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Jack O'Malley's day



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Bruno Giacomelli


Alfa Romeo 179


Watkins Glen


United States GP (5 October 1980)


Bruno Giacomelli, a farmer's son from Brescia, wasn't exactly a rich kid and came up through the lower formulas relatively slowly. He started out in Formula Ford in 1972 but a year later he was drafted into the army and didn't drive at all. He was in F3 for three seasons after that, winning the Monaco F3 race in 1976. He drove F2 for March in 1977 and a few good drives at the end of that season earned him a seat in the March-BMW junior F2 team. He made good use of that, dominating the series by winning eight races in 1978.

McLaren gave him his F1 debut at Monza in 1977, running the same M23 chassis Gilles Villeneuve had used in the Silverstone GP earlier in the season. Bruno's first race wasn't the kind of startling performance as the Canadian's, though. Without doing any passing he climbed to 9th position but then the engine blew up and spread its oil over the track, with Reutemann and Patrese spinning on it and retiring on the spot.

After that McLaren signed Giacomelli up for five more races in 1978. McLaren mechanics jokingly put 'Jack O’Malley' on his M26. At Brands Hatch that season he made the headlines when Niki Lauda (Brabham-Alfa) and Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari) were dicing for the lead as they came up to lap Giacomelli's M26. Bruno unexpectedly took the inside line and Lauda had to take avoiding action. Reutemann took his chances, snipped past and went on to win the race.

In 1979 Bruno was involved in Alfa Romeo's F1 return. The team stepped in halfway through the season but without any decent results that year. During 1980 however, the car, now in Marlboro colours, started to go better and better during the season. Unfortunately disaster struck when first driver Patrick Depailler died in a horrific testing crash at Hockenheim, a huge blow for everybody in the team. But within a few months the future started to look brighter again. Mario Andretti was already signed up to become Alfa's new number-one driver for 1981. But before that 1980 was to be finished on a high. At Imola and Montreal Bruno had promising second row qualifying spots. There was more to come at Watkins Glen, the last race of the season.

During practice, Bruno Giacomelli took pole position, beating the next guy, Nelson Piquet by a healty 0.8s margin. Beating the arch-rival Ferraris hadn't been too much of a problem throughout 1980, with the Prancing Horse team having their worst season in many years, but actually getting pole position was worth some celebrating. But the whole thing didn't seem to upset the Brabham and Williams people: surely the Italian driver wouldn't last for long?

Actually, Bruno drove the race of his life. He had a very good start and led the field through the first corner by several car lenghts. This was the very first time an Alfa was leading a Grand Prix since the early fifties. Giacomelli started to run away immediately from Nelson Piquet in the Brabham BT49 in second, and built up an advantage of 12s. At half distance Alan Jones in the Williams was second after Piquet had spun off the track wit a difficult handling car. Like Giacomelli, Jones ran a fantastic race: he had been in 12th after a desastrous start but gradually moved forward. But out in front Giacomelli seemed to have everything under control. Afterwards Bruno would say there was even more speed in it, he didn't have to push hard at all. So a win seemed to be on the cards. But suddenly, on lap 32 (of 59), the ignition failed. Quietly the red and white Alfa came to a standstill... Alan Jones, who had become world champion a week earlier in Montreal, took the win.

So what happened to Bruno and his career after this? 1981 turned out to be a dismal year. The car was not quick, and he had a lot of retirements, although things started to improve by the end of the season when the team hired Gérard Ducarouge (formerly of Ligier) as their new designer. Bruno ran 3rd for a while at Monza until the gearbox failed, he took 4th in the washed out Canadian GP, and a 3rd a few weeks later at the Las Vegas GP. That was to be his first and only podium of his F1 career. Still, the improvement of form from the Alfas came too late for a disappointed Mario Andretti, who returned to the USA.

1982 was to be Giacomelli's last season at Alfa. Ducarouge had designed the beautiful 182, the last V12-engined Alfa Romeo, and Andrea de Cesaris was Bruno's new team mate. For some reason Bruno was overshadowed by the young Roman a bit too often. The Alfa 182 was a reasonably quick car in several GPs that year, with Andrea picking up pole at Long Beach and collecting a podium at Hockenheim. Bruno, although running second for a few laps in Monaco, was left with only a fifth position at Hockenheim.

He switched to the Toleman team for 1983 but it was not a very successful partnership. By the end of the season, at Brands Hatch, he took his one and only point of the season by finishing sixth. It seemed the end of his F1 career.

But in 1990 we saw a surprise return by Giacomelli to the Grand Prix scene with Life. Not quite unexpectedly it turned out to be a fruitless attempt. Bruno failed to get the car through pre-qualification for even a single time. It was a frustrating time for the Italian. Pretty soon the team closed, and Bruno's GP career with it.