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.

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3 responses to “Forgotten heroes: Luigi Fagioli

  1. Pingback: What others have been saying about maserati « kimicky

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Forgotten heroes: Luigi Fagioli « G-Force – A Formula 1 Blog -- Topsy.com

  3. pickle92 April 22, 2010 at 17:32

    More efforts should be made to get the great pre-war drivers the respect and admiration they deserve. Perhaps some sort of documentary series?

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