At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Michele Alboreto - racing driver

Last Italian to go close to Formula One title 


Michele Alboreto is the last Italian to win a Grand Prix in a Ferrari
Michele Alboreto is the last Italian
to win a Grand Prix in a Ferrari
No Italian motor racing driver has won the Formula One world championship since 1953 but Michele Alboreto, who was born on this day in 1956, went as close as anyone.


Racing for Ferrari, Alboreto finished runner-up in 1985, beaten by just 20 points by Alain Prost. Riccardo Patrese finished second in 1992 but the gap between him and champion Nigel Mansell was a massive 52 points after the British driver won nine Grand Prix victories to Patrese's one.

Patrese was never even in the hunt in 1992 after Mansell began the season with five straight wins.By contrast, Alboreto's 1985 duel with Prost could have gone either way until well into the second half of the campaign. Alboreto scored two race wins and four second places to lead by five points after winning race nine of the 16-race series in Germany.

However, a series of disastrous engine failures late in the season wrecked Alboreto's chance to be the first Italian champion since Alberto Ascari in 1953.

Michele Alboreto during his period driving for Tyrrell
Michele Alboreto during
 his period driving for Tyrrell
Prost won the next race in Austria to draw level and after both finished on the podium in the Netherlands the Frenchman led by just three points with five races left.

Next up was the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and never would a home victory have been cheered so loudly had Alboreto been able to finish in front and regain the initiative. As it was, the Ferrari's reliability suddenly disappeared and Alboreto came home last of the 13 drivers to complete the race.

In the final four events, he was forced to retire each time, unable to secure even a single point.

It was a profound disappointment for the Italian, for whom being hired to drive for Ferrari had been the pinnacle of his career.  Ironically, the appointment came after he had openly criticised owner Enzo Ferrari for failing to hire an Italian driver, arguing that both Patrese and Elio de Angelis were perfectly qualified.

Enzo Ferrari's counter argument was that for Italian drivers there was too much emotion attached to driving the iconic red car and that under the weight of patriotic expectation they were too inclined to let passion get the better of professionalism.

Alboreto at the wheel of the Ferrari in which he  finished runner-up to Alain Prost in 1985
Michele Alboreto at the wheel of the Ferrari in which he
finished runner-up to Prost in the 1985 F1 championship
Yet he was impressed enough with Alboreto's performances with Tyrrell, for whom he won two Grand Prix at Caesar's Palace and Detroit, to be persuaded to take a chance.  Alboreto was an intelligent, gracious and companionable man, hugely popular on the circuit, but had few peers for skill and competitiveness.

Alboreto was born in Milan, where his father was a sales representative and his mother worked for the municipal authority. His career in motorsport began in 1976, racing a car he and a number of his friends had built for the Formula Monza series. Two years later Alboreto moved up to Formula Three and began to enjoy considerable success.

He was runner-up in the Italian Formula Three championship in 1979 and in 1980 won the European Formula Three title that Prost had taken in 1979.  This paved the way for his entrance into F1 with Tyrrell.

In his debut season for Ferrari, Alboreto took victory in the third round in Belgium, where he became the first Italian driver to win an F1 Grand Prix for Ferrari since Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966.  Alboreto finished the 1984 season in fourth place.

After his peak of 1985, however, he never won another race for Ferrari in three seasons, the closest he came being runner-up at Monza to Austrian teammate Gerhard Berger in 1988, an extraordinary result that came days after Enzo Ferrari had died at the age of 90.

Alboreto was driving an Audi R8 when he suffered his fatal crash while testing in Germany
Alboreto was driving an Audi R8 when he suffered his
fatal crash while testing in Germany
The wave of emotion that accompanied the occasion soon faded, however, and Alboreto's drive went to Mansell the following season.

He spent 1989 back with Tyrrell, but thereafter moved from one small team to another, the last of them the low-budget Minardi operation from Faenza, in Emila-Romagna.  From 1995 he concentrated on sports cars, competing in Ferraris, Porsches and then the all-conquering Audi works team.

Victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1997, sharing the wheel of a Porsche with the Swede Stefan Johansson, was the highlight of his post-Formula One career.

He won the Sebring 12-hour race in an Audi R8 in 2001 and that proved to be his last victory.  Two weeks later, while testing the Audi at Lausitzring, near Dresden, in preparation for another attempt at the Le Mans 24 Hours, he suffered fatal injuries when the car left the track, hit a wall and somersaulted several times.

At the request of his wife, Nadia, he was cremated at the Lambrate cemetery in Milan.  Aged just 44 at the time of his death, he left behind two children, Alice and Noemi, as well as countless friends and admirers.  Alboreto remains the last Italian to have won a Grand Prix for Ferrari.

The Basilica of San Giovanni Battista in Monza
The Basilica of San Giovanni Battista in Monza
Travel tip:

Apart from the motor racing circuit, Monza is notable for its 13th century Basilica of San Giovanni Battista, often known as Monza Cathedral, which contains the famous Corona Ferrea or Iron Crown, bearing precious stones.  According to tradition, the crown was found on Jesus's Cross.  Note also the Villa Reale, built in the neoclassical style by Piermarini at the end of the 18th Century, which has a sumptuous interior and a court theatre.

Hotels in Monza by Hotels.com

Travel tip:

The town of Maranello in Emilia-Romagna, about 18km from Modena, would probably have remained relatively anonymous but for the decision taken in the early 1940s by Enzo Ferrari to relocate there after his factory in Modena suffered from repeated bombing raids in the Second World War.  The town houses the Museo Ferrari, which details the history of the company and has many vintage racing and sports cars on display, and is also the starting point for the annual Italian Marathon, which finishes in nearby Carpi.

Hotels in Maranello by Expedia


More reading:


Vittorio Jano - genius designer behind Italy's Formula One success

Luigi Fagioli - Formula One's oldest winner

How little 'Pinin' Farina became a giant of car design

Also on this day:


1896: The birth of writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa


(Picture credits: Ferrari in 1985 by Spurzem; Audi R8 by dro!d; Basilica in Monza by Francescogb; all via Wikimedia Commons)

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