Possessed by the will to carry on
- Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas
- 8W October 1998 issue
- Kauhsen - One of F1's most abysmal efforts, by Mattijs Diepraam
Gianfranco Brancatelli (Arturo Merzario)
1979 Monaco GP (prequalifying)
Not many Italians have basked in the glory of a modern-day Ferrari drive. Michele Alboreto is the one that comes to mind readily and he was lucky to land a competitive Ferrari drive - which you can't say for poor Ivan Capelli. After Ludovico Scarfiotti's famous Monza win there was a time - a long time - in which Enzo didn't appreciate one of his countrymen driving his cars. Arturo Merzario was the exception to a rule which only started working well after Little Art was ousted from the team in turmoil.
For in the early seventies the Scuderia hit one of its customary low patches, with 1973 almost bringing its nadir, the team not even showing up at the 'Ring. With Jacky Ickx grabbing a third McLaren seat for the race the atmosphere in the team was more political than ever. Merzario, who had joined the scarlet team in late 1972, got stuck in the middle and saw a successful sportscar career in the Prancing Horse's 312P combined with being Ickx's Barrichello come to a sorry end.
After being done away by Ferrari Merzario only managed to tumble further down the grid. The next three years his main F1 accomplishment was acting as the only constant factor in Frank Williams' beleaguered team. He shone on occasion - his amazing 3rd qualifying spot at Kyalami 1974 particularly standing out - but his efforts were largely seen to waste.
During 1975 he deserted the team to concentrate on his Alfa sportscar programme while the first half of 1976 saw him take on a works March drive. But alas, Messrs Mosley and Herd proved to be a touch overzealous in trying to field four cars, so in the middle of the season Arturo returned back to the Williams fold. But Frank's team, now taken over by Canadian multi-millionaire Walter Wolf, reached probably the worst period of its existence, and with nowhere left to go after Wolf pulled the plug on his Williams support Merzario decided to run his own team for 1977.
Arturo had kept in touch with March and purchased a March chassis for this purpose. He ran the car in seven GPs on the European continent and accepted a single Shadow outing at Zeltweg, which was overshadowed by Alan Jones' famous win.
As if things hadn't turned sour already he then made the foolish decision to build his own Grand Prix car for next season. The DIY concept might have worked in the sixties but in the DFV kit-car age of the late seventies these projects were facing disaster head-on. The story was no different for the Merzario team, its cars even looking slow from the outset. Still, Arturo hung on to his dream for no apparent reason, choosing to ruin his good name instead of bowing out graciously.
After a terrible first season he decided he hadn't received enough humiliation and embarked on a second mission. But the A2 was even worse than the A1, taking Merzario into further misery when he crashed badly in practice at Zolder. The net result was a broken arm.
So for Monaco Little Art asked young Italian F3 Champion and Kauhsen refugee Gianfranco Brancatelli to do the driving honours, in the process taking over Brancatelli's defunct outfit - lock, stock and barrel.
In the end, there was little driving to do. Of course, 'Branca' failed to prequalify the recalcitrant A2 but what was he to do with such an unwieldy device? After being involved in the doomed Kauhsen project Brancatelli was once again stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Kauhsen and Merzario experiences effectively killed off his F1 hopes and Gianfranco turned to touring cars rather successfully, later to become the 1984 European Champion for Volvo.
Merzario himself made a subdued comeback to the race track a few years ago, nowadays racing Centenari and Debora open-top sportscars in the SR2 class of the ISRS, FIA SportsRacing Cup and FIA Sportscar Championship.