Pietro Bordino was a true motor racing hero – pure and simple. He was the quickest Grand Prix driver on the planet in 1922 but his life was cut short in a tragic encounter with a household pet.
Early career and American success
Vincenzo Lancia’s riding mechanic in 1904 – he had his own plans to race. Within four years he was behind the wheel of a Fiat and winning the Château Thierry hillclimb. He became synonymous with the marque for whom Bordino’s father had worked.
He failed in a record attempt at Saltburn Sands in Yorkshire in 1911 but his greatest days were once GP racing resumed after World War I. Bordino drove the legendary 3-litre Fiat 802 and led the opening laps of the 1921 Italian GP – setting the fastest race lap before retiring.
Fiat’s ambitions stretched to America and Bordino raced in Indycars early in 1922 – winning on the board tracks at Beverly Hills and Cotati before returning to Europe. Those results were enough for 12th in the championship.
Grand Prix winner for Fiat
Armed with a new Fiat 804, he was now the man to beat in GPs. Bordino led the French GP until a broken axle caused him to crash two laps from the end but still classified fourth due to distance completed. The Italian GP was held at the newly opened Monza and the Fiat was again the class of the field. Bordino led from start-to-finish with veteran team-mate Felice Nazzaro completing a 1-2 for the marque.
Fiat also built a voiturette for the supporting Gran Premio delle Vetturette and Bordino won that as well to complete a weekend of rare dominance. It was equivalent to a current star winning both the Formula 1 and GP2 race on the same weekend. 1922 was some season for Bordino.
He led the French GP again in 1923 and 1924 without finishing. But defeat in the 1923 Italian GP perhaps showed his virtuoso talent and raw courage better than any victory. Bordino had crashed testing two weeks before the event and his Fiat overturned. He escaped with a broken arm but riding mechanic Enrico Giaccone was killed.
Despite the tragedy and his injuries Bordino still started the race, his new mechanic changing gears as he drove with one arm on the wheel. Remarkably they led from the start before being forced to withdraw after half distance when Bordino collapsed from exhaustion.
Bordino finished 10th in the 1925 Indianapolis 500 – his last Indycar race and only appearance at the Brickyard – and won the Formule Libre race that supported the 1927 Italian GP at Monza.
Fiat withdrew from the sport soon afterwards so he switched to a Bugatti T35B for 1928. However, fate would intervene during practice for the Circuito di Alessandria in April. A dog ran across his path and collided with the oncoming Bugatti. The animal was jammed in his steering and Bordino crashed into the River Tanaro below.
A great driver drowned before help could arrive. His riding mechanic suffered head and chest injuries and also died 12 days later without ever regaining consciousness. The race at Alessandria was renamed the Coppa Pietro Bordino in a tribute to one of the lesser known but still great Italian racing drivers.