Thrust into Formula 1 when Niki Lauda suddenly retired, Ricardo Zunino’s racing career was ended by the outbreak of the Falklands War and the resulting sponsorship and sporting difficulties.
Background and early racing career
The son of a farmer on Argentina’s Chilean border, he started racing in 1969 in local sports car and touring car races. He was a complete unknown when he arrived in Europe for the 1977 Formula 2 Championship. His best result with an AFMP Euroracing March-Hart was sixth at Pau after he had been one of those to crash in the rain, forcing the race to stop.
He switched to the works team by mid-season but remained mediocre. Four points-finishes during 1978 was an improvement but hardly suggested a future star. 1979 began in F2 once more although he came to the fore after switching to the British F1 series. Initially that was with a BS Fabrications McLaren M23-Ford before Zunino settled in Charles Clowes’ second Arrows A1. He invariably qualified in the top four and scored a string of podium finishes with victory at Brands Hatch his first win in Europe.
Formula 1 with Brabham and Tyrrell
By now, he was eying graduation to the world championship and he tested for Brabham. He was at the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix when Niki Lauda suddenly walked away from the sport. Zunino was hastily drafted in for his debut. He qualified ninth for the next race at Watkins Glen and was retained for 1980. However, it was not a success, for Zunino failed to qualify at Monaco and was replaced after the French GP.
He did race for Brabham again, running as high as second at the 1981 South African GP (a non-championship affair due to the ongoing FISA/FOCA “war”). He moved to Tyrrell for the two South American events that year but these were his final GP appearances. Replaced by Michele Alboreto for Imola, Zunino chose not to take the available Ensign drive for the rest of the 1981 season.
His sponsorship ran dry when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in March 1982. Zunino became an hotelier in Posada San Eduardo and was later the head of tourism in the San Juan province.