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martini interview


In a special series of features, leading up to the Grand Prix Masters of Great Britain at Silverstone on August 13th, autosport.com talks to the driving masters themselves - about the old days, the new series and their love of motor racing. This week: Pierluigi Martini on driving for Minardi

By Tim Redmayne
autosport.com's international news editor

If you have a think back, there are some pretty big names that drove for that little Italian team called Minardi.

Fernando Alonso. Giancarlo Fisichella. Jarno Trulli. Michele Alboreto. Alex Zanardi. Mark Webber.

Yet none of them are as synonymous with the team as one likeable Italian - Pierluigi Martini.

Martini drove 103 of his 116 Grand Prix starts for the much-missed squad. Let's be honest, if you think of Minardi drivers, you instantly think of Martini.

He scored more points than any other Minardi driver. He had the privilege of leading the constructors' one and only Grand Prix, for just one lap in Estoril in 1989. He had their only front row start, at Phoenix in 1990.

Quite frankly, Martini was Minardi. And he admits it.

"Giancarlo Minardi and I are still good friends," Martini says. "And after 20 years I survive as the driver that drove for Minardi. Nobody remembers Alonso or Fisichella, but they all remember Martini.

"I did a good job with Minardi and had a good feeling with engineering, and because of the good relationship I stayed with them for a long time."

But it didn't start spectacularly. Having been European F3 champion in 1983, Martini marked out his talent with a second place on his Formula Two debut with Minardi. Having unsuccessfully tried to qualify a Toleman at his home Grand Prix the same year, he then moved with Minardi to Formula One a year later.

But it turned into a terrible debut year. He retired from 13 of the 15 GPs he started and didn't even make the grid at Monaco. He ended the year with an eighth in Adelaide, and then dropped back down to F3000 for the following two seasons.

Pierluigi Martini (Minardi M185 Motori Moderni) 1985 Grand Prix of Monaco © LAT
Timo Glock and Giorgio Pantano have made stepping down from an overfilled F1 grid more acceptable in recent years, but it was rarely done back then.

"The start for me in Formula One wasn't good. In 1985 there was a different situation because it was the first year for Minardi and [the engine] Motori Moderni. And it was difficult for me because I was alone in the team.

"At the end of the year it was easier to change the driver than change the engine, but the big problem was the engine. When [Giancarlo] Minardi understood that the real problem was the engine he called me back in 1988."

Having finished second in the F3000 championship in 1986, Martini was more race-prepared for the rigours of Formula One, and immediately proved on his 'debut'.

"I went back in and I got the first point for them and for me straight away, and it was good to get the first," Martini says of his sixth place in the US Grand Prix in Detroit.

It was the only point of the season for Martini, who was looking more promising as a Formula One driver.

The following season came that glory moment at Estoril, where he put Minardi at the head of the field for the first - and ultimately only - time. The brief lead came as a result of staying out longer than his rivals before changing tyres, though he ultimately finished fifth.

"After the race the atmosphere was typically Minardi. For me every point was a victory. So the atmosphere here... well, it was important for the life of the mechanics of the team, because with the money for points in that period it was crucial for the life of the team.

"It had been a good race. I was fast in Portugal because the car was good. The Cosworth engine had less power than others, but in Estoril the power was not as important. I remember that it was exciting for everybody.

"All the race I was behind the leader and it was good. I was third but after the pitstop of the leader and and the second placed guy I was out in front. It was good at the time."

Martini was so liked at Minardi that he spent eight of his nine F1 seasons there. The other one season - 1992 - he left because he thought he was going to fulfil every Italian's lifelong dream and race for Ferrari.

"In 1991 I signed a contract with Ferrari for '92," Martini insists. "And Ferrari changed their minds and put me in Scuderia Italia and Ivan Capelli in Ferrari instead. In my whole life I had wanted to and worked to get myself in a Ferrari and I when was inside, at the last moment, they changed me and put me in the Scuderia Italia."

It was disappointing for Martini but it was not his fault. It was ultimately down to his future teams' belief that he had already signed the better driver.

"I know what happened but it is difficult to explain. It was not down to my pace. When Claudio Lombardi came in at Ferrari in 1992 he spoke with the boss of Scuderia Italia, and asked them what he thought of his potential driver-line up for 1992 - Martini and Jean Alesi.

Pierluigi Martini (Scuderia Italia/Dallara 192 Ferrari) 1992 Grand Prix of Mexico © Daniele Amaduzzi/FORIX
"He was told that they had Capelli and he could have Martini, and they thought they had the better driver.

"The day after Lombardi came to Scuderia Italia, not knowing very well the situation of the drivers, Lombardi put an offer to them. 'What do you think if I give to you our engine but you give us Capelli and we give you Martini. They said OK!

"And this has been my career. Ferrari for me, as an Italian driver, for all drivers even, it is the top. I got two points for Scuderia Italia. I then could rejoin Minardi and for the next three years I scored points."

His time in Formula One and with Minardi ended halfway through 1995 when Minardi chose to replace with Pedro Lamy.

"In 1995 I have decided to stop my career because there wasn't a possibility to go in a top team and after 119 GPs I decided it was important for me to find good results with sportscars. I found these big results with prototypes, when I won the Le Mans 24 Hours for BMW. Afterwards I stopped my career.

"For me it was important also for family reasons and now I have a family."

Martini will be forever remembered as Minardi's prodigal son. Now that the perennial underdogs have disappeared form the F1 grid, Martini will always be the main focus of their memory.

"I like to only look ahead because my career is history. But I talk about this because I am happy, it has been a good life.

"It is important for me that in the history of Minardi I am remembered as being their best driver. Because with motorsport the first thing is the car. If you do not have a good car you can take nothing from the results."


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