“I’m an artist, the track is my canvas, and the car is my brush”

Minardi F1 Team - 20 Years of Pride, Passion and Pain

by ForzaMinardi

“Nothing succeeds like success”, the old saying goes. And in Formula One, nothing has succeeded quite as much as Ferrari over the past few years. Led by Michael Schumacher, the Italian team has shattered all the records, stamping its authority and dominance over all aspects of this most glamorous of sports - to the point where many fans and F1 pundits celebrated the mere fact of Schumacher and Ferrari NOT winning in 2005!

As former-Minardi racer, Alonso, celebrates another win for Renault, Doornbos begins the last racing lap in Minardi’s twenty year history.
Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’.

Yet delve behind the facade of the top teams, beyond the world of money, celebrities, and success, you’ll find the enduring passion that made men race cars in the first place: the love of the sport, the spirit of competition, the taking part for the hell of it; the sheer pride at being part of motor racing’s highest rung, despite the obstacles; the pleasure in providing a training ground for some of the sports brightest young stars, and in watching them achieve their dreams. This spirit, this passion, is growing dimmer as manufacturers become involved in F1, as it becomes more of a marketing tool for the world’s largest corporations. But until the Chinese Grand Prix of 2005, it still burned brightly not far from Ferrari’s base at Maranello… it still existed in the small town of Faenza, 20 minutes drive from the legendary Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, home of the San Marino Grand Prix. In this quiet, pretty town, famed for its porcelain and leather working, existed one of the last privateers in Formula One. This little town was home to the minnows of F1. This little town is home to Minardi.

Minardi’s story is one of passion, pride, and pain. The team has its roots in the early racing career of Giovanni Minardi, a talented amateur driver. One of Italy’s most succesful Fiat dealers, Giovanni built the first Minardi racing car during the 1950’s. He raced it with mixed success before handing over the reigns of the business and his team to his son GianCarlo. A man of many talents, GianCarlo Minardi was involved with the local Autoclub, which aimed to fund local drivers in Formula Italia. Offering his services as team manager, GianCarlo re-organised the team, named Scuderia del Passatore after the bandits who were the local historical equivalent of Robin Hood. How GianCarlo would wish in future years for the rich to give to the poor!

As the team grew, its fame reached the ears of Enzo Ferrari, who in an unprecedented move, gifted Senor Minardi and Scuderia Everest (renamed for a local sponsor) a world championship-winning 1975 Ferrari to allow his up-and-coming Italian drivers become familiar with F1 machinery. During the 1970’s the team evolved into one of Italy’s most respected, and become formally known as Team Minardi in 1979. As ever, Minardi remained fiercely independent, refusing to allow commercial interests get in the way of his vision of the future. And as ever, the team was acquiring a reputation for technical skill despite small budgets, and a friendly atmosphere.

In the early 1980’s, Minardi entered European Formula Two racing with its own chassis. Although success was hard to come by, in 1982 Michele Alboreto emerged as a front runner for Minardi. Success in F2 propelled Minardi to its destiny - Formula Uno!

Entering the top level in 1985, the team faced a considerable challenge. Obviously the level of competition was higher, and a global schedule was demanding of the teams limited human and financial resources. However, with faith in his staff and confidence in their ability to improvise, GianCarlo led the team in… to a desperate struggle!

1985 was little short of a disaster. Powered by a Motori Moderni turbo engine, the M185 car was overwieght, ponderous and fundamentally slow. Added to which, Minardi had taken the decision to entrust the team’s sole car to PierLuigi Martini, a family friend and a talented but inexperienced driver. Sadly Martini failed to qualify a few times and by the end of the year, there was little choice but to replace him. On a brighter note, the team competed with pride at being part of the F1 circus, and in an era of many poorly equipped and presented teams, at least the black-and-yellow Minardi car and set-up looked the part compared to the big boys. If the Minardi’s were slow, at least the leading teams and drivers could have no complaints about how the enthusiastic guys from Faenza went about their business.

1986 saw a major improvement for Minardi. With the lessons of 1985 in mind, the new M186 was lighter, more nimble and assured of regular qualification. Although the Motori Moderni turbo let them down more often than not, the talented driver line up of Allesandro Nannini and Adrian Campos established Minardi as a credible team. Combined with their immaculate presentation and friendly spirit, the team’s recovery proved to the established teams that Minardi were not only here to stay, but they were here also to give it a damn good try.

1987 saw the team rather stuck where it had left 86 though. Limited resources allowed only a slightly developed car, Nannini and Campos were forced to mark time waiting for the return of normally aspirated power the following year.

1988 allowed the team to focus its strengths. With a Ford DFR V8 normally aspirated engine, the M188 was light, nimble and aerodynamic. Having left for pastues new at Benetton, Nannini was replaced by an all-Spanish driver line up. Adrian Campos and Maurizio Sandro-Sala immediately felt a difference in the new car, but sadly for Campos, Sala’s arrival in the team put him in the shade. By Detroit he was replaced… by Pierluigi Martini, Minardi’s original F1 driver! Having proved his skills all over again in F3000, Martini bounced back, much to the derision of F1 pundits. “This is no way to run an F1 team, giving a driver a seat just because he’s your mate” they snorted confidently. But Piero proved them wrong. In his very fist F1 race back, at the demanding Detriot track, he drove calmly and quickly to score a glorious 6th place - Minardi’s first ever F1 point! Tears and champagne flowed in the pits as Minardi finally got themselves in the record books. Finally rival teams and pundits had to admit the little guys from Faenza knew what they were doing, despite their cheerfulness and happy-go-luck attitude.

1989 was a solid year for the ‘other’ Italian team. At Silverstone, golden-boy Martini and Pelez-Sala scored what would be the teams only double-points finish.
Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’.

Upward progress was continued in 1989. Still powered by Ford DFRs, the team, led by the talented and charismatic Martini, sped to a number of great results, including a glorious 5th-6th result at Silverstone. 5th at Estoril and 6th in Adelaide confirmed Martini and Minardi as regular scorers, finishing the year with 5 points for Martini and 6 for Minardi. A fascinating feature of the end of season races was Martini’s creep up the starting grid. In Portugal he qualified 5th, in Spain 4th, and in Australia, an amazing 3rd! Better was to follow… In Portugal, Martini even had the privilege of leading a GP for Minardi. As the front runners stopped for tires, Martini took the lead for one glorious lap before heading for his own scheduled stop.

1990 stared off incredibly well. Martin took the revised 1989 chassis and stuck the Minardi 2nd on the grid for the USGP at Pheonix. In truth, his amazing qualifying runs of late had been flattered by Pirelli’s tires which tended to work amazingly well over one lap then fade badly. But none the less, Martini had scored a front row start in a Minardi! Sadly the rest of the year was a disappointment. The new 190 chassis was actually a step back, and Martini and his teammates Paulo Barilla and Gianni Morbidelli failed to score. But meanwhile, GianCarlo had something up his sleeve…

In 1991, Minardi proudly unveiled the beautiful M191 chassis. Benefiting from a decent budget, the car looked glorious in its black white and yellow paintwork. Nestling beneath the engine cover laid another work of art - a Ferrari V12! Minardi became the first team in modern times to run a Ferrari engine in a non-works car. Immediately Minardi were expected to make a big step forward. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Knocked out of kilter by the last minute defection of a sponsor to the Ferrari works team, Minardi faced the season with a lower than expected budget. However, the car was fundamentally good, and in the streaming rain at Imola, Martini trounced the works Ferraris to come home 4th - Minardi’s best ever result. As Ferrari imploded, so the privateer team moved up on them. By season’s end, Martini had qualified in front of at least one Ferrari a couple of times and bagged another 4th at Estoril. Sadly, the V12s were too expensive to keep for 1992. Added to which, apparently the Ferrari bosses were nervous that Minardi would make them look foolish with their success while Ferrari flopped disastrously!

Back to square one for 1992 then. A simple evolution of the 1991 car, installed with a Lamborghini V12 kept the team credible, and a young driver line up of Morbidelli and Christian Fittipaldi brought plenty of effort. Fittipaldi bagged a 6th in Japan to score the team’s only point of the year, bouncing back from a nasty midseason crash where he broke his arm.

1993 saw the team revert to light weight and basic Ford V8 power. In another nifty back-to-basics chassis, Fittipaldi was a revelation. 4th first time out in South Africa was followed by a heroic display in Monaco for 5th. Meanwhile, wild man of F1 Fabrizio Barbazza scored a 6th at Donington and Imola. With 7 points, Minardi were 6th in the constructor’s championship, their best ever. The year was also enlivened by the return of Minardi talisman Martini. In an absolutely awesome display at the Hungaroring, he qualified an amazing 7th and was only denied points by a heartbreaking failure late in the race. Quite why Martini never made it to a top team remains one of the mysteries of late 80s and early 90s F1. He really was a very, very good driver.

The M193 was a handy piece of kit. Fittipaldi, Gounon, Martini and Barbazza shared driving duties. Fourth in South Africa was the highlight of the year.
Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’.

A new dawn in 1994 - the removal of driver aids which had made the job so much more difficult for the little teams. Sadly this didn’t herald a huge improvement in the team’s fortunes. In a time of ever increasing F1 budget and professionalism, Minardi were stuck at the bottom of the financial pile. A neat little car let the ubiquitous Martini - who else? - score 5th in France and Spain, but these and Alboreto’s 6th at Monaco were all that could be achieved. Really, 1994 was the year when big budgets and top team reliability and technical resources really began to bite the little guys from Faenza.

1995 saw the start of another period of lost years for Minardi. A deal to run Mugen V10 engines was agreed but the Japanese were tempted away at the last minute by TWR Ligier. Minardi fell back on good old Ford V8s but with predictable results in a car designed for a bigger engine. Luca Badoer and Martini gave their all, but to no avail. Replacing Martini after the Italian ran out of cash, Pedro Lamy scored a 6th in Adelaide, but really it was a wasted year. 1995 saw Martini’s final hurrah for the team. A real Minardi hero, he had been their standard bearer for years through thick and thin.

Undaunted, the team carried on regardless. Still with a pretty basic car in 1996, revised from the 95 model, and Ford V8s, Minardi at least had the pleasure of promoting another Italian talent - Giancarlo Fisichella. Fisi and Lamy both looked quite good on occassion, but again the year was largely a write off. On a brighter note, rent-a-driver Giovanni Lavaggi had a moment of comedy in Germany. In qualifing his engine blew and he pulled over to park. Casually stepping out of the car, he stood in the cockpit re-attaching the steering wheel. Meanwhile, flames poured out of the airbox. For what seemed like ages, Lavaggi stood there blissfully unaware that his head was being fried before leaping, Marx Brothers style, into the air and out of the car.

As F1 budgets continued to soar, times were really hard for Minardi in 1997. Using a Hart V10 mainly because it was cheap, Katayama and Trulli made a potentially good line-up. Sadly the car turned out to be indifferent and Trulli was nabbed by Prost to replace the injured Panis. In was drafted Tarso Marques who had starred in a few outings for Minardi in 1996. Sadly neither he nor Katayama could bag any points.

By 1998 things were getting desperate for Minardi. A pretty chunky looking car powered by the chain-driven Ford V10 which had been so unreliable for Stewart in 97 was hardly promising. None the less, Shinji Nakano brought some cash and consistency, while Argentinean Esteban Tuero brought cash and a heavy right foot. Tuero was very much tipped as a star of the future, having been coached by Minardi in a test driver role for a couple of years. He certainly showed potential at times, but in another mystery of F1, announced his retirement from the sport at the tender age of 22(ish!)! Whether he was freaked by a spectacular Suzuka crash or couldn’t handle the attentions of his native Argentina, who knows? Anyway, the end result was nul point again for the guys from Faenza. They were losing touch with the technical and commercial demands of F1. Fortunately, they had a saviour. Gabriele Rumi (previously owner of Fondmetal) bought in to the team, providing finance and technical support, including a state-of-the-art windtunnel.

The dividends showed in 1999. A very professional car was unvieled for Ferrari test driver Badoer and Spanish coming-man Gene. Immediately, and despite its Ford V10, the car was a radical improvement. In fact, when Badoer was injured early in the season, Stephane Sarrazin had a brilliant F1 debut in Brazil (yet another Minardi mystery - how did Sarrazin manage to cock up such a brilliant-looking career?). Finally at the drenched Nurburgring race, Gene scooped Minardi’s first point for aeons with a solid 6th. That, however, was overshadowed by the tragedy that befell Badoer. After a brilliant drive, keeping his head while those around him lost theirs, he found himself in 4th as the race came to a close. Then the gearbox broke. Badoer carefully parked the car and stepped out - and immediately collapsed to the ground in tears. Marshals were unable to console him as he trudged back to the pits weeping. The mechanics, also in tears hoisted him shoulder high and Badoer entered Minardi’s hall of fame as an all time great. This was a man and a team who loved their racing, who would have done anything to get a result like that. The image of him kneeling next to his car as his tears merged with the rain was one of THE pictures of the year - it embodied the spirit and pride of the team and for me, in a rollercoaster of a race and a season, I cried along with Badoer. On a brighter note, Gene’s single point made sure Minardi beat the over-hyped, over-funded and over-confident BAR team, and everyone outside of BAR celebrated that!

The Minardi M02 was a tidy machine, but the perenially underfunded minnows remained scorless despite some impressive performances from Marc Gene. Surprise of the season came at the United States Grand Prix, where Gaston Mazzacane briefly led Mika Hakkinen during the first round of pitstops!
Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’.

2000 and Minardi launched possibly the year’s prettiest car, featuring a tidy needle nose and fluorescent yellow paintjob thanks to Gene’s Telefonica cash. But sadly although the car was fairly effective, its engine was lagging behind. Gene drove very competently but failed to score. Teammate Mazzacane was pretty awful, but is remembered here for one incident - in the rain-hit USGP at Indy, he rose to an almost surreal 2nd place while the big boys messed about choosing tires. For quite a few laps he kept the might McLaren of Hakkinen behind him before he too succumbed to the need for fresh rubber. By now though, Minardi were again in dire straits. Team saviour Gabriele Rumi was dying of cancer and was trying everything he could to sell the team to a responsible partner. Telefonica were lined up to buy the team but a change of management saw them pull out; Mazzacane’s Argentinian sponsors were lined up but declined the deal in the end. Heading into New Year 2001, it seemed as if Minardi’s time had finally come.

Almost at the last second, Aussie entrepreneur Paul Stoddart bought the team for 2001. Again with a neat little car and a smart paintjob, the team (just!) made it onto the grid. But the winter of turmoil and Stoddie’s tight purse strings meant that notwithstanding its great chassis and the talents of Fernando Alonso, the team failed to score points. Alex Yoong came on board at the end of the year and his cash helped the team reach a more solid commercial foundation.

2002 and GLORY GLORY HALLELUJAH!!!!!! Minardi got some points again! Mark Webber, on his debut, in his home race no less, nabbed a brilliant 5th in Australia and immediately entered Minardi’s hall of fame. Aided by a lot of retirements, Webber was the first to admit he got lucky, but none the less, he’d put Minardi back on the score sheet. Tears and champagne flowed at the cheap end of the pits once again. The team failed to score again despite good drives from Webber, but finished ahead of mega buck rivals Toyota in the constructor’s championship.

2003. Another scoreless year, but enlivened by an aggressive driver line up of Brit Justin Wilson and Dutch veteran Jos Verstappen. A highlight was Verstappen’s P1 in Friday qualifying in France, Minardi’s first ever pole position (albeit only provisional!).

Stoddart ran a tight ship, and the cars always looked contemporary, even if technical development was slow. So into 2004, and another inexperienced line up of Gimmi Bruni and Hungarian Zolt Baumgartner. While Gimmi was often the faster driver, too often he gave up during races. Meanwhile, Baumgartner was slow, but tried hard, and was rewarded with a glorious point for 8th at Indy to join the team’s roll of honour.

By 2005, even Stoddie’s enthusiasm and coffers were running dry. Again, inexperienced pay-drivers formed the line up once again, Christjian Albers joined first by Austrian Patrick Freisacher and later by Robert Doorbos. However, a brand-new and very impressive car was unveiled in Imola, and at the US GP Minardi scored its final points. If there was dishonour for all at Indy in 2005, at least it placed Minardi among the points-scorers in its final year. For a couple of seasons Stoddart had been trying to find a responsible partner to pass the team onto, and in Belgium it was confirmed - Red Bull purchased the team, and it was renamed Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006.

Symbolically, Minardi’s last GP was in F1’s brave new world at Shanghai in China. Amid the monumental architecture of the ultra-modern track, located in the world’s fastest-growing economy, the magic took to the track for the last time…

Minardi’s last season was one of their best in recent years, Doornbos and Albers fighting with the Jordans as the season progressed.
Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’.

I loved Minardi. To me they represented all the good things of F1 - the passion, determination, commitment and pride. Having been lucky enough to visit their base in Faenza twice, I’m frankly amazed that they could even build cars for F1, let along race them with some semblance of competitiveness - their HQ is like a glorified shed, so small and basic compared to the rivals in red down the road. OK, Minardi had no cash and frequently looked a bit embarrassing. OK, they p***ed off the big boys from time to time. OK, they got lapped every 10 laps and OK, they had an appalling start/points ratio. But they were among the last remaining of the pure F1 teams. The others are adjuncts to advertising budgets and motor manufacturers. If all the teams went bust tomorrow, what would the various team owners do? Ron? Start an advertising agency? Frank? Start a garage? Flavio? Build a porn empire maybe. Stoddie and GianCarlo? Hell, given half a chance, they’d scam all the cash they could and GO RACING!!!!

RIP MINARDI F1 1985-2005

The Statistical Overview

Starts: 633
First Race: Brazil 1985
Final Race: China 2005
Best Result: 4th (San Marino 1991, Portugal 1991, South Africa 1993)
Laps Completed: 26763
Laps Led: 1
Points Scored: 38 (0.06 per start)
Most Points in a Season: 7 (1993 & 2005)

Succession of Drivers (* represents all-time-legend status!)

Pierluigi Martini - Top scorer for Minardi*
Andrea de Cesaris - Crash-happy Alfa, Jordan and Sauber driver
Allesandro Nannini - Later F1 race winner and DTM super star
Adrian Campos - Later manager of Marc Gene and Fernando Alonso
Lois Perez Sala - Later GT champion
Paulo Barilla - Pasta magnate heir
Gianni Morbidelli - Ferrari test driver and touring car star
Roberto Moreno - Veteran F1 and CART supersub and jack of all trades
Allesandro Zanardi - Double Cart champion, inspirational personality*
Christian Fittipaldi - family footsteps follower, later a Cart star
Jean-Marc Gounon - later GT star
Fabrizzio Barbazza - crazy haired wild man
Michele Alboreto - Ferrari F1 star, Le Mans Winner - RIP, Albo.
Pedro Lamy - Le Mans star
Luca Badoer - Ferrari test driver*
Tarso Marques - Jobbing professional driver
Giovanni Lavaggi - Italian gentleman driver
Giancarlo Fisichella - Race-winning Jordan, Sauber and Renault F1 star*
Jarno Trulli - Monaco GP winner, Toyota star *
Ukyo Katayama - Japanese joker, mountaineer
Esteban Tuero - Argentinean man of mystery, TC2000 star
Shinji Nakano - honourable Japanese rentadriver
Stephane Sarrazin - Erstwhile F3000 star, now tarmac rally ace *
Marc Gene - Honest Spaniard, Williams and Ferrari test driver
Gaston Mazzacane - hopeless rent-a-driver, “The Flying Mullet”
Alex Yoong - Pleasant but slow rent-a-driver
Fernando Alonso - Reigning world champion
Mark Webber - Williams star
Anthony Davidson - ever-hopeful BAR test jockey
Jos Verstappen - legendary journeyman, Jos the Boss*
Justin Wilson - The Flying Giraffe, ChampCar race winner
Nicolas Kiesa - slow Danish rent-a-driver, Monaco F3000 winner
Gianmaria Bruni - rapid but fragile Italian, GP2 leading light
Zsolt Baumgartner - Slow but steady rent-a-driver
Christjian Albers - Moody but rapid rent-a-driver; Midland racer
Patrick Freisacher - Pleasant but less-rapid rent-a-driver
Robert Doornbos - Pleasant AND rapid rent-a-driver; Red Bull fall guy

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