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The hard life of a promising Italian driving for a promising Italian team



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Gianni Morbidelli


BMS Scuderia Italia Dallara-Ford F190




1990 United States GP


Hot from his 1989 Italian F3 title Gianni Morbidelli was drafted in by Scuderia Italia to race in Phoenix alongside Andrea De Cesaris. It was just a two-race deal to replace new signing Emanuele Pirro, who was struck down by a liver problem. The intention was for Gianni to move up to F3000 with Forti Corse, the team that won him the F3 title. Much was expected from the Pesaro-born youngster but inexperience and bad luck in qualifying - of which this picture gives testimony - prevented Morbidelli from qualifying the DFR-engined Dallara.

Team mate Andrea De Cesaris qualified well up in an unbelievable 3rd, however, in front of Jean Alesi's streetwise Tyrrell and behind the even more amazing Pierluigi Martini, lining up his effective Minardi-Ford on the front row next to Berger's Ferrari - the sessions producing quite a remarkable grid in a season about to be dominated by McLarens. The race eventually saw a predictable winner but only after Alesi - who had wonderfully led the first part of the race - stole many hearts by showing little respect for Ayrton Senna, retaking the lead immediately after being passed. Morbidelli made up for the Phoenix fiasco by qualifying a respectable 16th at Interlagos, but the race saw him finish dead last, 7 laps down. From Imola on, Pirro sat in the No.21 Dallara while Morbidelli got stuck in with Forti in F3000, trying to erase his poor F1 debut from memory. He did so by winning the Enna round.

Two late-season appearances for Minardi and a Ferrari test seat saw him net a deal with the little Faenza team for 1991, but the heavy customer Ferrari V12s didn't prove their worth for a team used to build tiny, neat chassis around a small V8. Ferrari itself were in turmoil too in 1991, Gianni literally being thrown in at the deep end at the very wet Australian GP after Ferrari team manager Claudio Lombardi fired Alain Prost for calling his 643 a truck.

Like Nanni Galli in the early seventies, it was Morbidelli's only chance to shine for the Prancing Horse. Gianni did well to score a half point in the rain-shortened race but it didn't provide him with the second Ferrari seat for 1992. This went to Ivan Capelli but in hindsight Morbidelli can't be sorry for that, although another Minardi season with the equally heavy Lambo unit also put paid to his F1 career.

A successful interim year in Italian touring cars produced a drive with Footwork for 1994, the team which was to bring him the rest of his World Championship points, the highlight a podium at the 1995 Australian GP, albeit two laps down on winner Damon Hill. Again, this best result to date, once more at the final race in Adelaide, didn't provide him with opportunities for next season. With one leg already firmly set in touring cars, Morbidelli took the Superturismo route, consigning himself to testing duties for Ferrari.

His Maranello ties were responsible for his last string of appearances in a fragmented F1 career, enabling him to replace Nicola Larini at Sauber in 1997. But he was soundly defeated by team mate Johnny Herbert and thus happy to grab the second BTCC Volvo seat for 1998, Tom Walkinshaw announcing him as the team's big name driver.

It turned out to be a humiliating experience. Being used to rear-wheel drive BMWs, he was unable to adapt to the front-wheel drive S40, with lack of track knowledge hampering his efforts as well. So, while team mate Rickard Rydell went on to win the championship, Gianni was released from his contract at the end of the season. Today, he is settled back into Super Touring and the new Super 2000 touring car formula, with fine results in the Italian and new European championships.

While Dallara continues to be ultra-successful in IRL and F3, and brewed a remarkable Honda test hack, its erstwhile F1 customer Scuderia Italia had an on-and-off history since quitting F1. The team joined forces with Minardi for a season before moving into German Super Touring. For 1999, the team built an all-out attack on the ISRS around star driver Pescatori and a Michelotto-built Ferrari 333SP. After initially losing out to Ferrari rivals JB/JMB they won the series (in its FIA Sportscar Championship guise) in 2001, with Marco Zadra.