so far, Perez and Bianchi have proven to be very good and have the potential to win races.

    1. @jaymenon10

      Ferrari should not need to foot a driver just because he is Italian, thats nepotism.

      I think ‘nationalism’ or ‘nationalistic chauvinism’ would be more applicable than ‘nepotism’.

      And they’ve got 2 very talented young Italian drivers in their Driver Academy. Raffaele Marciello needs little introduction, while 17-year-old Antonio Fuoco is leading the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps at the moment, in just his first season in cars, ahead of more experienced drivers.

  16. Thanks for the interesting article, molto buono!

    1. Grazie!

  17. I think that the lack of an Italian F1 champion for such a long time is not as strange as the lack of a Finnish Grand Prix. Come on fellas, I’m from Canada, and even we have a proper race. Finland is statistically where you want to be born if you want an F1 drive, and I would really like to see Bottas win the 2017 GP of Finland. It could be held during August. Ice cream for everyone!

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