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F1 History F1 Opinion 11

Why Ferrari is bad for Italian racing drivers

And then there were none: Italian drivers in Formula 1.

The home of the most famous team in motor racing and of international karting, plus the lair of the world’s most committed taxi drivers, will, for the first time since the 1973 German Grand Prix, not be represented when the pit lane opens for Qualifying in Melbourne next month.

And Pescara’s Jarno Trulli, a man blessed with fluid speed but perhaps lacking the necessary steely core, might be the last for a while having suffered ‘rouble trouble’: he’s been dropped by Caterham F1 in favour of Vitaly Petrov.

opinion history  Why Ferrari is bad for Italian racing drivers

Philosophical and phlegmatic, as a 37-year-old veteran of 252 Grand Prix starts ought to be, he was impassioned more by his nation’s parlous state of F1 affairs: “In Italy there’s no system that helps drivers emerge at a high level, so it’s normal that it ends up in a situation like this. The problem is not mine: others must take responsibility.”

Ferrari’s recently formed Driver Academy is worthy but a little too late – the Scuderia’s dominant Schumacher Era made it lazy about such matters – and nor is it dedicated to Italians: Mexican Sergio Pérez, already with Sauber, and France’s Jules Bianchi, reserve driver for Force India, are its most likely graduates. The UK-centric McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in contrast has been running since 1989, during which time it has boosted the careers of, among others, David Coulthard, Jenson Button and Paul di Resta.

opinion history  Why Ferrari is bad for Italian racing drivers

Italian drivers have long suffered a fractious relationship with F1: 15 – the second-most from an individual country – share 43 GP wins between them. To use cricketing terminology, only Alberto Ascari, with 13, was able to build on his start. And even he was bedevilled by omen and superstition; he died on the late-May day in 1955 when a suspicious number of them aligned and he, unusually, paid them no heed.

The next Italian in the win column, some way down it, is Riccardo Patrese with six (from 256 starts). ‘Nino’ Farina and Michele Alboreto have five apiece, Giancarlo Fisichella three, Elio de Angelis two – and thereafter the disappointing total unravels in a string of singles: Luigi Fagioli, Piero Taruffi, Luigi Musso (shared with Juan Fangio), Giancarlo Baghetti, Lorenzo Bandini, ‘Lulu’ Scarfiotti, Vittorio Brambilla, Alessandro Nannini and Trulli.

Compare this with British F1 drivers: 219 wins shared by 19. That’s 11.5 each to Italy’s 2.9. Nigel Mansell (31 wins), Jackie Stewart (27), Jim Clark (25), Damon Hill (22), Lewis Hamilton (17), Stirling Moss (16), Graham Hill (14), Coulthard (13), Button (12) and James Hunt (10). Only Innes Ireland and Peter Gethin became marooned on one.

opinion history  Why Ferrari is bad for Italian racing drivers

Farina and Ascari won three of the first four world championships – since when Italy has drawn a blank while Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Clark, Surtees, Stewart, Hunt, Mansell, Damon Hill, Hamilton and Button have racked up 14 titles between them.

I’m loath to stoop to evoking national stereotypes, but feel free to apply them wherever you see fit.

Before you do, however, it must be conceded that British F1 drivers have undoubtedly benefited from their country’s racing fecundity. Only 19 of those 219 wins were achieved in a Ferrari: Surtees and Eddie Irvine (4), Peter Collins, Hawthorn and Mansell (3) and Tony Brooks (2). A French Matra (Powered by Ford and run by Tyrrell) supplied them with nine wins, Maserati two and Mercedes-Benz one. The vast majority, in other words, were achieved in British-built machinery – and I include John Surtees’ 1967 ‘Hondola’ (Bromley via Slough) and John Watson’s 1976 Penske (Poole). Williams, Lotus, Tyrrell, McLaren, Vanwall, Cooper, BRM, Hesketh, Brawn, Benetton and Stewart Grand Prix are the others.

Italian drivers in contrast have been more reliant on a single source since Maserati imploded after 1957: Ferrari has supplied them with 22 of those 43 wins. That’s 51 per cent – a stat admittedly skewed by Ascari’s fantastic run of success from 1952-’53.

And here’s the rub: Enzo fought shy of employing local talent because of the flak that he copped – from Il Papa down – in the aftermath of the fatal accidents of Eugenio Castellotti (1956), Musso (1958) and Bandini (1967). Alboreto in 1984 was the first Italian to win a GP in a Ferrari since 1966. This combo won twice more in 1985 before fading badly – and no Italian has won a GP in a Ferrari since.

Maranello, with its mist of myth that swirls about it, is a bottleneck. A fair few of the Italian ex-F1 drivers that I have spoken to over the years have alluded to hushed liaisons with Enzo that promised much yet came to naught. Trulli – although he has neither ‘negotiated’ with Enzo nor yarned with me – can, as it turns out, be added to that lengthening what-might-have? Ferrari list.

The pressure of being an Italian in an F1 Ferrari proved too much for several of those who did get to live the ‘dream’: Luca Badoer, Baghetti and, saddest of them all, Ivan Capelli buckled under the weight. And yet the prospect continues to lure. Moths, meet flame. Fisichella, for example, couldn’t resist a final brief fling with Ferrari in 2009, even though it meant giving up his grooved Force India-Mercedes-Benz that would have offered him a genuine chance of victory at Monza.

opinion history  Why Ferrari is bad for Italian racing drivers

Why? Because the tifosi care only about Ferrari. Drive one, and you’re ‘Italian’ no matter what is printed in your passport. It’s an open-borders policy that camouflages a narrow-minded viewpoint that is indicative – and partly the cause – of Italian racing drivers’ current predicament as well as many of their long-held frustrations and ultimate underachievement.

Italy has room in its heart only for Scuderia Ferrari. That’s a strength and a weakness – and there’s no avoiding it.

Add your comments

11 comments on Why Ferrari is bad for Italian racing drivers

  1. Bruno, 23 February 2012 11:36

    I am originally from Monza and certainly no fan of Ferrari – the article is spot on.
    Many times as a teenager I witnessed first hand at many Italian GPs at monza (be it race or practice), the torrent of abuse inflicted to any driver not driving a Ferrari – especially if these “other” drivers were winning or preventing a Ferrari from winning. Vicious stuff, from a crowd which is in the mains ignorant and with no deep knowledge of Formula 1, let alone of motor racing. It is more similar to football-style hatred of opposing teams. It used to make my blood boil.
    The Italian sport press has a lot to answer for that as well. In Italy there is no proper motor racing press, certainly no magazine in the same class and quality as Motorsport or Autosport. There is Autosprint, which isn’t bad, but very much a niche magazine. So even there, there is no much room for “educating” the public.

    It was so refreshing the first time I attended races in Britain in the mid 80s and a pleasure to talk to fellow spectators who had true knowledge and passion for the sport.
    So in a nutshell, yes it is bad for italian drivers. People only have interest in Ferrari, the media promotes that so I don’t think things will change any time soon.

    There was one good thing about this situation though: this obsession with Ferrari in Italy meant that since the early 70s all GPs were shown live on RAI TV. Which also meant that when I started watching around 1976-77 I could watch them all :-)

  2. dave cubbedge, 23 February 2012 17:12

    It’s nothing new that there are drivers in F1 and other top echelons of the sport there only for the size of their checkbook, but lately it seems like some of these guys exist only for the fact that their country has recently hosted or is about to host a Grand Prix. I have no bone to pick with these guys – I am sure for Narain Karthikeyan the chance to participate in the first Indian GP was a very special moment although it is a shame Karun Chandhok couldn’t do more than tool around on Friday practice. Petrov may have a level of talent that justifies his being there, but for me the jury is still out as he has had some spectacular exits from races. For his sake, let’s hope he lasts in F1 long enough to race in the first Russian GP…

  3. Piero Dessimone, 23 February 2012 23:10

    I totally agree with every line of Bruno post. When I want to talk about Formula 1 with some common sense, general and historic knowledge I have to ring a friend of mine who lives in Bristol and of course communicate with the other people of the various Motorsport forums.
    To my surprise this week even the Editor of Autosprint has attacked Ferrari.
    The overall situation in Italy has not changed probably it is even worst. Ferrari is doing nothing to promote Italian drivers and the so called Italian motosport authorities even less. The only one that given the limited resources did something was Giancarlo Minardi. Last year Ferrari appointed as third driver Jules Bianchi which in my opinion is no better driver than Luca Filippi or Davide Valsecchi (just to mention two winning some GP2 races).

  4. chris b, 26 February 2012 08:58

    I have often wondered why in MotoGP two of the greatest riders in history are Italian and are so revered everywhere, i mean can you find a more popular champ than Valle? well perhaps not so much in Australia but ? And Agostini what an epitome of manners and grace, aligned with ruthless speed and yet since 1954 i cannot think of any Italian who would grace anyone’s top 50 of great F1 drivers – and Ascari was another with grace and ruthless speed,

    what is the Italian press like on Ducati and Rossi at the moment? is it as vitriolic as F1?

  5. Paul Fearnley, 26 February 2012 09:17

    I’m guessing that if Valentino Rossi had been immediately bang on the four-wheeled pace, or quicker – in the manner of John Surtees – during his tests with Ferrari a few years back that he would have made the ‘switch’ there and then. That might have cured Italy’s F1 driver problem. Instead he was ‘merely’ extremely impressive and stuck to what he knew.

    Slightly off topic: given Dani Pedrosa’s china-doll skeleton perhaps he should consider the switch rather than chase Casey Stoner’s tailpipes.

  6. Mario Carneiro Neto, 27 February 2012 20:38

    Not sure anyone will read this, but Patrese had some interesting comments on the subject today on…

  7. Piero Dessimone, 27 February 2012 20:49

    Thank you Mario. Just read Riccardo Patrese comments. Totally agree with him.
    In my previous post I forgot to mention Cesare Fiorio who in the past tried to help the Italian drivers.

  8. Piero Dessimone, 28 February 2012 18:09

    For Chris B. I was waiting for the tests in Sepang to reply. After the first day they are more than a second behind Honda. At present the Italian press is playing quiet on the poor performances of Ducati and Valentino but I am sure that after the first race if the results are not positve they will start shooting. The said thing is that when Valentino will call it a day most of the press will no longer write about bikes.

  9. Christian Lahaye, 2 March 2012 00:43

    Could you help me please ? I would like to have a list with all Italian drivers who drove a Ferrari F1 in Grand Prix.

    Many thanks.


    PS. It’s for a book !

  10. Sergio, 4 March 2012 21:00

    I am still living in Monza, and I did share the frustration Bruno mentions in his post, also because we were used to going together to races.
    Ferrari is the topic of of 90% of words spoken or written about F1, all the rest just does not exists, if not when is somehow occasionally related to Ferrari. This is one of the reasons why I am not a Ferrari fan.
    The good thing is that nowadays, in the internet era, information are easily available; in the old times it was impossibile to read or listen and sort of professional motor racing comment.

  11. Enrico, 16 October 2012 22:53

    Fangio, Senna, Fittipaldi, Andretti, Massa, Barrichello, Regazzoni, Pironi, Pace, Alesi
    123 wins and 11 world titles
    43 wins and 3 world titles

    The italian surnames belonging to not italian citizens are more successfull than italian surnames belonging to italian citizens (“just” 30 millions of italians emigrated in the last 150 years whereas 60 millions live in Italy).


    Maybe in Italy the talent is not as regarded as elsewhere

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