'I want to drive Fangio's car!'
If ever anybody tells you that nothing about modern motor racing is “the way it used to be”, ignore them. For manufacturers, the commercial imperatives of modern racing are no different from the way they were before WWI. Panhard, Peugeot, De Dion-Bouton, Mors and all those marques were just as keen to win on Sunday, sell on Monday, as notionally are Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Renault – yes, and also Red Bull with its (to me) revolting gargle juice – today.
So, commercially-orientated publicity stunts are nothing new. They’ve included 1924 French GP winner Giuseppe Campari being presented with a 12ft Lyon sausage, and inflatable camels floating above the Spa pits in the ’70s, promoting pioneering Camel cigarettes sponsorship for the Huron sports car which failed to qualify.
In 1949, there was an odd photo call at the Baths of Caracalla road circuit, before the 10th Rome GP. There’d been a lot of local hype about a kid named Claudio Giorgi, who had become quite a celebrity around the capital driving a beautifully-built 46cc monoposto ‘racing car’. He had been lined up for a photo call between the visiting Automovil Club Argentino cars of then-new sensation Juan Manuel Fangio (a Maserati) and his team-mate Benedicto Campos (a similarly blue-and-yellow liveried Gordini).
But merely having his photo taken was not enough for little Claudio. Evidently he thought he was going to be allowed to drive Fangio’s Maserati, and no doubt felt he would have shown the incomer a thing or two on his local track. But when he was told otherwise he burst into floods of tears! Fangio might not have had children, but he did his best to comfort Italy’s budding champion, and that picture then became the story in the following morning’s papers…
There have since been plenty of Italian drivers called Giorgi, but I don’t know if any of them was the boy once comforted by The Maestro. When it comes to little-boy tantrums, has much changed in the frontline world of motor racing?