1981 San Marino at Imola by Miguel Angel Guerra
After two and a bit years in European Formula Two, how was it that you made the step up to Formula One?
I’d done some testing and development work for Osella with its F2 car, and the number two man there suggested my name for the grand prix team for 1981. After landing some sponsorship from back home in Argentina, I got the drive, as from that year’s first race.
Qualifying for the first rounds was not a success?
Looking back, with more experience, I can more clearly picture the reasons as to why apart from my own initial inexperience we failed to qualify for the first three grands prix of the year. In those days you needed good ground effects, and Osella and I simply could not get the best out of the FA1B in this respect. Something to do with adjusting the ride-height properly, I think.
How much time did you get in the car pre-season?
Prior to my F1 qualifying debut in the US GP West, my only experience in an F1 car had been some straight-line runs at an airfield near Turin to do a systems check. From there, I went directly to the Long Beach street circuit.
At the fourth attempt, at Insole, you qualified…
That was a good feeling; being able to qualify 22nd out of 30. I knew the track quite well from my F2 days, so that was helpful.
But it all went wrong on the first lap… you have one of the shortest grand prix careers in history…
It was very short. Just seconds after the start, in fact, at the same place, Tamburello, where years later Senna had his accident. Someone Eliseo Salazar, apparently touched my right-rear wheel and sent me into the barriers on the inside, practically head-on. There was little protection for your feet in the cars those days. I remember spending that night back at the Osella family home, but the pain was very bad, so they took me to a clinic, and the X-rays revealed that I had a double fracture in my left ankle.
What was it like to finally reach a grand prix grid…
Terrific. There I was, surrounded by some of the world’s best drivers.
… and then not being able to continue?
One has to accept one’s destiny. That’s life. I didn’t manage to find another F1 chance, though I stayed on in Italy for some time after the crash. My foot was not operated on, and recovery was slow, but I stayed in contact with various teams.
Did that lead anywhere?
Later that year I worked on testing a Formula Two car for Giancarlo Minardi with whom I have a great friendship and he rewarded me with a free drive in the end-of-season F2 race at Misano, where I finished 13th. But at the beginning of 1982 there was a big currency devaluation in Argentina, and suddenly it was no longer possible to find the sort of sponsorship money required for Formula One.
Was that it for you in Europe?
Yes. There was a possibility of some more outings in F2, but I chose to return to Argentina to race.