World Karting Champion, Gabriele Tarquini was eventually overlooked by Formula 1 but the Italian has enjoyed a long and successful career in international touring car racing.
When Silverstone hosted the first race for the new Formula 3000 in 1985, Gabriele Tarquini was the least experienced driver in the field. Reigning 125cc World Karting Champion, he was the veteran of just eight Italian Formula 3 races. Driving Sanremo Racing’s number 13 March 85B-Cosworth, points in his first three races included third at Estoril. Two further fourth place finishes sealed an impressive sixth in the inaugural F3000 championship.
He drove Enzo Coloni’s similar car a year later when third (at the Osterreichring) was again his best result. Tarquini joined FIRST Racing for his final season in the category and scored podium finishes at Enna-Pergusa (third) and Imola (a career-best second) but seventh overall showed little progress.
Formula 1 with Osella, Coloni and AGS
Tarquini also made his Grand Prix debut in 1987 when his Osella FA1G-Alfa Romeo retired from the San Marino GP at Imola. A fulltime F1 driver in 1988 with Coloni, he finished eighth in Canada but he failed to qualify as often as he started during an uncompetitive campaign.
Without a ride for 1989, he was drafted in by AGS when Philippe Streiff was severely injured in pre-season testing. Tarquini’s early form was impressive – running sixth at Monaco before retiring and finishing in that position in Mexico. However, he failed to make it out of pre-qualifying during the second half of the season. He remained with the French minnows for the next two seasons but only qualified seven times.
Switch to Fondmetal and Tyrrell
He switched to Fondmetal by the end of 1991 and at least qualified for every race entered during 1992. However, he only finished once before the team closed its doors after the Italian GP. His final GP was at the Nürburgring in 1995 when deputising for Tyrrell-Yamaha’s injured Ukyo Katayama but by then he was already a touring car champion.
Touring car success
He started racing a BMW in the Italian Championship just as his F1 career was winding down in 1992. He joined Alfa Romeo a year later and was stationed in the British Touring Car Championship in 1994. His Alfa Romeo 155TS won the opening five races of the year and Tarquini survived a spectacular barrel-roll at Knockhill to win the BTCC title at the first attempt.
He joined Honda in 1997 before switching to the European series in 2001. A works Alfa Romeo driver once more, he won the 2003 European Touring Car Championship and finished third a year later.
World Touring Car Champion
A new World Championship for touring cars was introduced in 2005 and Tarquini has raced in the series ever since. He switched to SEAT in 2006 and has been a race winner each season. Runner-up behind team-mate Yvan Müller in 2008, he beat the Frenchman to the 2009 World Championship in the final round at Macau.
Müller defected to Chevrolet in 2010 and regained the title, with Tarquini again finishing as runner-up behind the Frenchman. With Chevy now the dominant force in the WTCC, Tarquini remained the best-of-the-rest by finishing fifth in 2011 and fourth a year later.
Tarquini raced for Honda for three seasons from 2013 – finishing as a distant runner-up to Müller once again that first season. Released by Honda after his first winless WTCC campaign in 2015, he received a late offer from Lada for the following season. He won at Moscow Raceway and Losail although inconsistency prevented a sustained challenge in 2016.
World Touring Car Cup
Without a regular ride in 2017, Tarquini joined BRC Racing Team to drive a Hyundai i30 N in the following year’s reconstituted World Touring Car Cup. It was like old times for the 56-year-old won five times to enter the final weekend at Macau in the points lead. With seven still in contention, Tarquini endured a near disastrous meeting but finished tenth in the final race to beat old adversary Muller to the title by just three points.
A race winner during the opening two weekends of his WTCR title defence, Tarquini eventually faded to eighth overall in the 2019 standings.
In 2020, Tarquini ended the season in 14th with 79 points.