Lorenzo Bandini: Nigel Roebuck's Legends
As Ferrari's number one driver for the 1967 Formula 1 season, Lorenzo Bandini was on the verge of greatness. Then came the tragedy at the Monaco Grand Prix
Johnny Servoz-Gavin rather shook everyone at Monaco in 1968. Subbing for an injured Jackie Stewart, he qualified Ken Tyrrell’s Matra second, behind Graham Hill’s Lotus. An archetypal ’60s figure, Servoz-Gavin is a forgotten man now, but that weekend he was the talk of the paddock.
In the race he took an immediate lead, but clobbered the guardrail at the chicane and soon the damaged Matra was out. A year earlier, though, the consequences of his mistake would have been very different. When Lorenzo Bandini ran wide in the 1967 race, straw bales, not guardrail, awaited him. “Nothing,” Bandini’s team mate Chris Amon said, “got a car upside down quicker than straw bales.”
After skimming the top of them, Bandini’s Ferrari struck one of the marine bollards on the harbour front, and somersaulted back onto the track. In the impact a fuel pipe had been severed, and at once the Ferrari was engulfed in fire.
They didn’t stop races in those days, for any reason, and the six surviving cars continued to circulate. “At first I thought two cars were involved,” Amon said, “because some straw bales were also burning. I realised it was Lorenzo, because I could see a gold wheel. I knew he and Denny Hulme had been in front of me, and I wondered if they’d crashed. 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’d been 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 there, so I assumed he’d got out all right. It wasn’t until after the race I realised he hadn’t…
A week later, in The Observer, Tony Brooks wrote a piece entitled, `The Cruel Death of Lorenzo Bandini.’ It had been that, and more. “Fire,” Brooks said, “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.” A supreme horror, too, was that his rescue had been so lamentably handled. The situation confronting the marshals a car upside down, on fire, the driver trapped beneath was admittedly nightmarish, but had they been properly equipped, there might have been some chance of saving Bandini’s life, at the very least of sparing him agony. The late Giancarlo Baghetti, spectating at the chicane, once told me he was haunted by memories of that day. “Unless there was a car coming by,” he said, “all you could hear was Lorenzo screaming.”
The marshals had only ropes with which to try to right the upturned car. Worse, none had any fireproof clothing, and such extinguishers as they had on the spot were old and useless. Nearly five minutes went by before they managed to turn the car over, and remove Bandini 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.
Still the race went on, despite the fact that the accident had occurred near the end, on the 82nd of 100 laps. There was thus no means of getting an ambulance to the area, and eventually the mortally injured Bandini was taken across the harbour on a launch, thence by ambulance to the Princess Grace Clinic.
It was exactly the procedure followed, a year earlier, in the making of the movie Grand Prix, when ‘Scott Stoddard’ crashed at the chicane. Bandini ironically, had been among the drivers involved in the filming of the scene.
Although somehow alive on arrival at the hospital, he was clearly not going to survive, with third-degree burns over 70% of his body, as well as serious internal injuries. “Without the other injuries, maybe there was a chance he would have made it,” Amon murmured, “but… it was probably better that he didn’t.”
The two friends had been due to fly to Indianapolis the following morning, for both were contacted to drive in the 500. Amon stayed in the Principality an extra day, then left on the Tuesday. The following morning he turned up for his first test at the Speedway, and was there told that Bandini had died.
“It wasn’t unexpected, but still it shook me. I went out, and was running quite quickly when a rear upright broke. The car went into this terrifying spin for 300 yards or so, and finally hit the wall. It went on a long time, and everything was flashing through my mind at that point. I always hated Indianapolis after that.”
It was Amon’s first season with Ferrari, and he had been wary of Bandini at first, suspecting that this proud Italian, team leader at last after years as number two to John Surtees, might resent another foreign driver. “In fact,” said Chris, “he was utterly charming, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And as a driver, I’ve always thought he was on the point of greatness.”
Bandini, handsome and charismatic, was not from a monied background. His father had been a mechanic, and Lorenzo followed the same trade, working in Milan for a garage owner who encouraged his ambitions to race, and occasionally lent him cars. By 1959 he was into Formula Junior, and two years later began his Formula One career with a Scuderia Centro-Sud Cooper-Maserati.
In 1962 came the offer from Ferrari, however, and it was with Enzo’s cars that Bandini became synonymous. He won the Austrian GP in 1964, and many sportscar races, including Le Mans and the Targa Florio. At Monaco he was second to Hill in 1965, to Stewart the following year. By 1967 everything seemed in place. At 30, he was Ferrari number one. Partnering Amon in the 330P4, he won both the Daytona 24 Hours and the Monza 1000 Kms, and in the latest V12 F1 car finished a close second to Dan Gurney in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. His wife Margherita, the daughter of his former mentor, awaited the birth of their first child.
So Bandini came to Monte Carlo, his favourite race, and one he felt this year was his. After qualifying second to Jack Brabham, he led the race initially, then followed Brabham’s team mate Hulme, whom he was trying to catch when the accident came.
In those days the chicane was fast, a left-right flick taken at more than 100mph, and Bandini clipped it, which nudged the Ferrari out towards the straw bales. Amon believes he was exhausted. “It was hard work, that car round there, and the race was much longer then. I was more tired than I’ve ever been at the end of a race. Lorenzo was very fit, but I was probably stronger, and he’d been going quicker than I had, so he’d taken more out of himself. And it wasn’t a big mistake he made — he was a few inches out…
“I’m not a great one for believing in premonitions,” Chris said, “but the Wednesday before the race made me wonder. We went off for lunch in the mountains, Lorenzo and I, and on the drive back he seemed very reflective, very aware of the simple things in life — you know, flowers, the fact that it was spring, and so on.
“On the way down, he saw an old man fishing by the side of the road, and he stopped, just to watch him quietly for a while. It’s difficult to convey what I’m trying to get across, but it was almost as if he was savouring life, as if he knew something was going to happen. I’ll never forget that day.”
Throughout the sport there was a feeling of revulsion at what had befallen Bandini, amplified further when his shocked wife was admitted to hospital, too late to save her child.
The morning after the race Bandini’s fellow drivers had a long meeting with the organisers, making several demands, one of which was that guardrail should replace straw bales at the exit of the chicane. A year on it was duly in place for Servoz Gavin to hit, and this time there was no accident — indeed the Frenchman was able to continue briefly in the lead. Among those spectating was Chris Amon. Ferrari, not surprisingly, had declined to send any cars.