Monaco's greatest lap? Roberto Moreno remembers his Andrea Moda miracle


A Brazilian on a mission delivered one of Monaco's greatest laps – Roberto Moreno tells James Elson how he did it in an Andrea Moda

Roberto Moreno (Andrea Moda-Judd) in the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Moreno on famous '92 weekend at Monaco

grand Prix Photo

Yellow crash helmet shaking from side to side as the famous tight confines of Monaco races by, captured by grainy ‘90s cameras.

A passionate Brazilian behind the wheel, driving as if guided by a higher, mystical force to produce one of the legendary street circuit’s greatest ever laps.

Ayrton Senna? No, Roberto Moreno – whose achievement came driving for what many bill as Formula 1’s worst ever team, Andrea Moda.

It’s 30 years this week since the archetypal underdog achieved his miracle lap, wheeling a barely-built car for a team operating on a less-than-shoestring budget. For the first and only time in its history, Andrea Moda had qualified for a grand prix, a moment Moreno describes to Motor Sport now as a “unique, an amazing feeling.”

Moreno in car

Moreno came in as a hired gun to wheel the Andrea Moda for the minimum required laps

The Brazilian, whose career seemed to repeatedly lurch from success to disaster throughout the ‘80s, was known for pulling motor sport rabbits out of the proverbial Goodyear baseball cap on many an occasion.

Coming over to the UK from Brasilia whilst speaking no English and managing to win the 1980 Formula Ford Festival, dragging an AGS car 4sec slower than the rest of the grid to sixth at Adelaide ’87, scoring a podium when subbing for Alessandro Naninni at Benetton – Moreno was used to defying expectations.

The Andrea Moda Monaco lap has its own quirky niche in motor sport achievements though, set by a driver who, despite highs which included being a Ferrari test driver, still had the pragmatic outlook of a jobbing racer.

Related article

Thus the Brazilian became involved with notorious Andrea Sassetti and his eponymous team. Staff and some dilapidated equipment had come had come over from the Coloni squad Sassetti purchased, as well as the intellectual rights to an aborted BMW F1 car.

Despite having some of the basics in place, the team seemed barely able to make it to a race – not that it put Moreno off.

“I still had the willpower to be involved in Formula 1, basically,” he explains. “That was the first opportunity that showed up for me in ‘92.

“I got a call from a guy in Monaco that rented my apartment to me who said ‘Look there’s a team going to Brazil, you’re down there and the drivers [Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia], they don’t want to drive for this guy anymore.

Roberto Moreno (Andrea Moda-Ford) during practice for the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya outside Barcelona. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Moreno rallied the troops after depressing drive in Spain

Grand Prix Photo

“I said ‘As long as he pays me on arrival immediately at every race, I’ll do it.’ Every round I saw Andrea [Sassetti] and he handed me an envelope full of cash, and I stayed for my job. It was as simple as that.”

Turning up in the Rio paddock for his first attempt at pre-qualifying, Moreno found a car and team quite literally in bits. The Brazilian had been tasked with getting the car to turn three laps, thus securing FIA approval to head on to the next race, whilst the other AM machine – driven by the hapless Perry McCarthy – was there “just for show” in Moreno’s words.

“They didn’t have much – just pieces of a new car and a bunch of good people trying to put all together,” he says.

“The [Nick Wirth-designed] Simtek was a definitely a well-designed car,” Moreno says. “The only problem was that it wasn’t designed for the Judd engine that went in it, so the cooling wasn’t effective – it couldn’t last more than six laps before overheating!”

From the archive

Unsurprisingly Moreno was a sizeable 16sec off the pre-qualifying pace set by Bertrand Gachot’s Larrouse, and things didn’t get much better at the next race in Barcelona, but Moreno saw light at the end of the wind-tunnel.

“I was asked to park the car on the Circuit de Cataluyna back straight, because the rear wing could have fallen off,” he says, somehow managing not to grimace.

“I refused to do that, drove it back to the pits and just parked it there.

“Afterwards I was looking at the car and thought ‘It’s not too bad, we have a bunch of very willing people to work hard that I know: Luciano Guazzeroni and his friend Borgovich – two mechanics from Coloni, and my engineer Hayden Burvill,’ who I sat down with.

“I said ‘Why don’t we at least try to get it through pre-qualifying? Put at least one car together and see what we can do.'”

This mild increase in ambition saw the team nearly qualify for San Marino were it not for a seized wheel bearing, but Moreno and co had a plan for Monaco.

Roberto Moreno of Brazil, and driver of the #34 Andrea Moda Formula Andrea Moda S921 Judd V10 sits watching the lap timing machine during prequalifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on 14 August 1992 at the Hungaroring Circuit, Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

Moreno went into a classic pre-qualifying trance before his famous lap

Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

“We went to a very small track in Bari, south of Rome,” he remembers.

“At that place I could do only first, second, and third gears though the corners, but we were able to learn that we didn’t have the steering angle needed for the tight Monaco turns.

“So Hayden worked on that and also the differential – I was always quite sensitive with diff settings.

“We didn’t even do a full lap-time, just three or four corners that were very good for Monaco. I got out of there quite happy with the results.”

It was going to take more than a few set-up changes to get the Andrea Moda S921 through into qualifying though.

From the archive

With Monaco cited so often as the ultimate test of driving skill, Moreno knew it would take a special level of application to secure the lap-time he needed, and did it in his own inimitable fashion.

“I did a lap around the track with my motorbike at midnight, and I stopped at every corner,” he remembers.

“I took my helmet off, sat on the ground and imagined myself getting the best out of each corner, like I was sitting on the race car, and thought about every single detail.

“Then I did a few laps with a motorbike thinking about everything I had gone through.

“Those were my last thoughts before I went to bed – I had to be up at 5:30am with prequalifying at 7am, there was no Free Practice!”

Heading up to crucial moment just a handful of hours later, Moreno found himself entering that zone that only racing drivers know.

“The thing I remember most was sitting in the car, and nobody could talk to me, no-one could distract me,” he says. “I was on my lap in my head, thinking about what I had to do and everything I thought about that night before – we pulled it off somehow.”

And then some. Moreno blitzed his effort, putting all the challenging corners of Monaco together to not only get his car into the main show, but also come in third out of the four successful pre-qualifiers, just half a second of Michele Alboreto’s Arrows.

The achievement was not lost on the rest of the F1 fraternity.

“Every team member from most of the teams were standing up, applauding me as I drove into the pits after pre qualifying,” he remembers.

“It was an incredible sensation which thinking about makes me emotional now, it was a feeling so unique it will stay in my mind forever.”

Now into qualifying, Moreno still had to make the top 26 (out of 30 cars) to start the race. The Andrea Moda squad made it – barely.

“The engine only had 40 kilometres left on it,” he laughs. “Basically we had to find an extra piece of cooling equipment that I think I got from my friends at either Ferrari or Benetton.

“[Race director] Charlie Whiting came down to check we’d fitted this extra bit of radiator correctly, to make sure it didn’t fall off into the road!

“I set my lap, which put me about 12th or 13th, then I came into the pits because the exhaust cracked with about 15 minutes left. I actually had to give a mechanic my gloves so they wouldn’t burn their hands on it.

“We put on the second set of tyres, but the front left wheel wouldn’t come off! I said ‘Forget it, let’s just go out with three new tyres.’ We went to start the car with the primer pump – ‘The Bomb’ – as we called, but then that failed.

“I sat there watching my time fall down the order, but we made it – I was in the last place on the grid.”


Monaco would be the only occasion Andrea Moda would make a GP race

Grand Prix Photo

Moreno would start 26th  – his 1min 24.945sec lap, 5.4sec off Nigel Mansell’s pole and just 0.04sec ahead of Eric van de Poele in the Brabham, which was the fastest car to be knocked out. It was the only occasion an Andrea Moda car made it to an F1 race.

Despite this herculean effort, the engine predictably did let go with just 11 laps of the grand prix gone, but that in no way diminishes the success for Moreno and co.

“We never thought about racing,” he says. “The achievement of Andrea Moda was to qualify that car somewhere.”

In a career of ups and downs and then some, Moreno’s fantastic lap is to him just another chapter in a hugely eventful life’s experience, but he rates it up there with his brightest moments.

“I think that it was incredible, we did a great job there” he says. “Winning the FFord Festival, leaving my career in the US for F1 in the mid-eighties, scoring with the AGS, the podium with Benetton – I had a few pleasures in my career, which makes me a very fulfilled person.”