Showing posts with label Formula One. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Formula One. Show all posts

24 January 2023

Davide Valsecchi - racing driver and TV presenter

Double GP2 champion’s track career ended in frustration

Valsecchi was tipped by many for a career in Formula One
Valsecchi was tipped by many for
a career in Formula One
Davide Valsecchi, now a TV commentator but in his racing days rated as one of the best drivers never to be given a chance in Formula One, was born on this day in 1987 in Eupilio, a small town in the lake district of northern Italy.

Valsecchi was twice a champion in GP2, the category just below F1, but despite stints as a test driver and reserve driver for Lotus on the main Grand Prix circuit was never given a chance to compete at the top level. 

Frustrated because he thought he deserved an opportunity, Valsecchi quit the sport but soon forged a career in television coverage of F1, first as an analyst and then as a commentator, becoming a popular figure with viewers for his excitable style.

He also co-presents the Italian version of the hit British car show, Top Gear.

Valsecchi made his debut in the Formula Renault and Formula 3 classes as young as 16, making his Formula 3 debut the same year, although it was not until 2007, having stepped up to Formula Renault 3500, that he celebrated his first race victory.

That came at the Nürburgring in Germany, where he won the second of the two rounds on the same weekend. The other was won by a future four-times F1 world champion, Sebastian Vettel.  

Valsecchi pictured in a Team Lotus Renault in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix
Valsecchi pictured in a Team Lotus Renault
in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix. 
He won races in Monza and Shanghai for the Italian team, Durango, as he moved up to GP2 the following year. 

His breakthrough came after joining iSport International, a British team, for the 2009–10 GP2 Asia Series, which he won, with three races to spare, after achieving three wins and two second places in the first five races of the season.  In the main GP2 series in 2010, victory in the final race of the season enabled him to take eighth in the drivers' championship, his best performance so far.

Valsecchi could not improve on that eighth pace in 2011 but the following season, when 2011 GP2 champion Romain Grosjean stepped up to F1 with Lotus, it was to Valsecchi that Grosjean’s DAMS team turned for a replacement.

He did not let them down, establishing an early championship lead by winning three out of the four races held across two weekends in Bahrain and producing a strong end to the campaign, winning at Monza in his home round of the series to see off rival Luiz Razia and take the title by a 22-point margin.

Valsecchi is noted for his exuberant presenting style
Valsecchi is noted for his
exuberant presenting style
It was the biggest moment of Valsecchi’s career, enabling him to join a list of previous GP2 champions that included Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Timo Glock, Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado and Grosjean, all of whom graduated to F1. 

Having already done some test driving for Lotus at the end of the 2011 season, Valsecchi was hopeful his career would now follow a similar trajectory.  Those hopes rose still more after the conclusion of the GP2 series, when he topped the standings in the F1 Young Driver test. The following March, he and Grosjean shared duties for Lotus at the preseason test sessions in Barcelona.

Yet as the 2013 season proper unfolded, he was unable to displace Grosjean as the number two Lotus driver despite his Swiss-born rival’s erratic form. Later, when No 1 Kimi Räikkönen had to drop out to undergo back surgery, instead of promoting Grosjean and giving Valsecchi the second car, Lotus turned instead to Heikki Kovalainen, telling Valsecchi he was too inexperienced.

Having made his feelings clear on the snub, Valsecchi was not offered anything in 2014 and his F1 career was effectively over before it had begun. 

It was not the end of his association with the sport, however. After landing a job as a race analyst with Sky Sport Italia for their F1 coverage, he was invited to provide colour commentary in 2017 for the international feed of the newly-formed FIA Formula 2 Championship.

His enthusiastic and passionate commentary style immediately gained him a following and today he fronts Sky Sport Italia F1 coverage alongside co-presenter Federica Masolin.

Since 2016, he has hosted Top Gear Italia on the Sky Uno channel, teaming up with Sky Sport Italia’s Moto GP commentator Guido Meda and Joe Bastianich, an American restaurateur who was previously a judge on the Italian version of Masterchef.

A view across Lake Pusiano taken from the  upper slopes of Monte Cornizzolo
A view across Lake Pusiano taken from the 
upper slopes of Monte Cornizzolo
Travel tip:

Eupilio, where Valsecchi was born and still lives, lies on the slopes of Monte Cornizzolo, between the small Segrino and Pusiano lakes of Lombardy, about midway between Como to the west and Lecco to the east. It is a municipality that has existed since 1927, when the villages of Penzano, Carella and Mariaga were merged to form one place.  The name is thought to have its origins in Historia naturalis, the study of natural history by Pliny the Elder written in around 77AD, in which he described a ‘Eupilis Lacus’, taken to be the stretch of water today known as Lake Pusiano, which the area overlooks. The calming peace of the lake is said to influence the slow, rarefied pace of life in the villages around it.  Eupilio has only 2,600 residents yet has five churches built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The area is thought to have been inhabited since approximately 3000BC. Situated about 18km (11 miles) east of Como and 14km (9 miles) west of Lecco, the landscape to the south is the northern edge of the gently hilly Brianza region, while to the north, beyond Lake Segrino, are the first steep slopes of the Pre-Alps.  It is an area popular with walkers.

The Duomo at Monza, home of the fabled Iron Crown
The Duomo at Monza, home
of the fabled Iron Crown
Travel tip:

The city of Monza is famous for its Grand Prix motor racing circuit, where Valsecchio numbered two important victories in his career. The city is also home to the Iron Crown of Lombardy - the Corona Ferrea - a circlet of gold with a central iron band, which according to legend, was beaten out of a nail from Christ’s true cross and was found by Saint Helena in the Holy Land. The crown is believed to have been given to the city of Monza in the sixth century and is kept in a chapel in the 13th century Basilica of San Giovanni Battista, the city’s cathedral. When Napoleon Bonaparte was declared King of Italy in 1805, he was crowned in the Duomo in Milan and the Iron Crown had to be fetched from Monza before the ceremony. During his coronation, Napoleon is reported to have picked up the precious relic, announced that God had given it to him, and placed it on his own head. 

Also on this day:

41: The assassination of Roman emperor Caligula

1444: The birth of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan

1705: The birth of castrato opera star Farinelli

1916: The birth of actor and writer Arnaldo Foà

1947: The birth of footballer Giorgio Chinaglia


5 October 2021

Andrea De Cesaris - racing driver

Career defined by unwanted record

Andrea De Cesaris at the wheel of the Marlboro  McClaren he drove in his first full F1 season
Andrea De Cesaris at the wheel of the Marlboro 
McClaren he drove in his first full F1 season
The racing driver Andrea De Cesaris, who competed in 15 consecutive Formula One seasons between 1980 and 1994, died on this day in 2014 as a result of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.

De Cesaris, who was 55, lost control of his Suzuki motorcycle on Rome’s orbital motorway, the Grande Raccordo Anulare, and collided with a guard rail.

The Rome-born driver, the son of a tobacco merchant, retired from competition with the unwanted record of having never won a race in 208 Formula One starts, the most by any driver without a victory to his name in the sport’s history.

He needed no second invitation to hit the accelerator on the track but his daring often veered towards the wild and erratic and had a reputation for being accident prone, putting not only himself but other drivers at risk.  A facial tic reinforced the perception of some rivals that he was slightly mad.

His tendency to drive into trouble gave him a number of other records he would have preferred not to have earned: the most consecutive non-finishes, 18 between 1985 and 1986, although that includes mechanical failures, the most successive non-finishes in a single season, 12 in 1987, when he also set the record for the most non-finishes in a single, 16-race season, at 14. 

De Cesaris raced for 15 seasons in Formula 1 but never won
De Cesaris raced for 15 seasons
in Formula 1 but never won 
The pattern was set in 1981 - his first full season in F1 - driving for McLaren after forging a strong personal relationship with the Philip Morris tobacco company during their promotion of the Marlboro brand.  De Cesaris was involved in 19 crashes in practice and competition, most of them ascribed to human error.  He finished only six of the 14 races that he started.

The British-based team, which ran him alongside John Watson, a five-time GP winner, did not extend his contract beyond the 1981 season.

Yet, having entered F1 with a record of success in karting, Formula Three and Formula Two, De Cesaris was never without a team.

In all, he represented 10 teams during his career and in only one season, when he drove for Minardi in 1986, did he fail to register a point.

His best years came with Alfa Romeo in 1982 and 1983, when he achieved three of his five career podium finishes.

In 1982, De Cesaris became at 23 the youngest man ever to take pole position at the Long Beach Grand Prix, which made him only the second Alfa Romeo driver to capture a pole in 30 years.  In the same season he finished third in the Monaco GP and sixth in the Canadian GP in Montreal.

He might have claimed second place in Monaco had he not ran out of fuel on the last lap when in a position to potentially pass Didier Peroni.

De Cesaris driving a Sauber in the 1994 British Grand Prix in his final competitive season
De Cesaris driving for Sauber in the 1994 British
Grand Prix in his final competitive season
At Spa the following year he led the Belgian GP for half the race, and set the fastest lap, before his engine let him down. Second places at Hockenheim and Kyalami helped him accumulate a career-high 15 points to eighth in the drivers' championship, his best finish.

Alfa's withdrawal after the 1983 season left him without a drive but he was soon hired by Ligier for two seasons, and subsequently represented Minardi, Brabham, Rial, Dallara, Jordan - alongside Michael Schumacher - Tyrrell and Sauber.

Sauber’s car was unreliable and De Cesaris decided to retire at the end of the 1984 season, when he finished sixth in the French GP at Magny-Cours in France but was let down by his engine in failing to finish any of the next seven races.

Away from racing De Cesaris became a successful currency broker in Monte Carlo, a career he combined with a new sporting passion in windsurfing, in pursuit of which he travelled the world.  He bought a house in Hawaii to use as his windsurfing base.

His funeral took place at the church of San Roberto Bellarmino in the Parioli district of Rome.

The now-abandoned Pista d'Oro karting circuit just outside Rome, where De Cesaris once raced
The now-abandoned Pista d'Oro karting circuit
just outside Rome, where De Cesaris once raced
Travel tip:  

Some of De Cesaris’s earliest racing experience was gained at the now-abandoned Pista d’Oro, a karting stadium in Rome where Italian drivers of the calibre of Elio De Angelis, Emanuele Pirro, and Giancarlo Fisichella and even current world champion Lewis Hamilton have competed. The stadium was situated about 20km (12 miles) east of Rome at Tivoli Terme on the Via Tiburtina, which follows the route of the Roman road of the same name that linked Rome with Aternum (the modern Pescara) on the Adriatic coast. It was built by the Roman consul Marcus Valerius Maximus around 286BC, and covered a distance of approximately 200km (124 miles). 

The church of San Roberto Bellarmino in the Parioli district of Rome
The church of San Roberto Bellarmino
in the Parioli district of Rome
Travel tip:

The Parioli district is one of Rome's wealthiest residential neighbourhoods. Located north of the city centre, it is notable for its tree-lined streets and elegant houses, and for some of Rome's finest restaurants. The Auditorium Parco della Musica and the Villa Ada, once the Rome residence of the Italian royal family and surrounded by the second largest park in the city, can also be found within the Parioli district.

Also on this day:

1658: The birth of Mary of Modena, queen consort of England

1712: The birth of painter Francesco Guardi

1928: The birth of painter Alberto Sughi


18 October 2019

Ludovico Scarfiotti - racing driver

Last Italian to win ‘home’ Grand Prix

Ludovico Scarfiotti grew up in a background of cars and racing
Ludovico Scarfiotti grew up in a background
of cars and racing
The racing driver Ludovico Scarfiotti, whose victory in the 1966 Italian Grand Prix at Monza is the last by an Italian, was born on this day in 1933 in Turin.

His success at Monza, where he came home first in a Ferrari one-two with the British driver Mike Parkes, was the first by a home driver for 14 years since Alberto Ascari won the last of his three Italian Grand Prix in 1952.

It was Scarfiotti’s sole victory - indeed, his only top-three finish - in 10 Formula One starts. His competitive career spanned 15 years, ending in tragic circumstances with a fatal crash in 1968, little more than a month after he had come home fourth in the Monaco Grand Prix in a Cooper-BRM.

Scarfiotti in some respects was born to race. His father, Luigi, a deputy in the Italian parliament who made his fortune from cement, had raced for Ferrari as an amateur.  His uncle was Gianni Agnelli, the powerful president of Fiat.

He first raced in 1953 and he won his class in the 1956 Mille Miglia. He joined Ferrari in 1960 and finished fourth on the Targa Florio. Although he subsequently drove for OSCA and Scuderia Serenissima, he returned to Ferrari in 1962 and won the European Hillclimb championship for the marque.

Ludovico Scarfiotti in the Ferrari 312 with which he won the 1966 Italian GP
Ludovico Scarfiotti in the Ferrari 312
with which he won the 1966 Italian GP
By the following year, he had become a key member of Ferrari’s sports car team. That year, he won at both Sebring and Le Mans and finished second on the Targa Florio. He also made his F1 championship debut that year in the Dutch Grand Prix. His sixth place finish made him only the 31st driver to score points on his GP debut.

After suffering leg injuries preparing for the French GP a week later, he announced he would not race again. Nonetheless, he was persuaded to return in 1964 and was again successful in sports cars – winning at the Nürburgring.

In 1965 he was European Hillclimb champion and winner of the Nürburgring 1000km for a second time.  Scarfiotti returned to Ferrari’s F1 team when John Surtees suddenly quit in the middle of 1966.

The victory at Monza, in which he set a track record speed of 136.7mph (220.0 km/h), came in only his fourth world championship start.

Scarfiotti gained more successes racing sports cars in 1967, finishing runner-up at Daytona, Monza and Le Mans. He dead-heated for first place with team-mate Parkes in a non-championship F1 race at Syracuse in Sicily.

He and Ferrari parted company in 1968. Scarfiotti was in demand, however, and he soon secured drives with Porsche in hillclimbs and sports cars and, and became Cooper’s team leader, in F1.

Scarfiotti was only 34 years old when he  was killed in a crash in 1968
Scarfiotti was only 34 years old when he
was killed in a crash in 1968
His death occurred in June of that year at a hillclimbing event at Rossfeld in the German Alps. During trials, he lost control of his Porsche 910, veered off the track and down a tree-covered slope. As the car stopped abruptly, snared by branches, Scarfiotti was thrown out of the cockpit and struck a tree.

He was discovered, badly injured, some 50 yards from his car. He died in an ambulance of numerous fractures. Traces of burned runner along 60 yards (55m) of road close to the crash site indicated that Scarfiotti had slammed on his brakes at the final moment.

He left a wife, Ida Benignetti, and two children from a previous relationship.  He is buried at the Cimitero Monumentale di Torino.

The futuristic Fiat plant in the Lingotto district in Turin,  with its famous rooftop testing track
The futuristic Fiat plant in the Lingotto district in Turin,
with its famous rooftop testing track
Travel tip:

The former Fiat plant in the Lingotto district of Turin was once the largest car factory in the world, built to a linear design by the Futurist architect Giacomo Matte Trucco and featuring a rooftop test track made famous in the Michael Caine movie, The Italian Job. Redesigned by the award-winning contemporary architect Renzo Piano, it now houses concert halls, a theatre, a convention centre, shopping arcades and a hotel, as well as the Automotive Engineering faculty of the Polytechnic University of Turin. The former Mirafiori plant, situated about 3km (2 miles) from the Lingotto facility, is now the Mirafiori Motor Village, where new models from the Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Jeep ranges can be test driven on the plant's former test track.

Monza's Basilica of San Giovanni Battista, which contains the jewel-bedecked Corona Ferrea
Monza's Basilica of San Giovanni Battista, which
contains the jewel-bedecked Corona Ferrea
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.  Monza is a city of just under 125,000 inhabitants about 20km (12 miles) northeast of Milan.

Also on this day:

1634: The birth of composer Luca Giordano

1833: The birth of industrialist Cristoforo Benigno Crespi

2012: The death of cycling great Fiorenzo Magni


13 July 2019

Jarno Trulli - racing driver and winemaker

Ex-Formula One star still winning prizes

Former F1 racing driver Jarno Trulli now produces wine from his Abruzzo vineyard
Former F1 racing driver Jarno Trulli now
produces wine from his Abruzzo vineyard
The racing driver-turned-winemaker Jarno Trulli was born on this day in 1974 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast.

Trulli competed in Formula One from 1997 until 2011, competing in more than 250 Grand Prix.  He enjoyed his most successful season in 2004, when he represented the Mild Seven Renault team and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship.

He retired from racing in 2014-15 to focus on his winemaking business, which he had established while still competing and which now produces more than 1.2 million bottles every year.

Trulli’s Podere Castorani vineyard, situated near the village of Alanno, some 35km (22 miles) inland of Pescara, focuses largely on wines made from Abruzzo’s renowned Montepulciano grapes.

Although he was familiar with vineyards as a boy - his grandfather was a winemaker - Trulli’s parents were motorsports fans and named him after a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycling champion, Jarno Saarinen, who had been killed at the Monza circuit the year before Trulli was born.

Trulli began kart racing at the age of seven and by 17 was Karting World Champion.

The Renault car that Trulli drove to victory at the 2004
Monaco Grand Prix, his only success in Formula 1
He made his debut in Formula Three in 1993 and in 1996, driving for the Benetton-sponsored Opel team, won the German F3 Championship, winning six races from 15 starts.

His F3 success led to him being handed a drive for Minardi in the 1997 F1 season, soon switching to the Prost team to replace an injured driver. He impressed by finishing fourth in the German GP at Hockenheim.

As an F1 driver, he was a respected figure renowned for his skill in qualifying, regularly achieving better grid positions than rivals with superior cars to his own.

On the track, he excelled in a defensive driving style which allowed him successfully to hold off quicker drivers, sometimes for an entire race. Often starting from high grid positions in comparatively slow cars, his skill in denying quicker cars the chance to pass him often resulted in a line of vehicles forming behind him during a race. Commentators began to refer to these lines of frustrated rivals as forming a ‘Trulli Train'.

Trulli was a very capable driver who had a reputation for positioning his car so he could hog the middle ground
Trulli was a very capable driver
 who was difficult to pass
Overall, Trulli’s F1 career was rather unsuccessful.  He was seldom in a car that was competitive enough to be in contention in the closing stages of a race and he managed only 11 podium finishes all told.

He won just one Grand Prix, although it was a memorable one. At Monaco in 2004, driving a Renault, Trulli achieved the first pole position of his career after setting a circuit record for the fastest lap.

Pole position had regularly failed to produce the winner at the Monaco street circuit but in the event Trulli beat the British driver Jenson Button to the first corner and led almost throughout, surrendering first place only briefly - to Michael Schumacher - before coming home almost half a second ahead of Button with Rubens Barrichello third.

It was with the encouragement of his father that Trulli invested in a future in the wine business.

In partnership with his manager, Lucio Cavuto, who also had a winemaking background, Trulli bought the Podere Castorani estate, which dates back to 1793, in 1999.

The label on Trulli's Castorani wines
The label on Trulli's Castorani wines
Between them, the two families invested around £5 million into the business over the next few years, increasing the number of wines in their range year on year and selling more bottles with each vintage.

Podere Castorani wines regularly win prizes and the vineyard was named Winery of the Year in the London Wine Competition in 2018.  Among Trulli's most successful wines are his Jarno Rosso and Majolica, two full-bodied reds made from Montepulciano grapes.

Trulli has generated orders for his company’s wines all over the world, capitalising on his fame as a racing driver by setting up promotion events to coincide with Grand Prix dates.

Married to Barbara, Trulli has two sons, Enzo, born in 2005 and named after Jarno’s father, and Marco, who was born in 2006.

A typical narrow street in medieval Alanno
A typical narrow street in
medieval Alanno
Travel tip:

Alanno is a medieval village situated in the hills between the Cigno stream and the Aterno-Pescara river, some 25km (16 miles) from the ancient city of Chieti. The most important landmark of Alanno is the Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built around 1485, which was built on a sacred site overlooking a valley 3km (2 miles) outside the town. There are also the remains of the village’s castle and medieval walls.  The Wildlife Oasis of Alanno is home to many species of wild birds.

The birthplace of  Gabriele D'Annunzio in Pescara
The birthplace of  Gabriele
D'Annunzio in Pescara
Travel tip:

Pescara, a city of almost 120,000 people on the Adriatic in the Abruzzo region, is known for its 10 miles of clean, sandy beaches, yet is only 50km (31 miles) from the Gran Sasso mountain range, the snow-capped peaks of which are visible even from the coast on a clear winter’s day. The city is the birthplace of the poet, patriot and military leader, Gabriele D’Annunzio. His childhood home, the Casa Natale di Gabriele D’Annunzio, which can be found in the historic centre of the city on the south side of the Fiume Pescara, which bisects the city, houses a museum about his life and works. The Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo has exhibitions on regional industries like ceramics and olive oil. Pieces by Miró and Picasso are on view at the Vittoria Colonna Museum of Modern Art.

More reading:

How Alex Zanardi went from F1 star to paralympic athlete

Giamperi Moretti - racing driver turned entrepreneur

Elio de Angelis, the last of the 'gentleman racers'


17 November 2018

Calisto Tanzi - disgraced businessman

Man at the centre of the Parmalat scandal 

Calisto Tanzi took over his father's grocery store when he was 22 years old
Calisto Tanzi took over his father's grocery
store when he was 22 years old
Calisto Tanzi, the business tycoon jailed for 18 years following the biggest corporate disaster in Italian history, was born on this day in 1938 in Collecchio, a town in Emilia-Romagna, about 13km (8 miles) from the city of Parma.

Tanzi was founder and chief executive of Parmalat, the enormous global food conglomerate that collapsed in 2003 with a staggering €14 billion worth of debt.

Subsequent criminal investigations found that Tanzi, who built the Parmalat empire from the grocery store his father had run in Collecchio, had been misappropriating funds and engaging in fraudulent practices for as much as a decade in order to maintain an appearance of success and prosperity when in fact the business was failing catastrophically.

Of all those hurt by the collapse, the biggest victims were more than 135,000 small investors who had bought bonds in the company, some of them trusting Parmalat with their entire life savings.

Between 2008 and 2010, Tanzi was found guilty by four different courts of fraud, of the fraudulent bankruptcy of Parmalat, the fraudulent bankruptcy of Parmatour, a travel industry subsidiary, and of false accounting at Parma, the football club he owned.

The Parmalat logo became familiar in almost every food store and supermarket across Italy and elsewhere
The Parmalat logo became familiar in almost every
food store and supermarket across Italy and elsewhere
There were several appeals, during which Tanzi, who had been arrested and held in custody immediately following the collapse, was able to continue living on his estate. However, he finally began his sentences in 2011.

The Parmalat story was portrayed as fairy tale of modern Italy. Calisto Tanzi was a 22-year-old university student when his father, Melchiorre, died suddenly in 1961. As the oldest son and out of a sense of duty to the family, Calisto gave up his studies in order to take over his father’s shop.

Family-run grocers were and still are a fixture in Italian high streets. Calisto could have had a comfortable life running such an essential business - but he had bigger ideas.

Parmalat was a major sponsor of sport, including football and Formula One motor racing
Parmalat was a major sponsor of sport, including football
and Formula One motor racing
Anticipating that there was a market in Italy for selling milk that could be kept fresh for an extended period, he acquired premises on the outskirts of Parma in which to set up a pasteurisation plant. He bought packaging from the burgeoning Swedish company, Tetra Pak, sterilized the milk by heating it to extremely high temperatures and sealed it in Tetra Pak's cartons. He came up with the name Parmalat to display on the cartons, turning a basic agricultural product into a unique brand.

The venture was a hue success and soon he diversified into pasta sauce, biscuits, yoghurts, fruit juice and ice cream. White lorries carrying the company’s simple petal logo became a familiar sight on Italy's roads.

Parmalat grew to become the entrepreneurial symbol of Parma, and Tanzi the city's most generous benefactor.  The Tanzi family began to be seen as the Agnellis of Parma and Tanzi was determined to extend his largesse.

The court room at Tanzi's trial, in which he was found guilty of various frauds and jailed for 18 years
The court room at Tanzi's trial, in which he was found
guilty of various frauds and jailed for 18 years
He bought the city’s struggling football team and turned them not only into a force in Serie A but in Europe too.  Parmalat also invested heavily in Formula One, including backing the Austrian driver Niki Lauda.

Tanzi promoted the city's Verdi festival, in honour of the region's most famous composer, and paid for the uncovering and restoration of frescoes in the city's cathedral.

At its peak, Parmalat had more than 5,000 employees in Italy, and more than 30,000 in the rest of the world.  Inside the company, however, things were not as they seemed.

Profits were hit hard by the collapse of Latin American economies during the 1990s, and the problems caused by that were compounded by the threatened bankruptcy of the family travel company, Parmatour. 

But Tanzi tried to pretend all was well. Secretly, he began to remove cash - €500 million by his own admission - from Parmalat to prop up Parmatour. But that was only the start.

Tanzi desperately wanted to maintain the appearance that his business was in good shape when it was actually failing
Tanzi desperately wanted to maintain the appearance that his
business was in good shape when it was actually failing
In the years that followed, in his determination to preserve the illusion of prosperity and not lose face, Tanzi became increasingly reckless, apparently oblivious to the consequences that lies, falsification, forgery and fraud would inevitably bring. Investigators found that he had ordered his accountants to create a complex web of subsidiary companies based in offshore tax havens, which would appear to be holding billions of euros in credits from other Parmalat markets.

It all came crashing down eventually over a sum of just €150 million needed to redeem bonds. One of the company's banks advised them to draw on the €3.95 billion that one subsidiary supposedly had sitting in a Bank of America account in the Cayman Islands. It soon became clear the account did not exist.

In late December 2003, Parmalat filed for bankruptcy protection. The US Securities and Exchange Commission then sued Parmalat, alleging it had wrongfully induced American investors to buy more than $1.5 billion worth of securities. Eventually, Tanzi and others were arrested.

As well as his prison sentence, Tanzi suffered the loss of many of his considerable collection of works of art as paintings by by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and others, worth more than €100 million, were seized by police, despite the efforts of friends to hide them, in order to pay back some of the company's losses. He was also stripped of the honours previously bestowed on him by the Italian government.

The headquarters of Parmalat is still in Collecchio
The headquarters of Parmalat is still in Collecchio
Travel tip:

There is evidence of a settlement in the area of Collecchio since the Paleolithic Age, although it was not until 1796 that it was given the status of a comune.  Its history in the food industry began at the end of the 19th century as a centre for canning and meat products. It became an important centre in the Italian charcuterie industry as well as for dairy products including Parmesan cheese. It is still the headquarters of Parmalat, which was restructured in 2005 and is now a subsidiary of the French group Lactalis. In April 1945, the town was famously liberated from Nazi forces by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in the Battle of Collecchio.

The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma with its beautiful facade
The church of San Giovanni Evangelista
in Parma with its beautiful facade
Travel tip:

Parma is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma until 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio. Among the main sights is the 11th century Romanesque cathedral and adjoining baptistery, the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, which has a beautiful late Mannerist facade and bell tower, and the Palazzo della Pilotta, which houses the Academy of Fine Arts, the Palatine Library, the National Gallery and an archaeological museum.

More reading:

Nevio Scala - the football manager who brought success to Parma

The mysterious death of Enrico Mattei

Camillo Olivetti - founder of Italy's first typewriter factory

Also on this day:

1494: The death of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

1503: The birth of the Florentine master painter Bronzino

1878: The attempted murder of Umberto I


23 October 2018

Alex Zanardi - racing driver and Paralympian

Crash victim who refused to be beaten

Ex-motor racing champion Alex Zanardi won his first  Paralympic gold medals at the 2012 Games in London
Ex-motor racing champion Alex Zanardi won his first
 Paralympic gold medals at the 2012 Games in London
Alessandro 'Alex’ Zanardi, a title-winning racing driver who lost both legs in an horrific crash but then reinvented himself as a champion Paralympic athlete, was born on this day in 1966 in the small town of Castel Maggiore, just outside Bologna.

Zanardi was twice winner of the CART series - the forerunner of IndyCar championship of which the marquee event is the Indianapolis 500 - and also had five seasons in Formula One.

But in September 2001, after returning to CART following the loss of his contract with the Williams F1 team, Zanardi was competing in the American Memorial race at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz track in Germany when he lost control of his car emerging from a pit stop and was struck side-on by the car of the Canadian driver Alex Tagliani.

The nose of Zanardi’s car was completely severed as Tagliani's car slammed into Zanardi's cockpit, just behind the front wheel, and the Italian driver suffered catastrophic injuries. Rapid medical intervention saved his life after he lost almost 75 per cent of his blood volume but both legs had to be amputated, one at the thigh and the other at the knee.

Zanardi driving for the Williams F1 team at the 1999 Canada Grand Prix in Montreal
Zanardi driving for the Williams F1 team at the 1999
Canada Grand Prix in Montreal
For most drivers, it would have been the end of their career yet Zanardi, although he would never compete in open wheel racing again, fought back from his injuries, learned how to use prosthetic legs he designed himself and, within just 19 months of his accident, was back behind the wheel.

Extraordinarily, he first returned to Lausitz in a gesture of defiance, completing the 13 laps that remained of his fateful 2001 race in a car adapted with hand-operated brake and accelerator controls.

But this was to be no belated farewell to his sport. Noting that his lap times were fast enough to have put him fifth on the grid of the 2003 German 500 event that followed his appearance on the track, Zanardi plotted a comeback.

In a touring car modified to allow the use of prosthetic feet, he made his comeback in a competitive race in October 2003 in a European Touring Car Championship race at Monza and finished seventh. The following season Zanardi returned to racing full-time, driving for Roberto Ravaglia's BMW Team Italy-Spain. 

Zanardi in action for the Italian team at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he won two gold medals
Zanardi in action for the Italian team at the 2016 Paralympics
in Rio de Janeiro, where he won two gold medals
The series evolved into the World Touring Car Championship in 2005 and Zanardi was to race for BMW for five seasons. Incredibly, he won four races, his first coming in August 2005 at Oschersleben in Germany, no more than 220km (137 miles) from Lausitz.

If that were not enough proof of his extraordinary and undiminished zest for competition, halfway through his five seasons with BMW, Zanardi took up handcycling, a Paralympic sport in which paraplegic athletes race one another in a kind of high-tech tricycle.

He finished fourth in the handcycle category at the New York Marathon of 2007 after just four weeks of training

In 2009 he won the Venice Marathon in the category for the disabled, riding his wheelchair in 1hr 13 mins 56 secs and the 2010 Rome City Marathon in 1:15.53. In 2011, at his fourth attempt, Zanardi won the New York Marathon in his handcycling class.

Zanardi drove in the World Touring Car Championships for BMW after his crash
Zanardi drove in the World Touring Car
Championships for BMW after his crash
Selected for the Italian team at the 2012 London Paralympics, Zanardi won gold in the men's road time trial H4 by a margin of 27.14 seconds as well as the individual H4 road race, plus a silver medal for Italy in the mixed team relay H1-4.  These events took place at Brands Hatch, a motor racing circuit where Zanardi had previously competed in a car.

Zanardi has won an impressive 10 gold medals at four World Championships and picked up two more golds - in the H5 road time trial and the H2-5 mixed team replay - at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

He has also become a major force in Ironman events and only last month set a world record for a disabled athlete en route to an amazing fifth place overall at the Ironman Italy Emilia-Romagna.  Taking on 2700 mainly able-bodied athletes, he completed the course - made up of a 3.8km (2.4 miles) sea swim, 180km (112 miles) of handcycling and a 42.2km (26.2 miles) wheelchair marathon - a time of 08:26.06, smashing his own world record, set in Barcelona, by more than half an hour.

His Barcelona time of 08:58.59 had made him the first disabled athlete to complete an Ironman triathlon in less than nine hours.

Born into a working class family in Castel Maggiore, Zanardi began racing go-karts at the age of 13, his father, Dino, having been persuaded it was safer than allowing him to ride a motorcycle on public roads.

He stepped up to Formula Three car racing in 1988 and won his first important title in 1990, moving into F1 the following year. His F1 career was the least successful of all his ventures, yielding just one point from his sole podium finish in 41 starts.

Zanardi, who suffered tragedy as a child when his sister, Cristina, died in a road accident, has been married since 1996 to Daniela. They have a son, Niccolò, who was born three years before his accident. He has co-written two books about his life -  Alex Zanardi: My Story (2004) and Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory (2004).

The Villa Zarri, in Castel Maggiore, is now the home to a distillery producing some of Italy's finest brandy
The Villa Zarri, in Castel Maggiore, is now the home
to a distillery producing some of Italy's finest brandy
Travel tip:

Castel Maggiore, where Zanardi was born, is a municipality of more than 18,000 inhabitants that was formerly known as Castaniolo. Its origins are Roman and it did not become Castel Maggiore until the early 1800s, when workshops opened to make agricultural machinery and tools.  The surrounding countryside is notable for a number of beautiful private villas built for the ancient noble families of the area, including Villa Zarri, now a renowned brandy distillery.

Bologna's Piazza Maggiore with the Basilica San Petronio
Bologna's Piazza Maggiore with the Basilica San Petronio
Travel Tip:

The history of Bologna itself can be traced back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier, with a settlement that was developed into an urban area by the Etruscans, the Celts and the Romans.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, the largest brick built church in the world.

More reading:

How Riccardo Patrese became a key figure in the glory years of Williams F1

The brilliance of Mario Andretti, conqueror of F1 and IndyCar

Elio de Angelis - the last of the 'gentleman racers'

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of St John of Capistrano

1457: The Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari, is thrown out of office


20 July 2018

Giovanna Amati - racing driver

Kidnap survivor who drove in Formula One

Giovanna Amati survived a 75-day kidnap ordeal when she was 18 years old
Giovanna Amati survived a 75-day kidnap
ordeal when she was 18 years old
Racing driver Giovanna Amati, the last female to have been entered for a Formula One Grand Prix, was born on this day in 1959 in Rome.

The story of Amati’s signing for the Brabham F1 team in 1992 was all the more remarkable for the fact that 14 years earlier, as an 18-year-old girl, she had been kidnapped by a ransom gang and held for 75 days in a wooden cage.

Kidnaps happened with alarming frequency in Italy in 1970s, a period marked by social unrest and acts of violence committed by political extremists, often referred to as the Years of Lead. Young people with rich parents were often the targets and Amati, whose father Giovanni was a wealthy industrialist who owned a chain of cinemas, fitted the bill.

She was snatched outside the family’s villa in Rome in February 1978 and held first in a house only a short distance away and then at a secret location, where she was physically abused and threatened with having her ear cut off while her captors negotiated with her 72-year-old father.

Critics accused Brabham of hiring  Amati as a publicity stunt
Critics accused Brabham of hiring
Amati as a publicity stunt
Eventually, Giovanni is said to have paid 800 million lira (about $933,000 dollars), for her release, having raised the money through a combination of box office receipts from the Star Wars movie playing at his cinemas, and from the sale of some of his 42-year-old former actress wife’s jewellery.

Seven of the kidnappers were arrested but the ringleader, a gangster from Marseille called Jean Daniel Nieto, evaded the police and got away. He was caught later after contacting Amati, with whom he had allegedly become infatuated, and agreeing to meet her on the fashionable Via Vittorio Veneto in the centre of Rome.

Amati, who has dismissed as untrue newspaper stories at the time that she and Nieto had become romantically involved, returned to normal life and the love of driving she had developed as an eight-year-old, when her father allowed her to drive a tractor on the family estate.

She bought a Honda motorcycle when she was 15 and was inspired to race cars by her friend, the dashing young Roman racing driver Elio de Angelis, with whom she attended a motor racing school.

She first raced professionally in the Formula Abarth series - effectively Formula Four - before graduating to Formula Three. She won some races in both yet it still came as something of bombshell when she was contacted by the then-Brabham boss Bernie Ecclestone in January 1992 and offered a drive in Formula One.

Giovanna Amati failed to qualify in any of the three Grand Prix she entered
Giovanna Amati failed to qualify in each of
the three Grand Prix she entered
With only weeks to raise the budget she needed to take up the offer, Amati feared she would have to turn down the chance of a lifetime. But at the 11th hour her dream was made possible by an unlikely benefactor, the prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, who had been a friend of her father, by then passed away.

Sadly, her excursion into F1 was not a success.  She failed to qualify for the first three races of the season, in South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, and was promptly sacked, to be replaced by Damon Hill, amid suspicions that, at a time when the Brabham team was desperately in need of exposure and cash, hiring a driver who happened to be an attractive, photogenic young woman was all a publicity stunt.

It was not the end of Amati’s career. She competed in sports and touring cars for a number of years with some success but by the end of the 1990s she was more often sitting alongside TV commentary teams than in the cockpit of a car.  Her compatriot, Lella Lombardi, who started 12 World Championship races between 1974 and 1976, remains in the last female to race in a Formula One Grand Prix.

The Vallelunga autodrome was the home of the Rome Grand Prix between 1925 and 1991
The Vallelunga autodrome was the home of the Rome
Grand Prix between 1925 and 1991
Travel tip:

Racing drivers in Rome have never had their own home Formula One event but a Rome Grand Prix took place at the Vallelunga circuit between 1925 and 1991. The Vallelunga track is near the town of Campagnano, about 32km (20 miles) north of Rome. It still hosts race meetings and is used by various F1 teams for testing. The city did almost get its first F1 World Championship event in 2013, when plans had been put forward for a street circuit in the EUR district of the city. The idea was eventually abandoned through lack of support and amid fears that it would undermine the supremacy of Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix, as Italy’s number one racing circuit.

Monza's striking Duomo is one of a number of attractive architectural features in the city
Monza's striking Duomo is one of a number of
attractive architectural features in the city
Travel tip:

Monza, which has hosted the Italian Grand Prix every year since 1950, is situated about 15km (9 miles) north of Milan.  Because so many visitors are interested in little more than cars, Monza’s many notable architectural attractions tend to be under-appreciated. These include the Gothic Duomo, with its white-and-green banded facade, which contains the Corona Ferrea (Iron Crown), which according to legend features one of the nails from the Crucifixion. The crown is on show in the chapel dedicated to the Lombard queen Theodolinda.  The adjoining Museo e Tesoro del Duomo contains one of the greatest collections of religious art in Europe.

More reading:

How Lella Lombardi became the only female racing driver to win a point in a Formula One GP

Maria Teresa de Filippis - the first woman to start a Formula One world championship event

Elio de Angelis - the last of the 'gentleman racers'

Also on this day:

1890: The birth of 20th century still life 'master' Giorgio Morandi

1937: The death of radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi


17 April 2018

Riccardo Patrese - racing driver

Former Williams ace was first in Formula One to start 250 races

Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and  impetuous at the start of his career
Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and
impetuous at the start of his career
The racing driver Riccardo Patrese, who for 15 years was the only Formula One driver to have started more than 250 Grand Prix races, was born on this day in 1954 in Padua.

The former Williams driver reached the milestone in the German Grand Prix of 1993, having three years earlier been the first to make 200 starts.

Patrese retired at the end of the 1993 season with his total on 256 and his  record of longevity was not surpassed until 2008, when the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello made his 257th start at the Turkish Grand Prix.

Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher passed 250 two years later and Patrese’s total has now been exceeded by six drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa having all joined the 250 club.

Patrese also became famous for an unwanted record, having gone more than six years between his second Grand Prix victory in Formula One, in the 1983 South African GP, and his third, in the San Marino GP of 1990.

He enjoyed his most successful years while driving for Williams between 1987 and 1992, finishing third in the drivers’ championship in 1989 and 1991 and runner-up in 1992, albeit a long way behind that season’s champion, his Williams team-mate Nigel Mansell.

Patrese scored four of his six Grand Prix wins during that period, when he was also runner-up no fewer than 12 times.

Patrese became a key figure in the  successful years of the Williams team
Patrese became a key figure in the
successful years of the Williams team
A former world karting champion - he had started in karting at the age of nine - Patrese began his motor racing career in 1975.  Impetuous and brash, characteristics that did not endear him to some of his rivals and colleagues, he nonetheless had exceptional talent and was a dual Formula Three champion in only his second season on the track, winning both the Italian and European titles.

He made his debut at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix with the Shadow racing team, switching later in the year to Arrows, for whom he almost won the 1978 South African Grand Prix, which he was leading when an engine failure forced him to retire 15 laps from the end.

But his early career was overshadowed by controversy following the death of the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson following a pile-up soon after the start of the Italian Grand Prix later in the 1978 season, when the cars driven by Peterson and James Hunt came together, sending Peterson’s car into the barriers, where it broke in two and caught fire.

Peterson appeared to have escaped serious injury but while he was in hospital recovering from surgery on a broken leg he developed a blood clot and died. Hunt blamed Patrese, whose car had gone off onto the grass and rejoined the race moments before the collision.

Together with a race official, Patrese stood trial in 1981 over Peterson’s death but was found not guilty.

Patrese scored his first Grand Prix wins after joining Brabham, although his maiden success at the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix was somewhat fortuitous. He spun off while in the lead just two laps from the finish, which seemed to have put paid to his chance, but then three cars in front of him sensationally dropped out, one from engine failure, a second in a crash and a third, his fellow Italian Andrea de Cesaris, because he ran out of fuel.

Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the
Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
His second victory came in the South African Grand Prix in 1983, when his Brabham teammate Nelson Piquet, who needed only to finish in the top four to be confirmed as world champion, cautiously dropped his pace in the closing stages.

Then came the long wait for a third success as two seasons with Alfa Romeo and two more with Brabham yielded nothing but frustration. His move to Williams to be Nigel Mansell’s teammate in 1988 surprised the motor racing world but proved to be the break Patrese needed.

He got on well with the Renault engine and after a string of podium finishes in 1989 he ended his long drought by winning in San Marino in 1990. He collected more wins in Mexico and Portugal in 1991 and scored his final success in 1992 in Japan, before concluding his career alongside Schumacher at Benetton.

Patrese’s later successes largely repaired the reputation damaged by the Peterson incident, although BBC television viewers became used to Hunt routinely referring to the controversy and what he thought of the Italian whenever he commentated on a Patrese race.

After retiring from F1 Patrese drove in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1997 and finished third in a Grand Prix Masters race in 2005, again coming in behind Nigel Mansell.

A former schoolboy swimming champion and successful skier, Patrese remains involved with sport. One of his twin daughters, Beatrice, is an international class equestrian and his youngest son, Lorenzo, has followed his father into karting, with ambitions to become a Formula One driver.

Patrese himself now rides and has a stable of horses. He still lives with his family in Padua.

Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Travel tip:

Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. His scenes depicting the lives of Mary and Joseph, painted between 1303 and 1305, are considered his greatest achievement and one of the world’s most important works of art.

Monza's 14th century Duomo
Monza's 14th century Duomo
Travel tip:

Monza, the Lombardy city best known for its motor racing circuit, has been the home of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix every year bar one since 1950.  The city has other attractions, including a 14th century Duomo, built in Romanesque-Gothic style with a black and white marble facade, and the church of Santa Maria in Strada, also built in the 14th century, which has a facade in terracotta. The Royal Villa, on the banks of the Lambro river, dates back to the 18th century, when Monza was part of the Austrian Empire.

More reading:

Alberto Ascari, one of Italy's Formula One pioneers

Flavio Briatore, the entrepreneur behind the Benetton team

Lella Lombardi, the only woman to win points in a Formula One Grand Prix

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of astronomer Giovanni Riccioli

1927: The birth of the vivacious operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti