On paper, it had the potential to be one of the most romantic of all motor racing fairy tales: the schoolboy who was given an unexpected opportunity to sit at the wheel of a Formula 1 Ferrari and later went on to drive for the team. For Ivan Capelli, though, the second part of the story marked the beginning of the end for a career that had hitherto been ripe with promise.
That was the best part of 30 years ago, so the time to find out how – and why – everything went so wrong so quickly is long overdue. The 57-year-old is based mostly in Switzerland now, near Bern where he manages a factory that produces medical equipment. He still races, though travel restrictions this year precluded his pilgrimage to the Bathurst 12 Hours. For the same reason, our conversation takes place not face-to-face across a restaurant table, but with coffee and biscuits to hand, 600 miles apart via the miracle of Skype.
Successful almost from day one in karting, Capelli won national and European Formula 3 titles before lifting the FIA F3000 Championship with Genoa Racing, one of the smallest teams in the category. When he made his F1 debut with March in 1987, at the wheel of what was effectively a reworked F3000 chassis, cobbled together at short notice, he scored a point in the Monaco Grand Prix – and that in the days when such things were awarded only to the top six.