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A Lotus break that came too early



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Roberto Moreno


Lotus-Cosworth 91




1982 Dutch GP


And it almost ended there and then... Roberto Moreno's GP debut (or at least his first go at it) was such a disaster that it took poor Roberto a full five years to return to the F1 tracks.

Moreno was winning in F Atlantic when he received a call-up from Colin Chapman to fill in for the temporarily sidelined Nigel Mansell in the second Lotus at Zandvoort. He received the present as gift from God, not realising his immaturity could only hurt his reputation. It was a typical case of being thrown in at the deep end, and poor "Pupo" duly drowned. It was small consolation that Geoff Lees also qualified well down in France after Mansell's return in Britain proved to be too optimistic.

The next years were spent climbing back up to a decent level, Roberto enjoying the true glory days of his career. In 1984, Moreno finished runner-up to teenage Kiwi Mike Thackwell, the two of them dominating the final European F2 championship in their factory Ralts. A move to Indycars with Rick Galles saw Roberto impress frequently before replacing Pascal Fabre in the bulky AGS-née-Renault for final Grands Prix of 1987. While Fabre had invariably trundled round at the back, racking up Jim Clark Cup points by finishing last in about every race, Moreno managed to haul the slow but reliable JH23 into an amazing point-scoring 6th in Adelaide.

A continuing theme in his career, this performance did not get him into a wanted seat in F1. Revenge was sweet, however, when Moreno took a practically unsponsored Bromley Motorsport-run Reynard 88D to the 1988 F3000 title by winning three early-season races in a row. You would think F1 team bosses would stand in line to capture this giant-killing talent but for some incomprehensible reason Roberto only managed to salvage a drive at Coloni. Again, his occasional superhuman qualifying performances - notably a 15th at Estoril - went unnoticed, leaving the Brazilian to sign up with another backmarker, EuroBrun.

Then, in the autumn of 1990, came Moreno's 15 minutes of fame, finishing second to his childhood friend Nelson Piquet, who had arranged for him to replace the desperately unlucky Sandro Nannini at Benetton for Suzuka. For once, he got signed for a full season by a front-running team but Lady Luck decided he'd had enough good fortune, Moreno being on the wrong end of the decade's most controversial driver swap.