Monthly Archives: April 2010

Forgotten heroes: François Cevert

Francois Cevert

Francois Cevert

So many of the drivers I feature here could well have won Formula 1 World Championships. Of course, when people think of the best drivers never to win a championship, Stirling Moss springs to mind. But, it is my opinion that the greatest driver never to win the championship was François Cevert. He was tipped as Jackie Steward’s successor, and was France’s great hope of the decade. But, as so many others did, safety (or lack of it) stopped him in his tracks.

Albert François Cevert Goldenberg was born in February 1944 in Paris. He was the brother-in-law of Grand Prix driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise. As a child, he raced on his mother’s Vespa scooter against friends.  He took a training course at the Le Mans school, and then started at the Magny-Cours racing school. He registered for the Volant Shell scholarship competition, which offered the top finisher the prize of an Alpine F3 car. He won the scholarship, the car, and entered Formula 3 in 1967. However, he was unable to keep up his car financially and technically by himself, so he sought sponsorship, and traded in his Alpine for a more competitive Tecno car. He instantly showed his form, and won the 1968 French Formula 3 championship ahead of Jean-Pierre Jabouille.

The next year, Cevert joined the Tecno Formula 2, and did very well, finishing third overall with one win. Also, he made his Grand Prix debut, albeit in the F2 class, in Germany that year. In one of the races that year, Jackie Stewart had a hard time getting past the Frenchman. Since then, Stewart told his manager, Ken Tyrrell, to keep an eye on the young Frenchman.

In 1970, Johnny Servoz-Gavin suddenly retired from the Tyrrell F1 team 3 races into the season as the result of an eye injury. After watching him progress through F2, Tyrrell called up Cevert to drive for the Tyrrell team for the rest of the season. Cevert drove his first F1 race at Zandvoort, the Dutch GP. In the 9 races he drove that season, he finished 5 of them, and scored his first ever point at the Italian Grand Prix. Every single race he competed in, he closed the gap to team-mate Jackie Steward. That year, Tyrrell were running March cars, which were horribly unreliable, although Cevert had made enough of an impression to be resigned for 1971.

Francois Cevert finished second at the 1971 French Grand Prix

Francois Cevert finished second at the 1971 French Grand Prix

Tyrrell took a huge risk by making their own car, the 001. It payed off massively, with Stewart taking the world championship. For Cevert, he took his first podium, first fastest lap and first ever win that year. His victory was at Watkins Glen, the season finale, his fastest lap was at the Nurburgring, and the podium at his home race, the French GP. He finished 3rd in the championship, behind Steward and Ronnie Peterson. He also took victories in touring cars and the CanAm series that year.

1972 was a year to be forgotten for Cevert. Lotus and Emerson Fittpaldi won the championship, whereas Cevert could only finish in the points three times, one of those at the French Grand Prix (4th). He did however do well in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing second in a Matra. By this time, the Tyrrell team-mates were good friends, and Stewart was never shy of advertising Cevert’s potential to win a championship.

Francois Cevert driving a Matra in Le Mans in 1973

Francois Cevert driving a Matra in Le Mans in 1973

For the 1973 season, Tyrrell were back at the top of Formula 1. Stewart and Cevert took three 1-2 finishes that year. Francois was able to keep up with Stewart at nearly every race now, and the Scot had a surprise planned for him at the end of the year. Since Stewart was planning to retire at the end of the year, he was going to hand the first driver role to Cevert for next year. Ken Tyrrell had it all planned out before the final race of the year at Watkins Glen: Steward and Cevert would be running 1-2, then Jackie would hand the win to Francois on the final lap, and symbolically hand him the baton of leadership of the team. Stewart had already won the world championship, so the plan didn’t bother him. However, tragically, the plan never occurred.

In practice for the US Grand Prix, Cevert approached the fast right-left uphill combination, called “The Esses”. Francois’ car moved too much to the left hand side, meaning he bumped off the kerb, and speared off towards the right-hand side of the corner. The car touched the track’s safety barriers, which caused the car to smash into the barriers on the other side of the track at a near 90° angle, which completely uprooted the barriers after the impact. Cevert was killed instantly through injuries after hitting the barrier. Jackie Stewart was one of the first on the scene, and saw that the stewards had left Francois in the car, because he was clearly dead. Jackie returned to the pits, and proceeded to do one of the bravest things any race driver has ever done.

Francois Cevert's car just after his crash at Watkins Glen in 1973

Francois Cevert's car just after his crash at Watkins Glen in 1973

When practice resumed, Jackie went out in his car, and took the Esses in fifth gear, as he always did. He did this because the lower revs meant the car was less jumpy through these corners. After this, he took the corner again, but this time in fourth gear, as Cevert always did, and realised very quickly how Francois had lost control. When he was satisfied as to how his team-mate and close friend had died, he pulled into the pits to end his racing career, as he and Tyrrell then dropped out of qualifying and the race in respect for Cevert.

Manou Zurini, a photographer, recalled what happened when he asked Jacky Ickx for information:

“Jacky Ickx had just arrived and I leant on his car with both elbows
but I could not question him. I saw he was crying, and then I knew
that it was all over for poor François. Jacky Ickx is not the sort
of chap to cry”.

Francois Cevert is never remembered as he should be, mainly because he is recorded as only winning one Formula 1 race. However, we can only imagine what he could have done if he had been able to lead the Tyrrell team into 1974. Even after he died, though, there was one more event which we must mention.

As well as being a racing driver Cevert was a classical pianist. His favourite piece was Beethoven’s Pathetique, and he played it at every opportunity. In between the 1973 Canadian and US Grands Prix, just before he died, Cevert went to Bermuda with the Stewart family, and played Beethoven’s Pathetique on the hotel’s grand piano every night. Much later that year, Stewart’s son Mark decided that he wanted a record for Christmas, but insisted that he buy a record at random in the record shop, and not look at it until Christmas Day. He was only 7, and picked a specific record because he liked the cover, though he had no idea what the record was. On Christmas Day, he opened the record to reveal Beethoven’s Pathetique.

Doctors want Ferrari-Marlboro subliminal advertising investigation

The Ferrari F10 has the Marlboro barcode logo as part of its livery

The Ferrari F10 has the Marlboro barcode logo as part of its livery

The European Public Health Commissioner and several top doctors have called for an immediate investigation into the relationship between Ferrari and Marlboro, claiming that “subliminal advertising” is being used on the Ferrari F1 cars.

The Times is reporting that an enquiry may begin regarding the barcode design on the Ferrari cars and drivers’ overalls. Currently, tobacco sponsorship is banned in F1, although situations like this have occured before, like the “Be On Edge” livery used by Jordan in 2003, which refers to Benson and Hedges.

A spokesperson for the European Public Health Commissioner has described the barcode design as “potential subliminal advertising”, and they are pushing the British and Spanish governments to investigate this matter, and declare if Marlboro and Ferrari’s actions are illegal. John Britton, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Director of the tobacco advisory group, has said:

"The bar code looks like the bottom half of a packet of Marlboro 
cigarettes.

I was stunned when I saw it. This is pushing at the limits. If 
you look at how the bar code has evolved over the last four years, 
it looks like creeping branding."

Ferrari have released their own statement, saying that:

"The bar code is part of the livery of the car, it is not part of 
a subliminal advertising campaign. 100 million dollars (per year) 
is not a correct figure; we are not disclosing the figure but it 
is lower than the figure you mention."

Whether or not the barcode design can be declared as an advertising logo, we will soon find out. However, despite the fact that the Marlboro name only appears in the official full Ferrari team name (Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro), there is no denying the tobacco company is well known in Formula 1.

To prove my point, have a look at that LG F1 survey that went round a few months back. One of the questions asked what the viewer thought were the 5 brands that sprung to mind when they thought of Formula 1, and Marlboro was in the top 5 overall when the results were published. This is despite the fact that the Marlboro name does not appear, at any point, in any Formula 1 broadcast.

New Silverstone Arena circuit opened

The official opening of the new Silverstone Arena circuit

The official opening of the new Silverstone Arena circuit

The new Silverstone Arena circuit has been fully unveiled for the first time.

The Duke of York opened the track formally, and was then driven around in a 2-seater F1 car by Damon Hill. David Coulthard and Mark Webber were the drivers on hand.

The track now differs near the end of the lap, where drivers will now take a fast right at Abbey. After a left sweep (Farm), there will be a sharp heavy-braking corner called Village, followed by a pair of left-handers called The Loop. The straight between Farm and Village is called Ireland (Woo!). The cars will then go onto the National Straight, before re-entering Brooklands corner.

Mark Webber was impressed by the new layout, and also thought it would suit the Red Bull RB6:

"I think the track will suit our car. We’re competitive at all
circuits at the moment, and the new section has high-speed and
low-speed corners. It’s also got some undulation which is hard
to see we’ll definitely notice it in the F1 cars."

David Coulthard was the first person to drive on the track, with the Red Bull running showcar. He is impressed with how the circuit has kept its high-speed nature:

"It’s very fast on the way into Abbey. But we still have all
the hallmarks of the original circuit. The corners are very
high speed and some of the entries are blind because it’s
built on an airfield."

Damon Hill praised the construction crew for working so swiftly, even though the winter snow delayed construction work for several weeks in December and January. He said that “The team have done a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances.” He was also relieved that the British Grand Prix now has a secure future, after getting a 17-year contract with Bernie Ecclestone:

"We’re very happy we’ve beaten down Mr Ecclestone as far as
possible to get as good a deal we can on this ten year contract,
with a potential extension for 17 years. We are now the only
private enterprise running a Grand Prix.

Now we have a new circuit for a new generation of people to
enjoy motor sport the way we think they should."

I’m already delighted, but the best is yet to come. Richard Philips, Silverstone’s managing director, explained why they chose Populous to design the circuit rather than Herman Tilke. He said that “We’ve had good, solid input from riders and drivers – people who are not going to wreck what is already a fantastic circuit.” Well put! Tilke has had his chance with every circuit in the last few years, and none are in the top half of the tracks in the F1 calendar. It’s about time that another company has had a try at designing an F1 circuit, and I do think that Populous (who did the Dubai Autodrome) have done a great job at Silverstone.

This new Arena circuit was actually developed for MotoGP rather than Formula 1, but I’m sure that F1 races here will still be excellent. One thing though: The start/finish line and pits for the F1 races will actually be moved to the straight after Club corner, but not for a few years. I’m not sure why this was considered necessary.

Pictures from the launch:

David Coulthard does a burnout on the new Silverstone Arena Circuit

David Coulthard does a burnout on the new Silverstone Arena Circuit

Village and The Loop corners on the Silverstone Arena Circuit

Village and The Loop corners on the Silverstone Arena Circuit

David Coulthard driving on the Silverstone Arena Circuit

David Coulthard driving on the Silverstone Arena Circuit

Silverstone Arena Circuit layout

Silverstone Arena Circuit layout

A

The full Silverstone Arena Circuit

The full Silverstone Arena Circuit

The full Silverstone Arena Circuit

The full Silverstone Arena Circuit

FIA to promote females in motorsport

Lella Bombardi, pictured here at the 1974 Race of Champions, is the only female to score a point in F1

Lella Bombardi, pictured here at the 1974 Race of Champions, is the only female to score a point in F1

The FIA have announced a new initiative group to encourage more women to compete in motorsport. The Women and Motor Sport Commission (WMC) is led by World Rally winner Michele Mouton, and held its first meeting on Monday.

Throughout the years, very few females have competed in Formula 1, with only one woman ever getting a points scoring position, when Lelle Lombardi got half a point (race stopped halfway through due to a crash that killed 4 spectators) at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. Now though, the FIA wishes to see more women compete in motorsport, as Jean Todt explains:

The FIA's membership around the world comprises men and women. Each 
has an identical part to play in sport.

Like many international federations, we will support, promote and 
help advance the participation of women in motorsport to ensure 
equal opportunities at all levels."

Michele Mouton added to this, saying:

"Women already have their place in motorsport, they have proved it.

But for many years people have asked me why there have been no women 
following in my footsteps. I really hope the commission can help 
answer that question and that we can attract and support women in 
all areas of our sport."

It’s absolutely true that we need to see women competing in the top tiers of motorsport. At the moment, the best female driver is Danica Patrick, but she has only won one open-wheel race, in the IndyCar series, and is

However, there are many females who compete in karting, so the challenge for the WMC is to get these drivers to the top level of motorsport. At the moment, the best female talent in karting is probably Jessica Hawkins, who is a member of the Zip Young Guns All Stars Team. Odd name, but its founder Martin Hines has guided Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard Anthony Davidson, Gary Paffett and former British Touring Car Champion Jason Plato in their careers at some point, so Hawkins is probably the most promising female talent that might just make it to the top tier of motorsport some day.

But, that would be years away. So, at the moment, the top female drivers around would probably be Simona De Silvestro, Ana Bratriz and Sarah Fisher (all IndyCar), Natacha Gachnang (GT1, also Seb Buemi’s cousin) and possibly Katherine Legge as well.

Just one more thought though. While the FIA should definitely promote women competing in motorsport, they must also be careful not to create an artificial advantage to women at the same time.

How is F1 2010 comparing to F1 2009 so far?

So, 4 races into the F1 2010 season, and we have had 3 different winners with no sure idea of who is the favourite for the title. The technical rule changes this year were deisgned to “improve the show”, so let’s see how they’ve done so far.

Driver’s Championship – 2009 vs 2010

2009 Driver Points
1 Jenson Button 31
2 Rubens Barrichello 19
3 Sebastian Vettel 18
4 Jarno Trulli 14.5
5 Timo Glock 12
2010 Driver Points
1 Jenson Button 60
2 Nico Rosberg 50
3 Fernando Alonso 49
4 Lewis Hamilton 49
5 Sebastian Vettel 45

The one thing that amazes me is that, despite the huge increase in the number of points given out, the gap between the top 5 is actually smaller this year than it was last year. This can largely be accredited to the fact that drivers have not been consistent with their finishing positions this year.

By looking at the chart alone, you would be forgiven for thinking that Jenson Button is dominating the first 4 races of both years. However, this year, that is certainly not the case. While he has won twice in 4 races, his rivals have kept up with him well, meaning the top 7 this year are separated by only 20 points.

No real assumptions can be made about the championship so far, but I would think that there are 8 drivers in contention for the title this year, compared to about 3 or 4 last year. This is a very good thing to say, as more competition means a better and more entertaining fight for the title.

Constructors’ Championship – 2009 vs 2010

2009 Team Points
1 Brawn-Mercedes 50
2 Red Bull-Renault 27.5
3 Toyota 26.5
4 McLaren-Mercedes 13
5 Renault 5
2010 Team Points
1 McLaren-Mercedes 109
2 Ferrari 90
3 Red Bull-Renault 73
4 Mercedes GP 60
5 Renault 46

Again, from directly looking at the 2010 standings, you may think that the 2010 constructors’ championship is the usual battle between McLaren and Ferrari. This is completely wrong, as Red Bull, Mercedes and Renault are all in the hunt still. Red Bull should have been in the lead, but for unfortunate mechanical problems for Sebastian Vettel in the first 2 races, resulting in a loss of 38 points, which would have put them in the lead by 2 points.

While Mercedes and Renault probably won’t be battling for the title, not this year at least, there is still a very interesting battle going on between them. Mercedes have had a head start with Nico Rosberg doing brilliantly to get 2 podiums so far, but Michael Schumacher was been surprisingly poor. Meanwhile, Renault had to wait for a few races for Vitaly Petrov to get up to speed in F1, and he has just rewarded them with his first ever points. With the extremely talented Robert Kubica, Renault may well overtake Mercedes in the standings soon.

At the bottom of the standings, we have the fight between the 3 new teams, something which we certainly did not have last year. Of course, none of these teams have got points yet, but we didn’t expect them to. So far, Lotus are the fastest of the new teams, followed by HRT and then Virgin. Branson’s squad’s dire reliability have ensured that they lie bottom of the standings, behind a team that didn’t even turn a wheel before Bahrain Friday Practice.

Overtakes per race

2009 Race # of Overtakes
1 Australia 25
2 Malaysia 28
3 China 60
4 Bahrain 15
2010 Race # of Overtakes
1 Bahrain 21
2 Australia 41
3 Malaysia 24
4 China 81
2009 vs 2010 - Overtakes in first 4 races compared

2009 vs 2010 - Overtakes in first 4 races compared

These 2 charts tell a lot. Put simply, in 3 of the 4 races this year, there have been more overtakes in 2010 than in 2009.

Admittedly, the rain has played a part in 3 of these races, but the racing was still great in situations where the rain did not apply. For example, in Malaysia, where the Ferraris and McLarens were charging through the field, the Toro Rossos of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were doing a great job getting past fellow drivers in superior machinery.

It’s not surprising to see Bahrain bottom of the chart in both years, but there’s a simple solution to increase average overtaking across the year: Get rid of Bahrain. And throw in Valencia, Turkey, Hungary and Barcelona while you’re at it, Bernie.

Nevertheless, I’m confident that there can be more overtaking in these circuits (except Monaco) this year, and I will talk about this more in the next section.

If you want more stats on overtaking across the years, then have a look at this page by Clip the Apex, which has a section where they analsyse overtaking in Formula 1 extrmely well, you can have a look at it here.

Race-by-race analysis

2009

Let’s have a look at 2009 first. The season opener in Australia was mad, but not exactly pure racing, as most of the action was caused by badly chosen tyre compounds by Bridgestone. The crash between Kubica and Vettel near the end, which ended the battle for the lead, was a perfect example. Having said that, the Brawn 1-2 was a very special moment for many, including me.

Malaysia was again very eventful, but in a completely different way. In the first half of the race, many of the overtakes were caused by the KERS-equipped Fernando Alonso falling down the field. When the rain threatened at the first stops, we were intrigued by Kimi Raikkonen’s choice for extreme wets, even though the track was dry. When the rain did eventually fall, nearly the entire grid leaped for extreme wets, only to be out-smarted by Timo Glock, who chose intermidiates. When everyone realised their mistake, and switched back to inters, the rain fell harder, and the race fell apart. While the last 10 laps were very entertaining, it wasn’t exactly pure racing.

Next up was China, which was completely drenched with rain. This was a very good race, as the conditions stayed terrible throughout, which meant that wet weather tyre strategies didn’t apply. The battle between Mark Webber and Jenson Button, and Lewis Hamilton trying to pull his way up through the field, were my personal favourites.

Finally, Bahrain gave us the surprise of a Toyota 1-2, but only in qualifying. A disastrous decicion to put on the harder tyres for the second stint of a 3-stop strategy threw away their advantage of their front row lockout, and handed the race to Jenson Button on a plate. However, he didn’t get it entirely by Toyota, as a crucial pass on Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in the first few laps proved decicive in the race.

2010

Instead of Australia, Bahrain was handed the honour of hosting 2010’s first F1 race. Any boy, did they make a mess of it. To make a long story short, the race was boring and processional, and the new section of the track was awful, leaving many to criticise the new F1 regulations far too quickly.

After the mess of Bahrain, Australia firmly proved F1’s critics wrong. A shower at the start nicely mixed up the grid in the first few laps, with Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher getting caught out. However, as the track dried out, Jenson Button made a crucial dry tyre call, and put himself back into contention for the lead. Meanwhile, Alonso was scything his way through the field, whereas Schumacher was stuck behind the rookie Alguersuari for up to 30 laps. Despite the rain at the start, it was a great race, even when the track dried out.

Malaysia was next, where rain in qualifying turned the grid upside down, as Alonso, Massa, Button and Hamilton were all stuck at the back of the field. In the race, both the Ferraris and McLarens battled between themselves as they tried to climb their way into the points. Many people argue that this wouldn’t have been an exciting race if these top drivers weren’t at the back, but I disagree. Jaime Alguersuari drove a brilliant race through the field to get his first ever Formula 1 points. His overtake around the outside of Nico Hulkenberg (I think!) was stunning for a rookie, and it was the highlight of the race for me.

Finally, China was another race affected by rain, but not in a way that actually brought about much overtaking during the start, which is quite odd. Nevertheless, it was another great race, as Jenson Button yet again proved his masterful tyre managment to give him the win.

In the first 4 races of 2009 and 2010 compared, there is little to separate them, although the 2010 races have been more pure, because of the ban on refuelling meaning more overtaking on track rather than in the pits. However, if you have a look at the 2009 F1 calendar, you will notice that many of the next races weren’t exactly classics, up to Silverstone anyways. So, if F1 2010 is truly better than previous years, which I believe it is, then the next 3 races (Spain, Monaco, Turkey) will have to impress. Then, after this, the F1 paddock will roll into Montreal, and then hopefully it will all become clear.

Stefan GP confirms F1 2011 bid

Stefan GP's new logo

Stefan GP's new logo

After many weeks of silence, Stefan GP have now said that they are to bid for the final slot on the grid for the 2011 season. Also, this time, they have come prepared.

First of all, they have announced a deal with the Mayor of Stara Pazova to construct a Stefan Technology Park. It contains a racing circuit suitable for Formula 1 racing, and a technical complex for Stefan GP headquarters. It has also been claimed that this technology park will be on par with the top teams’ facilities.

Secondly, Stefan GP have released info on what drivers they have and will be talking to. On their site, they list these 12 drivers as Jacques Villeneuve, Narain Karthikeyan, Kazuki Nakajima, Pastor Maldonado, Bartrand Baguette, Sebastien Loeb, Ralf Schumacher, Christian Klien, Karun Chandhok, Takuma Sato, Adrian Valles and Alex Margaritis. However, I must feel that some of these drivers must be annoyed at this news being released.

Most of these drivers make sense, but Loeb? Yeah right. When he tested for Red Bull a few years back, he was only a few tenths off the main drivers’ times after an hour. If he ever comes to F1, it will never be with a small team.  Also, I have a feeling that Ralf Schumacher’s infamous wage requests when he was at Toyota might not be a good choice for a new team like Stefan. Otherwise, they have a good selection of young drivers to choose from, and they have already talked to all of them.

Next up, Zoran Stefanovich spoke about keeping motivated after being rejected for the 2010 grid position:

A great man by the name of Sir Winston Churchill once said 
something that I try to implant into the minds of the people 
in my team. It's something along the lines of: NEVER, NEVER, 
NEVER GIVE UP! In the last almost 12 months you were all 
witnesses of the fact that I strongly stand behind my beliefs.

I still believe that F1 would be a much more interesting 
competition with SGP, and my team and I feel like the battle 
is just starting. We want to be a part of F1 for both the long 
and short term future, and I hope that we will finally have 
the success we deserve.

This quality is shared by every person who has changed the world. 
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP! Thank you for supporting us, and 
I hope to see you at GP soon!

Best Regards, Zoran Stefanovic

I must admit that with all of this I’m more trusting of Stefan GP, albeit not completely. They are much more organised, and now have plans for the future as well. The only thing they need now is the return of the technical partnership with Toyota, which they had used to develop their 2010 car.

What do you think? Should Stefan GP be given a chance to prove themselves, or should the grid spot be given to an established team like Epsilon Euskadi?

Pirelli considering F1 return, but wants 18-inch wheels

Italian manufacturer Pirelli is considering a return to F1

Italian manufacturer Pirelli is considering a return to F1

Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli has joined the race to supply tyres to the F1 grid from next year onwards. As Bridgestone are leaving at the end of this year, both Michelin and Cooper Avon have already started negotiations to take the Japanese company’s place.

Pirelli have competed in 203 Grands Prix across Formula 1 history, and have the privelige of supplying tyres to the first ever Grand Prix winner (Alfa Romeo) at the 1950 British Grand Prix.

There were similar rumours about Pirelli in 2006, when they were tipped to return to F1. However, back then, the company said that they wanted to focus their attention on road-going tyres, rather than racing tyres. Their statement back then was as follows:

"Pirelli's previous position on F1 hasn't changed. Pirelli prefers 
to develop tyres for racing that will also be used on the road. 
Pirelli sponsors Superbikes, the World Rally Championship and GT2."

However, quotes from  Marco Tronchetti, Chairman of Pirelli, would suggest that Pirelli are now revisiting the idea of returning to F1, as long as certain criteria are met. It is believed that one of their conditions is that F1 wheels would be increased from 13 to 18 inches. This has already been voiced by Michelin, as they want Formula 1 tyres to be more related to their road-going counterparts.

This is something I support quite a lot, as F1 needs to make its technology more relatable to road cars. After the failure of KERS last year, tyres need to be used by Formula 1 to promote road-going technology.

Forgotten heroes: Luigi Fagioli

Luigi Fagioli

Luigi Fagioli

This is a name you probably won’t recognise. While he is one of Italy’s most successful racing drivers ever, most of his career came before the World Championship, and therefore modern F1 records, began in 1950.

He was born on 9th June 1898 in Osimo, Ancona Province in the Marche region of central Italy. As a child and young adult, he spent much of his time in hillclimb races, racing in an old French Salmson voiturette. He entered Grand Prix racing in 1926, and by 1928 had attracted the attention of the Maserati brothers. They allowed him to race a Maserati on the Targa Florio. He quickly became known as the Abruzzi Robber, because of his wild temperment which sometimes went completely out of control.

Luigi Fagioli driving a Maserati in 1931

Luigi Fagioli driving a Maserati in 1931

Despite this, he was successful in Grand Prix racing, winning the Coppa Ciano and the Circuit of Avellino in 1930. In 1931, at the Monaco Grand Prix, he entered battle with Louis Chiron, who had a Bugatti Type 51, which is widely considered to be one of the most famous racing battles of all time. Fagioli was at a disadvantage, as his Maserati 26M was geared towards long straights, not the twisty nature of the Monaco circuit. Depsite this, he showed his immense skill, but lost out to Chiron in the end, finishing 2nd. He got his revenge later that year, winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, beating Chiron and his fellow Italians, Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari.

In 1932, he won the Grand Prix of Rome, and in 1933 was signed for the Alfa Romeo team, run by Enzo Ferrari, replacing Tazio Nuvolari. He soon won the Coppa Acerbo, Grand Prix du Comminges and the Italian GP. He was always supremely confident, and would blame drivers and retaliate those who made mistakes out on track. He also took risks others wouldn’t, and often got involved in unnecessary crashes, which gave him a somewhat bad reputation. However, his talents were undeniable, and he was poached by Mercedes to drive one of their Silver Arrows for 1934. His mechanic was the famous Hermann Lang.

Luigi Fagioli at AVUS in 1933

Luigi Fagioli at AVUS in 1933

However, he had a very difficult relationship with his team and co-drivers. In his very first race for Mercedes in 1934, team manager Alfred Neubauer ordered him to move aside for his team-mate, Manfred von Brauchitsch, so he could win the race. Luigi was under the impression that he was the number 1 driver, as Von Brauchitsch was inexperienced, and his other team-mate Rudolf Caracciola was injured. Fagioli was absolutely disgusted, and parked his car in anger. It quickly became clear that Luigi was only able to win when his German team-mates weren’t able to. Despite this, in 1934 he was able to win his second Coppa Acerbo, and the Spanish and Monza Grands Prix.

Luigi Fagioli at the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli at the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix

In 1935, his car was upgraded to the W25B model. This allowed him to win the Monaco GP, AVUS and Penya Rhin races that year. However, despite his success, his relationship with his fellow team-mates got even worse, especially with Rudolf Caracciola. Against team orders, Fagioli would try to pass him, sometimes getting through and sometimes not. This completely ruined his relationship with the team, and he left for Auto Union for 1937, purely to beat Mercedes-Benz. By this stage, racing was only for him to get revenge on others. It got even worse at the Tripoli Grand Prix of 1937, Fagioli was trying to pass Caracciola for the entire race with no team orders, but failed. After the race, Fagioli threw a wheel hammer at Caracciola, and then tried to attack him with a knife.

It would have probably got even worse, but his health problems quickly became apparent. He was suffering from crippling rheumatism, and it was seriously damaging his racing ability. At the Coppa Acerbo, a race he had won twice already, he was in such a bad state that he could only walk with a cane, so he admitted defeat and dropped out of the race. Combining this with World War 2, Luigi was never seen racing again for years. Nearly everyone assumed that was the end of his career, but they were wrong.

In 1950, the first ever FIA Formula 1 World Championship was forming. 52-year-old Fagioli had recovered well from his rheumatism, and shocked many by returning to drive for Alfa Romeo. Amazingly, he did very well, as he got 5 podium finishes in 6 races (the Monaco race was not held), which earned him third place in the first ever championship.

Luigi Fagioli finished 2nd at the first modern F1 race, the 1950 British Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli finished 2nd at the first modern F1 race, the 1950 British Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli at the 1951 Mille Miglia

Luigi Fagioli at the 1951 Mille Miglia

But, his first race of 1951 was his last. He shared a car with the famous Juan Manuel Fangio to win the French Grand Prix, which gave him the award of oldest driver ever to win a race, a record which he still holds today. However, he never raced in Formula 1 again after that.

In 1952, he signed for Lancia to drive sports cars, and finished third in the Mille Miglia, ahead of his arch-rival Caracciola. But, while he was practicing for a touring car race which was a supporting of the Monaco Grand Prix, he suffered a seemingly minor crash, breaking a hand and a leg. However, he had suffered internal injuries also, and died 3 weeks later from complications from his injuries.

He has a race named after him: the Trofeo Luigi Fagioli Hillclimb, a competition that he loved. It is held in Gubbio, and was created in 1966 in memory of Fagioli. Simone Faggioli has dominated the competition in recent years, winning 5 times since 2001. However, I have found no family link between Luigi and Simone, even if they do share an extremely similar surname.

Though his temper often got the better of him, sometimes with disastrous consequences, his thirst for racing and pure skill was undeniable, but unfortunately he will never be remembered as he should, since he barely competed in modern Formula 1. But, his success before this shows how he should have won championships, but health and time blocked the way.

Sepang Malaysia circuit looking for upgrade

The Sepang International Circuit

The Sepang International Circuit

The Sepang International Circuit is looking for a major upgrade to the circuit in the next year or so. Despite being only 11 years old, parts of the track need major overhaul.

The circuit boss, Razlan Razali, has said that they are searching for investors to upgrade the track facilities in the upcoming year, which should cost around €42m. He said:

"Unfortunately after three to four years, the track was not 
very well maintained. There are areas of the grandstand and 
the paddock where it leaks during a storm. We experience power 
trips and mechanical and electrical woes. We need a major 
overhaul and refurbishment.

The flat roof above the paddock is also leaking. We are 
fighting a losing battle to repair the leaks. We need to 
bring back Sepang's glory days. I hope we can secure about 
180 million ringgit over the next five years from the 
government to carry out a major overhaul and refurbishment.

Our track needs to be on par with Bahrain and Shanghai. I 
am not afraid of Malaysia losing Formula One spectators. 
I am more concerned about providing better hospitality 
services and how to generate additional revenue."

I’m actually surprised that parts of the circuit need doing up, as the pit lane still has some of the best facilities in the world. Still, I heard of many complaints after the 2009 Malaysian GP, where the rain from the storms was going through the grandstands. Since the Malaysian Grand Prix doesn’t seem to be under threat any time soon, I’d say they should get the renovations done soon enough.

Volcanic GP ends as F1 paddock back in Europe

The threat to the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks time is now practically gone, as most of the F1 paddock have now returned to Europe. Only Sauber, FOM employees and a few other media people are still in Shanghai.

If you use Twitter, you would have learned of the Volcanic GP – a race to see who could get into Europe first. Jake Humphrey, Lee McKenzie and the 5Live crew were the first of the media crew back, while Sam Michael and Ross Brawn are the winners of the team personnel (Virgin were in front, but their cars ran out of fuel before the end! :P).  It is believed that Mark Webber was the first driver back, but he lost his passport, so we don’t know who won there. Jaime Alguersuari was so competitive that he went the opposite way to try and get back first! Whatever happens, it was great fun to follow this  Wacky Races spin-off!

Anyways, this means that there should be no threat of teams not getting to Barcelona in time. The cars are still in Shanghai, but they are being brought over by Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM’s cargo planes, which means they are not affected by the commercial plane flight ban. However, there will still be less time than the teams would want to work on the cars before Barcelona.

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