My thanks to those of you who have so mercilessly pointed out the weaknesses in my 2010 motor sport predictions. I do like a bit of feedback…
I am a huge fan of opera, particularly Italian opera. More specifically I am a devotee of Giacomo Puccini whose passions in life, other than his music, were women and fast cars. The music brought him wealth, enabling him to indulge in the fastest and raciest of the 1920s. I am referring here to the cars.
In daring to predict the outcome of a sport such as Formula 1, risks must be taken. Following the premieres of La Boheme and Tosca, two of Puccini’s finest, both were demolished by the critics who were they alive today would be squirming.
This brings me to motor racing, which aside from food and opera is the abiding passion in Italy. Ferrari of course is akin to a religion, vying with the Vatican and Serie ‘A’ football for devotion.
Back in the day, a Grand Prix grid without Italians was unthinkable, whether they were hotshots from lower formulae or sons of a wealthy Papa who brought bags of lire to the party. Both were welcome. There has been a Gran Premio d’Italia every year since 1950 without exception, and always at L’Autodromo Nazionale Monza, a circuit first used for racing in 1922. The country oozes motor racing and has done all the way from Ascari to Zanardi and beyond. Astonishingly, Alberto Ascari was the last Italian to win the World Championship in 1953, unless we’re counting Mario Andretti as an Italian. Today, there are but two Italians on the F1 grid: Jarno Trulli, in his twilight years, and Vitantonio Liuzzi fighting to keep his seat.
What on earth has gone wrong? The last Italian to win a Grand Prix in a Ferrari was Michele Alboreto in 1985. Only Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella have raced recently for the Scuderia, and only then in place of the injured Felipe Massa.
Some lay the blame at the gates of Maranello. Enzo Ferrari could not tempt the likes of Moss, Clark and Hill to race the red cars, but he wanted them. The (itals) Commendatore cared not where his driver came from as long as he was the fastest, and the Prancing Horse won the race, taking all the glory. If you look upon Ferrari as the university of Italian motor racing, you’ll see that precious few locals have gained entry, let alone graduated with any kind of honours. In recent decades not one Italian has raced regularly for the team, and this may have adversely affected the country’s ‘staircase of talent’, as Sir Jackie Stewart likes to call it. Not Agip, Fiat or Marelli have been of much assistance in the way that Elf and Gitanes have invested in the future of French motor racing.
It is extraordinary to note that post-Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari remains the most successful Italian with 13 Grand Prix wins followed by ‘American’ Andretti with 12 – and these are the only two in double figures. Riccardo Patrese scored six, while Giuseppe Farina and Michele Alboreto won five apiece. Fisichella took three and de Angelis two, while the rest have only a single victory. This only reflects the modern World Championship, but it does tell a story.
The Scuderia has recently tested three young Italians, including Formula 3 hotshot Mirko Bortolotti. At the same time its ‘Advanced Driver Programme’ includes an 11-year-old Canadian boy who’s been winning kart races in Quebec. As stated, it’s winners they want, wherever they come from.
Forza Italia. Viva Veloce. But when? Not any time soon, it seems. And that’s a real sadness for someone like me, who would choose Italy over any country were I to move from Britain.