Pierluigi Martini: Minardi’s soldierWritten by 'Αγγελος Φωτσεινός
Translated by Giannis Binas
In a highly competitive, by its nature, sport, such as Formula 1, the bonds between the team members are continuously tested on every issue that arises.
The most crucial relationship is the one between the team’s owner and the driver, which, as the history of Formula 1 has shown, ends due to different temperaments, discontent for not reaching the wanted results or just by realizing that the troublesome situation leads to nowhere else than a divorce.
Bright exception to the rule on the outcome of the relations between ‘bosses’ and ‘employees’, is the relationship that was formed between Giancarlo Minardi, owner of the homonymous team, and Pierluigi Martini, the driver that was associated with its success.
A ‘commander’ to ‘soldier’ relation, which is, perhaps, the most characteristic example of mutual respect and loyalty.
But let’s start from the beginning.
Pierluigi Martini was born on April 23, 1961, in Lugo of Italy.
His climb up to the ladder of motorsports was as expected for a member of youthful Italians generation, who were dominating the distinctions sheets at supportive leagues.
Thus, his name was in the Formula 1 managers’ lists and the conquest of the European Formula 3 championship in 1983, gave him the opportunity to get a glimpse of the pinnacle of motorsports.
He tested the Brabham BMW BT 52 at the Paul Ricard circuit, at the same test with Ayrton Senna.
His debut to Formula 1 was to take place 1 year later, in front of his compatriots.
Martini would race in Monza, at the Toleman Hart’s cockpit, replacing Senna, who was penalized by the team with a race ban, due to his decision to sign with Lotus, while having a contract with Toleman for the next year.
The Italian’s inexperience had a result to not manage to qualify into the race.
Soon after Monza though, Martini received a proposal by Giancarlo Minardi to race on his behalf in Formula 2.
He was about to become the second Martini to race under Minardi’s directions.
Giancarlo Martini, Pierluigi’s uncle, was racing in Formula 2 during the 70s with Scuderia Everest’s colors, then team of Minardi.
It was the beginning of a bond that would expire no sooner than 11 years later.
In 1985, Minardi decided to take the big step and participate in Formula 1.
Martini’s performance in Formula 2 convinced his compatriot to entrust him the sole single-seater of the new project.
In a year, in which youth problems were way out of the expected context, the Italian measured up, achieving even an 8th place at the Australian GP. Nevertheless, considering he might have had the same fate as many of his compatriots, whose career in Formula 1 met a premature end because of the cars they drove, he took a step backwards.
He would race, for the next two years, in F3000, successor to Formula 2 league, with Minardi supporting this decision.
In the beginning of 1988, Martini returned to the team, this time as a test driver.
The reliability issues were still unsolved but the team’s competitiveness was considerably higher compared to its first year.
Adrian Campos’ failure to qualify for three races in a row (Monaco, Mexico and Canada) put Martini behind the M188’s steering wheel for the race of Detroit. Nobody could imagine any better return to the sport: 16th place in qualifying, 1.5 seconds faster than his team-mate, Luis Perez-Sala, who classified 25th, and 6th in the race, securing the team’s first point in its history.
The year ended with another splendid appearance 97th place at the Australian GP) and 1989 was anticipated with higher expectations.
During the 1st half of the season though, the expectation seemed to be remaining unconfirmed.
Both speed and, mainly, reliability were lacking.
However, things started to change for the next half, starting with the Grand Prix of Britain.
In Silverstone, Martini finished 5th, in front of Sala, marking the first time that two Minardi single-seaters were present in the points.
With this success, they managed to skip participating in the pre-qualifying session, with Onyx ‘loser’ to the matter.
The Italian finished 7th at his home country’s GP in Monza, while at the next race in Estoril, he made history for a second time.
After his 5th place in qualifying, he led for one lap, at the only time that a Minardi would ever lead a race.
Eventually, the end of the Portuguese GP found Martini at the position he started from.
His best race for that season hadn’t arrived yet.
In Adelaide, a circuit in which he had done pretty well, both in 1985, as well as 1988, he qualified 3rd (new record for the team and himself, after Estoril’s 5th position) and after a remarkable appearance under the rain, being in 2nd place for several laps, he crossed the finish line 6th.
He completed the season on 15th place in the drivers’ championship with 5 points and, ahead of 1990, Minardi’s people didn’t want to be contradicted again as in the 1st half of 1989.
The result of the qualifying session of the first race in Phoenix, seemed to completely do justice to them.
Martini took an excellent advantage of the capabilities of Pirelli’s very soft tires and finished the session in 2nd place, less than a tenth behind the poleman, Gerhard Berger.
In other words, the record for the best position in qualifying ‘broke’ a few months after the Australian GP and was destined to be the final one.
Τhe race of Phoenix reflected the image that prevailed throughout the rest of the season: Pirelli’s products were less competitive in the races than in qualifying.
Hence, Martini confided in 7th place (best result of the season) in a disappointing year that was marked by legendary unreliability and zero points.
1991 was beginning with a very important technical change for Minardi.
In order to raise the team’s competitiveness, Giancarlo Minardi came to a deal with Ferrari for the supply of V12 customer engines that would replace Cosworth’s unreliable V8, used for a series of years.
In the cockpit of M191, Martini would achieve another record for the team (the highest finishing position for a Minardi in a race, ever) by classifying twice in 4th place (Imola and Estoril).
The only contingency in a year that everything was going much better than the previous one, was the Italian’s crash with his team-mate, Gianni Morbidelli, at the Spanish GP.
Nevertheless, even though the year ended with Minardi at the highest position ever in the constructors’ championship (7th, thanks to Martini’s 6 points). Minardi didn’t have the financial status to continue affording Ferrari’s V12 for 1992, replacing them with the also V12 engines of Lamborghini.
Martini wanted to give a new start to his career however, and his wish was respected by his compatriot.
Thus, the big opportunity seemed to arise, as he signed with Ferrari.
However, Scuderia signed also with Ivan Capelli and placed Martini at BMS Scuderia Italia that would use Ferrari’s customer engines.
Dallara’s single-seater didn’t grant the ‘credentials’ to the Italian for something better that 2 point finishes (6th in Barcelona and Imola), with his team-mate Jyrki Jarvi Lehto, completing the year without any points.
Martini decided to leave BMS at the end of the year.
His next destination, what else than the Faenza based team.
Minardi welcomed him ‘home’, but the financial problems that came up, created an immediate need for funds.
Pierluigi then, backed off, so that Fabrizio Barbazza would race in his place. Barbazza’s sudden exit, brought Martini back to the cockpit at the British GP.
The free fall in the M193’s performance compared to the first races, didn’t allow the Italian to win any points with the exception of Hungaroring, where he retired.
Highlight of the season, which was meant to be the first year that Minardi’s points wouldn’t come from Martini but the other drivers, was his team-mate, Christian Fittipaldi’s, lift off after their collision in Monza.
In 1994, Minardi’s financial problems, led the team, in order to continue its operations, to merge with the also cash strapped, BMS Scuderia Italia, Martini’s former team.
At the team’s presentation, the atmosphere, in spite of the problems, was excellent, mainly due to the coming to the team of Michele Alboreto, with whom Martini had a close friendship.
Competitiveness evolved in a similar way to the previous year.
Alboreto finished 6th at the grand prix of Monaco and Martini 5th at the next race in Spain.
2 races later, Minardi won its last points for 1994, with Martini finishing 5th once again, at the French GP; his last presence in the points.
In 1995, the team entered a recession cycle.
Martini began the season with test driver for 1994, Luca Badoer, as team-mate, since the veteran Alboreto retired from F1.
The team’s financial status kept worsening and its competitiveness had returned to the first year levels.
Martini finished twice in 7th place (Monaco and Silverstone) and in Hockenheim, he waved goodbye to Formula 1.
The money disposed by Pedro Lamy, offered a breath of fresh air and Martini decided to grant his seat for a second time after 1993.
A few months later, he fulfilled the dream of every Italian driver, driving a Ferrari single-seater.
He drove the 412 T2 at the Fiorano circuit, in a test given as homage to his morals from the team.
Ever since, he followed a successful career in endurance racing, culminating at a victory in the 24 hours of Le Mans.
In the middle of the previous decade, he competed in GP Masters too, an F1 veteran drivers’ championship.
In 2010, Minardi celebrated 35 years of racing presence with an event in Faenza.
Pierluigi Martini, the team’s faithful soldier and holder of all the records in its history, couldn’t be absent from that event.
Active Years: 1985, 1988-1995
Races: 124 (118 starts)
Wins: 0, best position: 4th (Imola-Estoril 1991)
Pole positions: 0, best position: 2nd (Phoenix 1990)
Teams: Toleman, Minardi, BMS Scuderia Italia
Records with Minardi:
-First driver to win points on its behalf
-First in participation number
-Record holder for best position in qualifying and race
- Pierluigi Martini
- Giancarlo Minardi
- Ayrton Senna
- Adrian Campos
- Luis Perez Sala
- Gerhard Berger
- Gianni Morbidelli
- JJ Lehto
- BMS Scuderia Italia
- Fabrizio Barbazza
- Christian Fittipaldi
- Michele Alboreto
- Luca Badoer
- Pedro Lamy
- GP Masters
- Le Mans