A taste of something potent

As part of its 150th anniversary celebrations, an Italian institution conjured a cocktail of vermouth and famous competition cars…

For motor racing fans, our arrival provided the highlight. As dusk settled over Lake Como, lights twinkling on the hills and the sun setting behind the mountains beyond, we walked across the floodlit lawns of Villa Erba and onto a red carpet.

Lined up on each side of the walkway were cars that raced in Martini colours, a small selection of the machines that carried the distinctive red and blue stripes to countless victories across the world.

This was a stroll through history. Yet to come were the drinks, the speeches, the supermodels and the music. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of this motor sport-infused cocktail, Martini invited 700 people to a party featuring never-ending supplies of their product, a surprise appearance by Lily Allen on a floating stage in the lake and some late-night musical carnage from trendy DJ Mark Ronson. For those of us who know Martini as a sponsor of some of the sport’s great cars there was a chance to chat with Emanuele Pirro and Miki Biasion, who both carried the famous stripes.

“It was special to be sponsored by them,” Pirro said, “especially for me as an Italian. Along with Gulf’s, the livery is surely the best in the world. And this year at Monza, I raced a Martini Porsche 911 in the Supercup race supporting the Italian Grand Prix. That was just an amazing experience. You know, I was one of the first Italian drivers to be sponsored by Martini, and for me it meant I was on the way to achieving my dream. To be back at Monza this year was emotional, and I was a little bit nervous, but the GT3 is fantastic to drive. I’d like another go.”

In the darkness we wandered among the cars. A Gordon Murray Brabham BT45, fittingly belonging to Manfredo Rossi, is surely one of the most beautiful Grand Prix cars of all time. A Lancia Delta Integrale, made famous by Biasion, rallying’s world champion in 1988 and ’89. A Porsche 917, the red and blue stripes on white bodywork making the car look ever faster. And then there was the new hybrid Porsche 918 supercar, driven down from Stuttgart by two young, very serious engineers who worked on the development and who were still grinning from the autobahn experience.

Late into the night, as dew settled on the cars and Ronson made an extraordinary noise with two record decks, we were reminded of glories past. Biasion looked lovingly at the Integrale, recalling the height of his career.

“It’s a beautiful car, no?” he said. “For me, to drive with Martini was an honour. It made me realise I had finally made it to the pinnacle of my sport. Nowadays they are not involved in the top categories, but back then Martini supported the leading teams in rallying and F1, so we all wanted to race with those colours. The Integrale was a stunning car. I was involved in its development, and of course it was so much faster and more spectacular than the cars we see now. They were great days and seeing the car tonight I feel a little bump in my heart.”

Many male guests at Villa Erba were keen to get a close look at another model clothed in red, one by the name of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – the former consort of actor Jason Statham. For race fans, however, it was cars rather than stars that stole the show.

Grazie, Martini.

Rob Widdows