Showing posts with label Lotus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lotus. 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


26 March 2017

Elio de Angelis - racing driver

The 'last gentleman racer' of Formula One

Elio de Angelis drove for Lotus for six seasons
Elio de Angelis drove for Lotus for six seasons
The Formula One motor racing driver Elio de Angelis was born on this day in 1958 in Rome.

His record of winning two Grands Prix from 108 career starts in F1 may not look impressive but he was regarded as a talented driver among his peers, holding down a place with Lotus for six consecutive seasons alongside of such talents as Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, both future world champions.

He had his best seasons in 1984 and 1985, which encompassed seven of his nine career podium finishes and in which he finished third and fifth respectively in the drivers' championship standings.

Tragically, he was killed in testing the following year, having left Lotus for Brabham in frustration after perceiving that Senna was being given more favourable treatment.

De Angelis was seen by many in motor racing as "the last of the gentlemen racers."

De Angelis hailed from a wealthy background in Rome
De Angelis hailed from a wealthy
background in Rome
In contrast to his teammate Mansell, who came from a working class background in the West Midlands of England, De Angelis was born into wealth.

His family was long established in the upper echelons of Roman society.  His father, Giulio, ran a successful construction company and raced powerboats, winning many championships in the 1960s and 1970s. Elio was the oldest of his four children.

This glittering pedigree had its disadvantages.  Elio was known to be on the target list for Red Brigades kidnappers and when he returned to Rome to visit his parents he was whisked from the airport in a bulletproof limousine and could not step out even for a pizza without two bodyguards for company.

On the other hand, he was free to indulge himself in whatever entertainment took his fancy.  He skied and played tennis and showed a talent for both, as he did for the piano, which he learned to concert standard.  Perhaps through his father's genes, he also loved speed.

He started karting when he was 14, finishing second in the World Championship in 1975 and winning the European title in 1976.

By the age of 19 he was driving in Formula Three, winning his first race on only his third start at the Mugello circuit near Florence. He then went on to win the Italian Formula Three Championship in 1977.

In 1978 he raced in Formula Two as well as Formula Three, in which his victory in the prestigious Monaco F3 race. That led to a chance to test for the Shadow F1 team.

Ultimately, his father paid for him to race for Shadow, which was not good for Elio's reputation at the start.  Yet his talent shone through and won his respect.

De Angelis in action for Lotus in 1985
De Angelis in action for Lotus in 1985
It also led him to being hired by Colin Chapman to drive for Lotus in 1980 and when, in only his second race, the 21-year-old Elio failed narrowly to become the youngest winner of a Formula One race when he finished second to René Arnoux in Brazil it was clear he was a star in the making.

Off the track he was both envied and admired.  He had style in abundance and any resentment of his privileged background was soon overcome by his easy charm.  He was friendly and respectful towards the other drivers but could also join in the jokes.  And such was his natural talent that he could turn up at the last minute for a qualifying session, sometimes so disorganised he might have to borrow a helmet from another driver, yet still set the fastest lap time.

His first victory came in the Austrian Grand Prix in 1982 and he finished ahead of Mansell in the drivers' standings all but the 1983 season, when his car was plagued by mechanical problems.

The 1985 season brought a second Grand Prix victory for De Angelis at San Marino after Alain Prost took the chequered flag first but was subsequently disqualified for an underweight car.  However, the arrival of Senna in place of Mansell, who had gone to Williams, marked a change in fortunes for the Italian.

Senna finished fourth to his fifth in the drivers' championship, despite De Angelis maintaining the consistency he and his car had shown in 1984, and when Lotus appeared to be concentrating their resources and expertise on the Brazilian driver De Angelis began to look elsewhere.

His move to Brabham seemed full of promise, giving him the chance to drive the BT55, a new low-frame chassis car designed to create less drag.  After only four races, however, during testing at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, De Angelis's BT55 lost its rear wing at high speed, catapulted over a barrier and caught fire.

The driver's physical injuries were minor but he was unable to escape from the car unaided. He died just over a day later from the affects of smoke inhalation. The lack of qualified track marshalls on hand, combined with a delay in the arrival of a helicopter to take him to hospital, were said to have contributed to his death.

Monza's duomo, with its white and green facade
Monza's Duomo, with its white and green facade
Travel tip:

Formula One motor racing in Italy is about Monza, which has hosted the Italian Grand Prix every year since 1950. The city itself - situated about 15km (9 miles) north of Milan - is underappreciated. It has several notable architectural attractions, including the Gothic Duomo, with its white-and-green banded facade, which contain 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.

TripAdvisor's lowdown on the best hotels in Monza

The view across Rome from Monte Mario
The view across Rome from Monte Mario
Travel tip:

There are many ways of enjoying Rome, but to appreciate the city in its full perspective, the Monte Mario natural park offers breathtaking views. Situated to the west of the city, it is the highest point of Rome and it is possible to pick out almost every notable dome and bell tower. The most popular panoramic terrace, called Zodiaco, is near the astronomical observatory.

Hotels in Rome by

More reading:

How Michele Alboreto almost ended Italy's long F1 drought

Vittorio Grigolo - the singer who chose opera over F1

Luigi Fagioli - still F1's oldest winning driver