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Touted as the next Ascari, but forsake his claim



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Stefano Modena


Brabham-BMW BT56




1987 Australian GP


Adelaide in 1987 saw the F1 debut of Stefano Modena who at the time was regarded at F3000's hottest property.

The Brabham drive (the last one under the ownership of Bernie Ecclestone), in place of Riccardo Patrese who went over to Williams to sub for Nigel Mansell, was a just reward for the young Italian who had just become F3000 champion for Onyx in his first year in the category. Much was expected of him, as everyone regarded him as a special talent who would surely - and finally - be Italy's next World Champion. After an encouraging 15th spot on the grid he retired from exhaustion, showing he did have the talent but not the stamina.

Stefano then spent a tough learning season at the disgraceful EuroBrun outfit, a merger between the Italian Euroracing team and the defunct sportscar team of Swiss Walter Brun. The year was a complete waste of time, with several non-qualifications and even two consecutive exclusions for stupid team errors. A return to the reformed Brabham team for two seasons saw him soldiering on with largely uncompetitive Judd-engined cars, the once great team already firmly on the decline.

For 1991 he finally got the opportunity of a lifetime, joining a Tyrrell on the up, with big-budget Braun sponsorship and a championship-winning engine. Everyone agreed on it: now we would see the real Stefano Modena. The year started off well with fourth in Phoenix, a front-row position in Monaco and second place in Montreal. But that was the last time Stefano was to be seen in the front - lack of development and maybe also a loss of sense of urgency with the driver destroyed the second half of the season.

The moody Modena then dug his grave by signing for Jordan who had committed to the disastrous Yamaha engine. Midfielders at best, both Modena's and team mate Mauricio Gugelmin's F1 careers were over by the end of 1992. Gugelmin sought refuge in Indycars, becoming a winner with the PacWest team and holder of the fastest ever qualifying lap, set at the California Speedway in 1997 with an average speed of 240.942mph.

Modena joined the touring car trail as an Alfa works driver, showing occasional flair in the DTM and ITC. These days he is Alfa's development driver, recently racing the new 156 in the German Super Touring Cup.