Atlas F1

The Other Italian Team

by Marcel Schot, The Netherlands

This is the story of the Scuderia Minardi team
and its struggle to break through in Formula One

Over the years many Formula One teams have come and gone. Most of them were not able to compete with the big boys and sooner or later collapsed because the sponsors just didn't want to put money into a bottomless pit with no chance of any positive impact of their connection to Formula One. Of all these small and seemingly hopeless teams, one which has survived and this year entered its 15th season is Minardi.

The Minardi team, 1999Always seen as 'the other Italian team', or Ferrari's little sister, Minardi struggled and barely kept its head up. In 224 races, the team collected just 27 points, which is usually barely enough for a team to finish in the top five of the Constructors Championship in a single season. However, one way or another, team owner Giancarlo Minardi managed to tie the ends together every season.

One must surely wonder what makes Minardi go on year after year, without a trace of success. Perhaps the easiest explanation surfaces when we look at Giancarlo's history with cars. Straight from birth, Giancarlo was bound to become a car enthusiast. His family ran the oldest Fiat dealership in Italy, as well as an Agip fuel station. Giancarlo was made a race fan by his Father Giovanni, who had built his own sports car in 1948. In the late 60s, Giancarlo drove race cars himself for a short period, only to find out that he liked managing better.

Minardi managed the Scuderia Passatore, a team from Giancarlo's home city of Faenza, from 1972 until 1974. The team's first driver, Giancarlo Martini, showed the team's potential by winning the Formula Italia title in 1973 and finishing second in 1972. In 1975, the team competed in the European Formula Two championship under the name Scuderia Everest, with an old Ferrari Formula One car. The team was quite successful, winning the 1976 Italian Formula Two title and hosting drivers like Elio de Angelis and Clay Regazzoni, who had temporarily retired from Formula One.

Then in 1980, Giancarlo Minardi went on his own and formed the Minardi Team. The team achieved successes in Formula Two and Giancarlo showed he had a good sense for talent when contracting Michele Alboreto, Johnny Cecotto, Alessandro Nannini and Paulo Barilla amongst others. Slowly the approach to Formula One was made, a step finalized in 1985.

One of the happenings in the course of the preparation to go to Formula One, might very well be an important reason why Minardi is the backmarker it has become. In 1984, while the team was testing with Alfa Romeo engines, the Milanese engine builder announced its retirement from Formula One, leaving Minardi without an engine. Because of this, Minardi's first season started out with the turbo-less Ford Cosworth engines, putting the team at the back of the grid right away.

Now, in its fifteenth season, the team is more and more criticized about their way of financing the operation. Minardi became no more than a rent-a-drive team, willing to give seats to those who paid. Spaniard Marc Gene appears to be the latest asset in this category, bringing in a championship title in the Open Fortuna Nissan and a year in F3000 in which he competed in the margin. Partnered with the more experienced Luca Badoer, Minardi hopes to at least improve their points total this year.

Over the years the team may have had a couple of infamous money drivers such as Shinji Nakano, Tarso Marques and Giovanni Lavaggi, but it's not all darkness in little Italy. The team also brought forth some of the talents of today's Formula One: Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli began their F1 career there. Actually, Alex Zanardi also drove for the team after making his debut with Jordan in 1991.

Moreover, if you take a look at the list of Minardi drivers, it actually doesn't look bad at all: Pierluigi Martini; Alessandro Nannini; Michele Alboreto; Gianni Morbidelli; Andrea de Cesaris; Alex Zanardi; Giancarlo Fisichella; Jarno Trulli and, Christian Fittipaldi - I've seen teams with worse drivers around. OK, so de Cesaris holds the record for most races without a win and Zanardi only scored one point before his move over the big pond. Except for Martini, all drivers achieved their biggest successes with other teams or in other classes. This doesn't deny the fact that Giancarlo Minardi has a good eye on who's going to be hot and who's not. As far as that's concerned, Marc Gene might just be the next big thing.

The main problem has always been to keep the drivers from leaving the team. With nothing to offer, that's an almost impossible task. Only Pierluigi Martini stayed faithful to Minardi, driving for the team for ten years. The Italian gave the team 16 of its 27 points and its only front row start, in Phoenix 1990. However, before that front row start, Martini had already achieved the most amazing feat of Minardi to this day.

On September 24th, 1989, after 41 laps of the Portuguese Grand Prix, the little Italian crossed the start-finish line in first place, taking over the lead from Nigel Mansell. The next lap Gerhard Berger took the lead in his Ferrari, but the moment had already been engraved in the history records: Minardi led a Grand Prix race. Sadly for both Martini and Minardi, halfway through the 1995 season money problems caused the team to drop its best driver ever.

Since then, the results never were the same. Pedro Lamy scored one more point in 1995 in the Australian Grand Prix and that was it. Still, after all those years without a single point, Giancarlo doesn't give up. The Italian is convinced that whenever the team gets a decent engine, it can follow in the footsteps of Jordan and strike its first win. Meanwhile, it's just a matter of survival for the team from Faenza.

Illustrating for the lack of performance is that the most famous moment of Minardi in Formula One does not involve some impressive results, but rather was caused by a spectacular accident. In the 1993 Italian Grand Prix, Pierluigi Martini was ahead of teammate Christian Fittipaldi when they came out of the Parabolica. Fittipaldi slipstreamed and when moving out of his teammate's stream, hit Martini's wheel and was catapulted into the air. The young Brazilian somersaulted and miraculously landed on his wheels, continuing to drive across the finish line without injuries.

That moment epitomizes all there is about the little Italian team: not a lot of positive happenings, but whatever goes wrong, they always recover with the good side up, allowing Giancarlo and his precious Minardi to try again.

Marcel Schot© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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