Showing posts with label Monza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monza. 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


9 September 2019

Francesco Carrozzini - director and photographer

Famous for portraits of wealthy and famous

Francesco Carrozzini has photographed many celebrities from the world of movies, music and the arts
Francesco Carrozzini has photographed many celebrities
from the world of movies, music and the arts
The American-based director and photographer Francesco Carrozzini was born on this day in 1982 in Monza, Italy.

The son of the late former editor-in-chief of the Italian edition of Vogue magazine, Franca Sozzani, Carrozzini has directed many music videos and documentary films and a small number of feature-length movies, including one about the life of his mother.

In photography, he has become best known for his portraits of the rich and famous, including actors such as Robert De Niro and Cate Blanchett, models including Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, musicians such as Lana Del Ray and Kanye West, and artists including Jeff Koons and Andres Serrano.

Carrozzini has also photographed a number of political leaders, including the former British prime minister Tony Blair, ex-Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg and former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

He is a founder of the Franca Sozzani Fund for Preventive Genomics, which he helped create following the death of his mother at the age of 66 from a rare form of cancer.

Carrozzini's mother was the fashion magazine editor Franca Sozzani
Carrozzini's mother was the fashion
magazine editor Franca Sozzani
Franca Sozzani’s prominence in the fashion and magazine industry meant that Carrozzini grew up in a house he described as being filled with creative energy. Sozzani gave her photographers a level of creative freedom that at the time was almost unique to Vogue Italia and, influenced by their work, Carrozzini began taking pictures and making short films in his early teens.

In 1999, he moved to the United States to study film at the University of California in Los Angeles before returning to Italy to study philosophy at the University of Milan. 

He embarked on his first commercial assignment, directing a 30-second video promoting Italian MTV, at the age of 19.

Indeed, film became his preoccupation from his early 20s, when his work ranged from a promotional film for the Venice Biennale and a documentary about a Polish theatre group to a short thriller set in New York’s reputedly haunted Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street.

Soon, he became sought after by commercial clients such as Apple Music, Fiat, Tommy Hilfiger and Ray Ban, and musicians such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Lenny Kravitz, for whom he directed music videos.  He has been based in New York since 2004.

Carrozzini began working on his film about his mother in 2010. The project was a documentary focusing on her life and legacy, highlighting the accomplishments of Sozzani's career while also exploring his relationship with her.

Carrozzini's portrait of the actor Robert De Niro
Carrozzini's portrait of the actor Robert De Niro
The film, entitled Franca: Chaos and Creation, took him around six years to finish. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2016, just three months before she died, following a long period undergoing treatment for her cancer.

In March 2017, the film was honored with a Nastro d'Argento presented by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

After his mother’s death, from a form of cancer that might have been prevented with earlier medical surveillance, Corrazzini joined Harvard geneticist Robert C Green and private investors in launching the Franca Sozzani Fund for Preventive Genomics in the hope of improving the reach of preventive genomics, which uses genetic sequencing to predict disease.

Carrozzini is married to Bee Shaffer, the daughter of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and child psychiatrist David Shaffer.

The grand Villa Reale in Monza, built in the late 18th  century for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria
The grand Villa Reale in Monza, built in the late 18th
century for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria
Travel tip:

Monza, a city of just under 125,000 inhabitants about 20km (12 miles) northeast of Milan, is best known for its international motor racing circuit, the home of the Formula One Italian Grand Prix. Yet the city itself is well worth visiting in its own right, one of the highlights being the 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 Giuseppe Piermarini at the end of the 18th Century, which has a sumptuous interior and a court theatre.

Part of the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposa in Mantua's Palazzo Ducale, decorated by Andrea Mantegna
Part of the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposa in Mantua's
Palazzo Ducale, decorated by Andrea Mantegna
Travel tip:

Carrozzini’s mother, Franca Sozzani, came from Mantua, an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, about 180km (112 miles) to the southeast of Milan, surrounded on three sides by a broad stretch of the Mincio river, which has always limited its growth, making it an easy place for tourists to look round. At the Renaissance heart of the city is Piazza Mantegna, where the 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea houses the tomb of the artist, Andrea Mantegna.  Mantua’s Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, contains some of the finest examples of Mantegna’s frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi.

More reading:

How Franca Sozzani changed the world of fashion publishing

Mimmo Jodice: Photography meets metaphysical art

The girl who inherited the Versace fashion empire

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of writer and translator Cesare Pavese

1918: The birth of Italy's ninth president, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro

1943: Allied troops land at Salerno on the Italian mainland


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'


13 August 2018

Camillo Olivetti - electrical engineer

Founder of Italy’s first typewriter factory

Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the time he handed the reins to son Adriano
Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the
time he handed the reins to son Adriano
The electrical engineer Camillo Olivetti, who opened Italy’s first typewriter factory and founded a company that would become a major player in electronic business technology, was born on this day in 1868 in Ivrea in Piedmont.

The Olivetti company that later produced Italy’s first electronic computer was developed by Adriano Olivetti, the oldest of Camillo's five children, but it was his father’s vision and enterprise that laid the foundations for the brand’s success and established the Olivetti name.

Camillo came from a Jewish middle-class background. His father, Salvador Benedetto, was a successful merchant. His mother, Elvira, came from a banking family in Modena but her interests were more cultural. She was fluent in four languages.

Elvira had full care of Camillo after Salvador died when the boy was only one and sent him to boarding school in Milan at a young age.  Although his mother’s fluency in four languages was a help - he learned English early in his life - she understood his inclination to work in electronics.

After graduating from the Royal Italian Industrial Museum (later the Polytechnic of Turin) with a diploma in industrial engineering, Camillo broadened his knowledge by travelling. He spent more than a year in London working in an industry that produced electrical instrumentation and later went to the United States with his former university professor, Galileo Ferraris, who in Chicago in 1893 introduced him to his hero, Thomas Edison.

The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo
designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
Olivetti remained in the United States after Ferraris returned to Italy, taking up a position as electrotechnical assistant at Stanford University. 

Back in Italy in 1894, he teamed up with a couple of old college friends in his first business venture, importing typewriters, before deciding to go into production with a factory making electrical measuring instruments, entering into partnership with a number of investors.

The business grew, moving to factories in Milan and then Monza to enable increased production, but Olivetti had disagreements with his investors over how much of their budget should be spent on research, so the venture ended.

Taking 40 workers with him, he then moved back to Ivrea and, in 1908, opened the first dedicated Olivetti typewriter factory, a distinctive building in local Canavese red brick.

The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti
built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The first typewriter produced - from 1911 onwards - was the M1, which Olivetti designed himself based on the knowledge he had acquired in the United States.

At first, production was on a relatively small scale - about 1,000 machines per year - and the business began to grow exponentially only after the First World War, when Olivetti shrewdly diversified into aircraft parts, which were technologically advanced and therefore in constant demand.

When life returned to normal after the war, Olivetti was well placed to expand and developed a much improved typewriter, the M20.  His business model, visionary at the time, included setting up Olivetti branches in Milan and then other Italian cities - and eventually abroad - to provide assistance to customers at local level.

Throughout much of his life, Camillo Olivetti was active politically. As a young man, a socialist by inclination, he was appalled by the what he saw as contempt for working people by the ruling classes and travelled to Milan in 1898 to take part in the so-called bread riots, when soldiers opened fire on protesters, resulting in 500 deaths. Angered by what he had seen, he considered raising his own armed force with the intention of stirring up revolution.

Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns for the workforce and the local community
Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns
for the workforce and the local community
He was dissuaded from such drastic action but spent much of his life campaigning, mainly through newspaper columns, on the side of the working man.  When the Fascists rose to power, he became an outspoken critic of Mussolini’s regime, taking part in a protest in Ivrea in 1924 following the murder of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.

He scaled down his activities only when he began to fear Fascist reprisals against his factory in Ivrea. At one stage, after Mussolini introduced his race laws, Camillo had his family flee the country for their own safety.

Although he was a businessman foremost, he recognised the need for good relationships between employers and workers and supported the establishment of trade unions.

Olivetti would become a famous name worldwide, well-known for its technical excellence and modern designs as Camillo and later Adriano employed many famous designers and architects to work on their products and publicity campaigns, including Ignazio Gardella and Marco Zanuso.

But the company would also be admired for consistent social welfare policies. When Adriano became chairman of the company in 1938, he increases production to around 15,000 machines per year but at the same time, as the town’s biggest employer, instigated projects that would change the face of Ivrea, building schools, houses, roads and recreational facilities.

Camillo died at the age of 75 in 1943, having moved to Biella, not far from the border with Switzerland, in the 1930s because of the anti-Jewish political climate further south.

Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Camillo Olivetti was born and established his business, is a town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, about 50km (31 miles) north of Turin. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a 1st century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. The town’s cathedral, which originated from a church built on the same site in 4th century, itself at the site of a pagan temple, was reconstructed in around 1000 AD in Romanesque style and, in 1785, rebuilt again in a Baroque style. The current neoclassical façade was added in the 19th century. Ivrea hosts an annual carnival before Easter, which includes the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.

The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
Travel tip:

Biella, which sits in the foothill of the Alps, is about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100km (62 miles) west of Milan. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and divided into two districts - Biella-Piano and Biella-Piazzo, which are connected to each other by steep streets and a funicular railway. Biella-Piazzo, the Medieval district, is dominated by the magnificent Palazzo Cisterna. Biella-Piano is the home of the Duomo, the pre-Romanesque Baptistery and a museum of Biellese history.

More reading:

Ignazio Gardella - the modern designer with an eye for the classical

Marco Zanuso, architect and designer who put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

How Karl Zuegg turned the family farm into an international company

Also on this day:

1819: The birth of Risorgimento activist Aurelio Saffi

1912: The birth of award-winning microbiologist Salvador Luria


10 August 2018

Marina Berlusconi - businesswoman

Tycoon’s daughter who heads two of his companies

Marina Berlusconi has been president of her father's Fininvest company since 2005
Marina Berlusconi has been president of her
father's Fininvest company since 2005
Marina Berlusconi, the oldest of business tycoon and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s five children, was born on this day in 1966 in Milan.

Since 2003 she has been chair of Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Italy’s largest publishing company, and since 2005 president of Fininvest, the Berlusconi holding company that is also Mondadori’s parent company.

She is or at times has been a director of several other Berlusconi companies, including Mediaset, Medusa Film, Mediolanum and Mediobanca.  Forbes magazine once described her as the most powerful woman in Italy and one of the 50 most powerful women in the world.

Born Maria Elvira Berlusconi, her mother is Carla Elvira Lucia Dall’Oglio, a woman the businessman met for the first time at a tram stop outside Milan Centrale railway station in 1964 and married the following year, at a time when he was an enterprising but relatively obscure real estate broker.

They were divorced in 1985, much to the disappointment of Marina and her brother, Piersilvio, after their father had begun a relationship with the actress Veronica Lario, who would become his second wife and the mother of his third, fourth and fifth children.

Marina Berlusconi has acquired the reputation of a hard-nosed businesswoman
Marina Berlusconi has acquired the reputation
of a hard-nosed businesswoman
After Silvio Berlusconi had made his fortune from Milano Due, a vast residential area built on cheaply-acquired redundant farmland near the city’s Linate airport, Marina was brought up in the family’s palatial 18th century home, the Villa San Martino, in the town of Arcore, about 25km (16 miles) northeast of Milan.

Educated at Leo Dehon high school in Monza, where she obtained her baccalaureate, Marina began studying law and then political science at university but left without completing her degree and instead began to work in her father’s companies.

She was appointed a vice-president of Fininvest at the age of 29 and was said to be closely involved in the development of financial and economic strategies and in the management of the group. At a time when female figures in Italian boardrooms were rare, she began to gain a reputation as a hard-nosed businesswoman not afraid to back her own instincts.

In 1998, working with her brother Piersilvio, she resisted an attempt by Rupert Murdoch to buy a controlling interest in her father’s TV company Mediaset, the Australian-born media tycoon dropping out after failing to negotiate a reduction in the price she felt the company was worth, when it was thought her father might soften.

In October 2005, she was appointed Fininvest president and chair, having already been given control of Arnoldo Mondadori publishing house following the death of Leonardo Mondadori, the grandson of the company’s founder.

Berlusconi addressing a shareholders' meeting at Mondadori
Berlusconi addressing a shareholders'
meeting at Mondadori
According to Forbes, in 2008 she was the ninth richest heiress in the world, in line to inherit a fortune of 9.4 billion dollars.

In the same year, she married her long-time partner, the former first dancer at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Maurizio Vanadia. They already had two children, Gabriele and Silvio, born respectively in 2002 and 2004.

Marina had been taken with Maurizio after watching him perform in Swan Lake and they met again when he was being treated for an injury by the physiotherapist at her father’s football club, AC Milan.

They were married in a small ceremony in a private chapel within the grounds of the family home at Villa San Martino.

Since 2013, when her father, who has been prime minister of four Italian governments, was barred from public office, there have been several periods of speculation that Marina would move into politics, taking control of her father’s Forza Italia party.

However, she has always denied that she has any political ambitions, despite describing her father as the victim of a witchhunt. In 2017 she said: "I think that the leadership in politics can not be transmitted by investiture or by dynastic succession".

In 2009 the Mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti - a former Berlusconi minister -  awarded her the Gold Medal of the Municipality of Milan as "an example of Milanese excellence in the world and the ability to reconcile professional commitment and family life"

An 18th century painting of the Villa Borromeo-d'Adda
An 18th century painting of the Villa Borromeo-d'Adda
Travel tip:

The town of Arcore in the province of Monza and Brianza probably has Roman origins and two monasteries were established in the area in the Middle Ages. It was not until the 16th century that the town began to develop, when several noble Lombard families, such as the Casati, Durini, Giulini, Vismara, D'Adda, Barbò families, began building villas in the area’s attractive countryside, including the Villa Borromeo-d'Adda, the Villa la Cazzola and the Villa San Martino, which became the Berlusconi family residence. The town’s industrial base developed after Italian unification in 1861 when two railway companies opened stations.

Silvio Berlusconi's palatial home at Arcore, the Villa San Martino, which he bought in 1974
Silvio Berlusconi's palatial home at Arcore, the Villa San
Martino, which he bought in 1974
Travel tip:

The Villa San Martino, on the site of a former Benedictine monastery, was restored as a manor house by the Counts Giulini and substantially rebuilt by the wealthy Casati Stampa family in the 18th century, one of a group of grand farm houses or hunting lodges known as the ville delizie.  It was acquired by Silvio Berlusconi in 1974 when the last Casati owner, having fallen on hard times, decided to sell up and emigrate to Brazil. The 3,500m² villa, complete with art gallery, a library of ten thousand volumes, furniture and a park with stables, was valued at 1.7 billion lire but was reportedly bought by Berlusconi for only 500m lire.

More reading:

The rise of Silvio Berlusconi in business and politics

How Letizia Moratti became the first woman to be head of Rai

The day Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi left office for the last time

Also on this day:

1535: The death of Ippolito de' Medici

2012: The death of Carlo Rambaldi, creator of E.T.


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


11 July 2018

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – painter

Portraits were considered unique in the history of art

Giuseppe Arcimboldo's portrait, in fruit and  vegetables, of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II
Giuseppe Arcimboldo's portrait, in fruit and
vegetables, of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II
The artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created imaginative portrait heads made up entirely of objects such as fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish, died on this day in 1593 in Milan.

Unique at the time, Arcimboldo’s work was greatly admired in the 20th century by artists such as Salvador Dali and his fellow Surrealist painters.

Giuseppe’s father, Biagio Arcimboldo, was also an artist and Giuseppe followed in his footsteps designing stained glass and frescoes for churches.

Arcimboldo (sometimes also known as Arcimboldi) at first painted entirely in the style of the time. His beautiful fresco of the Tree of Jesse can still be seen in the Duomo of Monza.

But in 1562 he abruptly changed his style after moving to Prague to become court painter to the erudite King Rudolph II.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo's self-portrait, now
in the National Gallery in Prague
He began to create human heads, which could be considered as portraits, made up of pieces of fruit and vegetable and other objects, which were chosen for the meaning attributed to the image.

Arcimboldo also painted settings for the court theatre in Prague and he became an expert in illusionist trickery. His paintings contained allegorical meanings, puns and jokes that were appreciated by his contemporaries, but were lost upon later audiences.

His eccentric vision is epitomised in his portraits of Summer and Winter in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

In his painting of The Librarian, painted in about 1566, he was criticising wealthy people who collected books just to own them rather than to read them.

By using everyday objects such as the curtains that created individual study rooms in a library and the animal tails that were used as dusters, it was both a portrait and a still life painting at the same time. It is now in a museum in Stockholm.

Given the Renaissance fascination with puzzles, riddles and the bizarre, it is thought Arcimboldo was catering to the tastes of his time.

Arcimboldo's 1566 painting, The Librarian
Arcimboldo's 1566 painting, The Librarian
His portrait of Rudolph II was taken from the King’s castle in Prague by an invading Swedish army in 1648 and, along with other pieces of Arcimboldo’s work, is now in Sweden. Some of his work has since been completely lost, but Arcimboldo’s remaining paintings in Italy can be found in galleries in Cremona, Brescia and Florence.

The artist came back to live in Milan after retiring from working at the royal court and leaving Prague. He died in his home city in 1593.

It was not until 1885 that an art critic published a monograph on Arcimboldo’s role as a portrait painter.

With the arrival of surrealism in the 20th century, many articles and books were published referring to his work.

Arcimboldo-style fruit people have appeared in books, films and video games subsequently. There is a series of audiobooks with a portrait of William Shakespeare made out of books, similar to Arcimboldo’s Librarian, being used as the logo for the front cover.

Arcimboldo designed stained glass windows for the Milan Duomo
Travel tip:

Milan, where Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born and died, is the capital city of Lombardy. Arcimboldo worked on the Duomo with his father when he was a young man, designing pictures for the stained glass windows, including the one depicting Santa Caterina d’Alessandria. Construction of the Duomo, in Piazza Duomo in the centre of Milan, began in 1386, but the building took almost six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy and the third largest church in the world.

The Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia
The Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia
Travel tip:

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s painting of Spring, painted in 1580, can be seen in the collection of the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia in Lombardy. The gallery in Piazza Moretto in the centre of the town has paintings by many other artists from the region, dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

More reading:

Giorgio de Chirico, Surrealist artist who founded the scuola metafisica

Simonetta Vespucci, the Renaissance beauty every artist wanted to paint

The Futurist art of Luigi Russolo

Also on this day:

1934: The death of fashion designer Giorgio Armani

1576: The death by strangulation of Medici wife Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo


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


20 March 2018

Giampiero Moretti - entrepreneur racing driver

Gentleman racer behind ubiquitous Momo accessories brand

Gianpiero Moretti won the 24 Hours of Daytona at the 15th attempt
Gianpiero Moretti won the 24 Hours of
Daytona at the 15th attempt
Giampiero Moretti, a motor racing enthusiast who made his fortune almost literally by reinventing the wheel, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan.

Known as 'the last of the gentleman racers' because of his unfailing courtesy, refined manners and an unquenchable determination to succeed on the track, Moretti made a profound mark on the sport through his ergonomic rethink of the racecar steering wheel.

Steering wheels were traditionally large and made of steel or polished wood but Moretti saw that reducing the diameter of the wheel would cut the effort needed by the driver to steer the car, helping him conserve energy and creating a more comfortable driving position.  He also covered the wheel with leather to improve the driver's grip, and gave it a contoured surface.

He made the first one for a car he planned to race himself and there was soon interest among other drivers and he began to make more wheels.  His big break came when Ferrari invited him to design a leather wheel for their Formula One car.

Enzo Ferrari himself was a traditionalist who took some persuading that the tried-and-tested old steering wheel was not the best but when his drivers took to it with such enthusiasm he sanctioned its installation in the new Ferrari 158 that John Surtees was to drive in the 1964 F1 season.

The Ferrari 158 in which John Surtees won the 1964 Formula One drivers' championship
The Ferrari 158 in which John Surtees won the 1964
Formula One drivers' championship
Surtees loved it and, as it happened, won his only F1 world title that year, his victories in the German and Italian Grand Prix enabling him to pip his fellow British driver Graham Hill by one point.

Ferrari was sold on Moretti's innovative skills and decided he wanted his steering wheel on all Ferrari cars.

On the back of this encouragement, Moretti acquired a small factory premises near Verona and set up the company, Momo (an amalgam of the first two letters of Moretti and of Monza, the Italian race track), of which Ferrari was the principal client.

Eventually, the company expanded its lines to include helmets, shift knobs, road wheels, fireproof driving suits, gloves and shoes, and branched out into sponsorship and team ownership. Although Moretti sold the company in 1996, its red and yellow logo is still familiar today.

Born into a wealthy Milanese family who owned a large pharmaceuticals business, Moretti caught the racing bug when he was studying for his political science degree at the University of Pavia and soon began taking part in sports car events.

Moretti established the Momo motor racing accessories business in the 1960s
Moretti established the Momo motor racing
accessories business in the 1960s
Although he won from time to time, it was an expensive hobby and it was part to finance his racing without relying on his family's support that he launched his business.

It enabled him to continue to pursue his ultimate dream, which was to win the 24 Hours of Daytona, the prestigous endurance sports car race that takes place in Florida each year.

Having been a fixture at Daytona for many years, racing Porsches and Ferraris and developing close friendships with movie actors such as Gene Hackman and Paul Newman, for whom he would often could pasta dishes in his motorhome, Moretti finally could call himself a winner in 1998, at the 15th attempt.

In their Ferrari 333sp - a car Moretti had persuaded Ferrari to develop specifically to race in the United States - Moretti and his co-drivers, Arie Luyendyk, Didier Theys and Mauro Baldi, recovered from 18 laps behind to take the lead in the final three hours, with Moretti at the wheel to take the chequered flag.

Amazingly, the team also won the 12 Hours of Sebring only a couple of months later, while Moretti partnered another Italian driver, Massimiliano "Mad Max" Papis to win the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, making Moretti the only driver to win all three events in the same year.

Moretti, who never married but had two sons, Matteo and Marco, died in Milan in 2012, at the age of 71.

The chimneys of the cement factory are still a  feature of the Tregnano skyline
The chimneys of the cement factory are still a
feature of the Tregnano skyline
Travel tip:

Moretti established his first factory at Tregnano, a small town outside Verona that for many years enjoyed a thriving economy due to the establishment of a cement factory that at its peak supplied the cement that went into the Ponte della Libertà, the road bridge linking Venice with the mainland that was opened in 1933.  Although the factory closed in 1973, the factory's tall chimneys still exist.  Notable buildings include the 15th century parish church of Santa Maria Assunta and the remains of a castle built between the 11th and 12th centuries.

Visit to find a hotel in Verona

The Duomo at Monza is often overlooked by visitors who flock to the motor racing circuit
The Duomo at Monza is often overlooked by
visitors who flock to the motor racing circuit
Travel tip:

Monza, which is situated about 18km (11 miles) north of Milan, is best known as the home of the Italian Grand Prix, and while the racing circuit within the Parco di Monza to the north of the town attracts thousands of visitors, the town itself is often passed by, despite many historic buildings. These include a beautiful Duomo completed in 1681 with a Baroque facade decorated in Gothic style, the 14th century Arengario civic palace, a magnificent 18th century Royal Villa, designed by Giuseppe Piermarini (of Teatro alla Scala fame) and the Ponte dei Leoni, a bridge of Roman origin.