Brown-eyed handsome man

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He was blessed with looks, charisma and speed and rivals thought the world of him. He won but a single World Championship Grand Prix, but there was more to Lorenzo Bandini than such simple statistics imply Writer: Nigel Roebuck

Lorenzo Bandini… Such a mellifluous name for a racing driver, it always seemed to me, like Clay Regazzoni or Johnny Servoz-Gavin. And they all looked the part, too. Bandini was a hero of mine. This was the mid-sixties, a time in motor racing infinitely more romantic — and perilous — than now, when commercial sponsorship had yet to arrive, British cars were green and French blue, little was known about aerodynamics, rewards were modest and risks high.

I thought Bandini a perfect fit for his era. Here was the Italian racing driver from Central Casting, destined from birth to be synonymous with Ferrari. And, as well as that, everyone loved him. “Many people with his looks are like strutting peacocks,” says Chris Amon, “but Lorenzo wasn’t. An utterly charming guy — in fact, one of the nicest people I ever met…”

He comes back to many a mind, inevitably, when Monte Carlo rolls around each year, and most of all if one is near the chicane. These days it is torturously slow, mostly defined by kerbing, apparently designed to create contentious accidents, but the Monaco chicane was once anything but an overtaking spot: as cars blasted out of the tunnel, what next they encountered was a terrifying, blink-of-the-eye, left-right flick between substantial barriers, rather than little kerbs.

When John Frankenheimer was filming Grand Prix in 1966, he had in mind to shoot a major accident at Monaco. He asked several drivers for their opinions as to where such a thing was most likely to happen. To a man they went for the chicane, and among them was Bandini, who would crash there a year later, sustaining burns to which he succumbed three days later. In motor racing’s entire history, probably no driver died harder.

• • •

Born in December 1935, Bandini was obsessed with cars in childhood, and at 15 became an apprentice mechanic in the Milan garage of one Signor Freddi. A good move, this, for his employer not only helped get his racing career underway, lending him cars to drive in local events, but also had a pretty daughter, Margherita, whom Lorenzo eventually married.

In the late 1950s, following the deaths — within three years — of Alberto Ascari, Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi Musso, Italian motor racing was in some despair. It was in the hope of finding a new world-class driver that Count Johnny Lurani came up with the idea of Formula Junior, which later morphed into F3.

Soon after the loss of Musso, in 1958, Bandini bought an FJ Volpini and finished third in his first single-seater race, the Sicilian Gold Cup. Through the next couple of years, now driving a Stanguellini, he became a star of the formula, clearly ready to progress. Dawning was 1961, the beginning of the 1.5-litre F1, for which Ferrari, with its V6, was ready, and everyone else was not.

Enzo ran three cars that season, for Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther, and it was also decided occasionally to run a fourth, under the banner of Scuderia Sant-Ambroeus, for a promising Italian. If for many Bandini seemed the logical choice, it was Giancarlo Baghetti who got the nod.

Lorenzo was rescued by Mimmo Dei, the patron of Scuderia Centro Sud, who offered one of the team’s elderly Cooper-Maseratis. On his Fl debut, at Pau, Bandini finished third behind Jim Clark and Jo Bonnier, but thereafter the outclassed car hardly finished a race.

In the meantime it seemed Baghetti could do no wrong. Not only did he win his first F1 race, in Syracuse, but also his second, in Naples, and then his third — at Reims, his first World Championship Grand Prix. No F1 career had ever begun like this, and none will again, but most curiously Baghetti never subsequently achieved a thing.

•••

BANDINI MAY HAVE STRUGGLED IN 1961, but his efforts were noted in Maranello. When Enzo Ferrari posted a single entry for the World Championship sports car race at the daunting Pescara, he nominated Lorenzo as co-driver to Giorgio Scarlatti. Doing most of the driving, Bandini scored his first major victory, which led to a contract for 1962 — including F1.

Also on the payroll, though, were Hill, Willy Mairesse, Baghetti and Ricardo Rodriguez. The Old Man was playing a familiar game — five drivers for three cars, with only Hill sure of a regular drive, his team-mates selected by whim.

If Ferrari had dominated 1961, the following season was a different matter. Bandini’s first Grand Prix with the team was Monaco, where he finished a fine third, but he drove in only two more, and as the year progressed Ferrari went into ever-steeper decline, unable to compete with the new V8s from Climax and BRM. For Lorenzo the high point was the non-championship Mediterranean Grand Prix at Enna, where he beat Baghetti by half a minute, his first F1 victory being the last for the gorgeous `sharknose’ 156.

Come the end of the year Hill parted company with Ferrari, as did many of the team’s leading engineers. In a time of major upheaval, John Surtees arrived as the new number one, while Mairesse — oddly — was retained as his team-mate. Bandini’s contract, for now, was for sports cars only.

Step forward once more Signor Dei. As ever with Centro Sud, money was tight, but a deal was done with BRM for one of the ’62 cars, which was painted rosso and looked wonderful when Bandini — Ferrari shield still on his helmet — drove it for the first time in the International Trophy at Silverstone. The car delighted Lorenzo, and the pity was that it was to race only occasionally, as starting money allowed.

At the Nürburgring, though, Bandini really showed what he had by qualifying third, beaten only by Clark and Surtees, and if this — emphatically — did not sit well with BRM’s contracted drivers, Graham Hill and Richie Ginther, it demonstrated Lorenzo’s quality at this ultimate drivers’ circuit.

Surtees won the German GP that weekend, but Mairesse — making his comeback after being burned at Le Mans — had another huge accident and was seriously hurt, whereupon Bandini, in favour after winning Le Mans with Lodovico Scarfiotti, was chosen to replace him.

“Mairesse was very quick, but unstable,” says Surtees. “He got it wrong lots of times, and after the shunt at the Nürburgring Lorenzo became my natural team-mate. Being an Italian in the Ferrari team, he could have played all sorts of political games, but he was completely straightforward and friendly. A good lad…”

In 1964 Surtees won the world title and Bandini finished fourth, winning his first points-counting GP in Austria, at the rough Zeltweg airfield, and finishing third at the Nürburgring, Monza and Mexico City.

At this last race, a championship-decider involving Clark, Hill and Surtees, there was some controversy. While Clark and Dan Gurney ran first and second, Bandini battled with Hill for third place and at the hairpin they almost touched a number of times — until finally they did, which ended Graham’s title hopes.

In some sections of the press much was made of the incident, as if this Italian wild man had cynically tried to take another car out. Indisputably Bandini did have moments of red mist, but none who knew him believed him capable of such a thing — including Hill, whose stylish response was that Christmas to send Lorenzo an LP of advanced driving lessons!

There were no Grand Prix wins for Ferrari in the Clark-dominated 1965 season, Surtees and Bandini finishing fifth and sixth in the World Championship, but Lorenzo did achieve another of his ambitions, winning the Targa Florio with Nino Vaccarella.

The following year marked the beginning of the 3-litre Formula 1 and at the first race, Monaco, Bandini’s nimble 2.4-litre V6 car finished an excellent second to Jackie Stewart’s BRM. At Spa, in torrential conditions, he finished third in a race won by his team-mate, but seismic change was coming to Ferrari, for at Le Mans Surtees concluded he could put up no longer with the Machiavellian team manager Eugenio Dragoni. There followed a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, after which a parting of the ways was announced.

“At the time,” says Surtees, “people thought the team was ‘favouring Bandini’, and that was why I left — but that was rubbish. It was true that I’d said at Monaco I should have been driving the V6 car, rather than the 3-litre V12, because it was the quicker car around there, and I was the quickest driver. But that certainly wasn’t Lorenzo’s doing.

“At Le Mans I was sharing with Scarfiotti, and we thought there was a chance that a Ferrari could run at 98 per cent for the 24 hours, and perhaps break the Fords. Then politics came into it: they said Mr Agnelli was arriving, and they wanted him to see his nephew — Scarfiotti — in the car at the start. I said, ‘That blows all our strategy for trying to win’. After what had happened at Monaco, I just felt, ‘I’m no longer part of this family…’

“Lorenzo was terribly upset — in fact, he begged me to change my mind. My leaving made him team leader, and I don’t think that was something he wanted — I don’t mean he was willing to play second fiddle, but it was a responsibility he didn’t want, as an Italian in a very Italian environment. I think it was an error to put him in that position: he deserved better.”

Be that as it may, Bandini was now Ferrari’s de facto team leader, and at the next race, the French Grand Prix at Reims, he took pole and led easily until his throttle cable broke.

At Monza, Surtees insists, Bandini got a raw deal. “Politics again. Lorenzo was certainly the quickest of Ferrari’s three drivers there — and yet they arranged for Scarfiotti to win the race: because of his connections, they gave him the new three-valves-per-cylinder engine, which had quite a lot more power. To be fair, that wasn’t something Lodovico would have asked for — it was just stupidity on Ferrari’s part.”

Bandini’s final race of 1966 was at Watkins Glen, but if his Ferrari holed a piston, it was leading handily at the time, and he had good reason to look ahead with optimism. At year’s end Dragoni departed, and Ferrari took the radical step of asking Franco Lini, a journalist whom he trusted, to come in as team manager.

Lini was stunned to get the call: “I worked for a newspaper — what did I know about running a team? But he was very… persuasive — and how do you turn down Enzo Ferrari? At first it was very happy, with Amon coming in to join Bandini, Scarfiotti and [Mike] Parkes. Lorenzo was so pleased to see Chris — he said he had never had such a friend in racing, and insisted they drove the sports car together.”

Ah, the sports car. The sainted 330P4.

“Ferrari’s first love was F1,” Phil Hill once told me, “but the emphasis was always on Le Mans, because he knew how much it mattered to people who might buy road cars from him — and he needed that to pay for his racing.” Surtees found the same: “In winter testing you’d go out in the F1 car — and then you didn’t see it again for ages! It was always the sports cars that came first.”

After six consecutive victories at Le Mans, Ferrari had been beaten by Ford in 1966 and Enzo thought it would be the sweetest revenge to beat the Americans on their home ground, Daytona. Thus, in November ’66, he went to the expense of flying two of the new P4s over there for an extended test.

“I was very much the new boy,” said Amon, “but none of the others had been to Daytona before, whereas I’d done thousands of miles there. When they finally let me get in the car, I immediately went four or five seconds quicker. I remember Parkes and Scarfiotti were a bit wary, but not Bandini.

“We were using the road circuit, of course, but Lorenzo kept talking about the full oval, and at the end of the test, instead of braking for the infield section, he kept his foot in it, went between the cones, and headed off towards turn one! Flat out all the way. I can still hear it…”

In February they returned to Daytona for the 24 Hours, and the result was better than even Enzo might have dreamed, with the 7-litre Fords all suffering transmission failures as they fought the 4-litre Ferraris, and Bandini/Amon heading a 1-2-3. At the Monza 1000Kms in April they won again, and in the meantime Lorenzo had finished a strong second to Gurney in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.

•••

And so came Monaco, Bandini’s favourite race. After finishing second the two previous years, he felt good about his chances and qualified second behind Jack Brabham.

When the race began Bandini led away towards Ste Devote, but in the course of the first lap Brabham’s engine let go, putting down oil, and on lap two Bandini backed off, letting Stewart and Hulme through. For 15 laps Jackie led, but then the BRM failed and Denny took over, with Lorenzo half a dozen seconds behind. The chase was on and continued until lap 82, when the Ferrari crashed.

Coming into the chicane, Bandini clipped the left-hand wooden barrier, which pitched him into the one on the right, which in turn put him wide at the exit, on to the harbour front — where there were no guardrails, only straw bales. The Ferrari skimmed the top of them, hit a large mooring bollard and somersaulted back on to the track, coming to rest upside down. A fuel pipe had been severed in the impact and at once the car was engulfed in fire.

Back in the day there was no safety car, of course, and, no matter what the circumstances, races were never stopped. As the six surviving cars, including Amon’s sister Ferrari, continued to circulate, there began the first pathetically inept attempts to save Bandini.

“At first,” says Amon, “I thought two cars were involved, because some straw bales were also burning. I realised it was Lorenzo, because I could see a gold wheel. I knew he and Denny had been in front of me and wondered if they’d had an accident together. For a second I wondered if maybe I was leading, and then thought, ‘Jesus, if I am, what a horrible way to win a race…’ The pit signals disappeared for a few laps, and then I saw I was second, behind Denny. Then I got a puncture from the debris and came in for a long stop — the mechanics were in a trance, of course.

“The thing was, I went past the fire several times and it never occurred to me that Lorenzo could still be in it. There didn’t seem to be much activity around the car, so I assumed he’d got out all right. It wasn’t until after the race that I realised he hadn’t…”

The marshals had only ropes with which to try to right the car. Worse, none had fireproof clothing, and such extinguishers as they had on the spot were useless. Nearly five minutes went by before they managed to turn the car over, and manhandle the driver from the cockpit. As they carried him away, a TV helicopter hovered low over the scene, its rotor blades fanning the fire into life again: unprotected, the marshals ran clear, dropping Bandini as they did so. It was a scene from Hades. Eventually the mortally injured driver was taken across the harbour on a launch, thence by ambulance to the Princess Grace Clinic, where three days later he died. Margherita Bandini, deep in shock, was taken to the same hospital, alas too late to save her first child.

The following weekend there appeared in The Observer a moving piece by Tony Brooks, entitled ‘The Cruel Death of Lorenzo Bandini’. “Fire,” Brooks wrote, “is the consuming dread of the racing driver. To crash, to be killed outright, is one thing; to be burned to the point of death is the supreme horror.”

Unquestionably this was a seminal accident in the history of motor sport. “I think it disgusted everyone,” says Amon. “They made such a bloody mess of trying to put the fire out — they really should have stopped the race immediately…”

On the Monday morning Bandini’s fellow drivers had a meeting with the organisers, making several demands, one of which was that guardrails should replace straw bales at the exit of the chicane. As Amon said, “Nothing got a car upside down like straw bales. If they’d had Armco there, Lorenzo would probably have got away without a scratch.” Probably he would. A year later Servoz-Gavin made a similar mistake, but merely clouted the newly installed guardrail and was able to continue to the pits.

Amon believed Bandini’s accident was the consequence of simple fatigue. “It was hard work, that car around there: no power steering back then and the race was much longer — 100 laps. I was more tired than at the end of any other race I ever did, and although Lorenzo was very fit, I was probably stronger — and he’d been going quicker than I had, so he’d taken more out of himself

“For a while he’d been missing gearchanges, clipping kerbs and so on, where earlier he’d been very tidy. And it wasn’t a big mistake he made — he was a few inches out…”

Surtees, like Amon, thought very highly of Bandini. “I remember Lorenzo with great fondness, and as a driver I thought he was very underrated — perhaps a bit inconsistent, but certainly not one you took lightly. If I think of the ’66 season, I started off at Ferrari, with Lorenzo, and then joined Cooper, with Jochen Rindt: your first rival is always your team-mate — and I thought Jochen and Lorenzo were about the same…”

The day after the Monaco Grand Prix, Bandini and Amon had been due to fly to Indianapolis, where both had drives organised for the 500. Chris waited an extra day before making the trip alone and, in Gasoline Alley on the Wednesday, was told Bandini had died.

“I knew it was inevitable,” he says, “but still it took a long time to sink in, and there was something I couldn’t get out of my mind. I’m not a great one for believing in premonitions, but the Wednesday before the race made me wonder. Lorenzo and I went off for lunch in the mountains, with Mauro [Forghieri] and a couple of others. We drove back together and Lorenzo seemed very.., reflective, very aware of the simple things in life — you know, flowers, the fact that it was spring and so on.

“He saw an old man fishing by the side of the road, and stopped, just to watch him quietly for a while. It’s difficult to get across what I’m trying to say, but it was almost as if he was savouring life, as if he knew something was going to happen. In light of what did, I’ve never forgotten that day.”

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