Most people get one chance to make it in Formula 1 – and it doesn’t always work out well.
Before the war Gianpaulo Volpini tuned Lancia Aprilia sports cars in his garage in Milan and when the war was over he went back into the same business, but this time building his own chassis with 1100cc engines and bodywork by the Milanese coachbuilder Carrozzeria Colli. This proved to be quite successful and Volpini then diversified into the 500cc Formula 3 in 1951, his Gilera motorcycle engine-powered cars enjoying some success, despite the fierce competition in the formula. In 1953 Frenchman Georges Chazelet even managed to win a race in Marseilles in a Volpini.
It was at this point that the 26-year-old Mario Alborghetti arrived on the scene. He was the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer who started racing in 1950 in a Fiat Topolino before moving on to win the Argegno-Lanzo d’Intelvi hillclimb, near Como, in 1951 with a Lancia Aprilia. He took part in the Stella Alpina Rally and the Mille Miglia in a Lancia Aurelia and drove a similar car for Lancia Corse in 1953 in the Susa-Moncenisio hillclimb, finishing third in class. He also competed in the Coppa Sant’Ambroeus at Monza and in the Giro di Sicilia and Coppa della Toscana road races. His experience was entirely in sports cars, but he dreamed of becoming a Formula 1 driver and asked Volpini to build him a F1 car.
Like many engineers, Volpini was a practical man and concluded that there was more chance of success if one bought a decent racing car and modified it, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Thus he used Alborghetti’s money to acquire one of the Scuderia Milano Maserati 4CLTs, which had raced F1 in 1950.
These had been powered by a pre-war supercharged 1.5-litre engine, designed in 1939 by Ernesto Maserati. After the war the cars had been acquired by Scuderia Milano and the engines were modified by Mario Speluzzi, a Professor of Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano, who had developed the engine for use in powerboats. He added two-stage supercharging and the engine was renamed Speluzzi. It first appeared at the French GP in 1950 in the hands of Felice Bonetto. It was clear straight away that this would not be able to compete with the latest machinery at the time and the project faded away.
However with a new engine formula in 1954, Volpini reckoned that a reworked chassis and a stretched Maserati engine, the result might be competitive and called in engine-builder Egidio Arzani to transform the 1.5-litre engine into a 2.5-litre. Attractive new bodywork was created by Carrozzeria Colli.
Scuderia Volpini was ready to go into action by April 1955 and headed off to Pau, in the south-west of France for a non-championship F1 race. The Arzani-Volpini 001 was well-presented and well-engineered but it was not very fast and Alborghetti qualified well off the pace, 19 seconds slower than Alberto Ascari’s pole position.
The race, held of the Easter Monday bank holiday, attracted a big crowd and while they cheered for Jean Behra’s Maserati 250F against the Lancias, no-one paid much attention to Alborghetti, who made three early pit stops. At the start of his 20th lap, he came down to the tight right-hand hairpin near the Station, the first corner, and Jacques Pollet went down the inside to lap Alborghetti. For reasons unknown, the Arzani-Volpini went straight on, apparently without any attempt being made to slow the car. It ran into hay bales with considerable force, the driver’s helmet flew off in the impact and the driver died almost instantly as the result of fractures to the vertebrae in his neck. A number of spectators were injured in the crash, although the car itself was not badly damaged. The team was not seen again until the Italian GP at Monza in September, where Luigi Piotti was due to drive, but things went wrong and he did not take part in qualifying.
Volpini turned his attention to building a record car in 1956 and then when Formula Junior began in 1958 he bought more racing cars, continuing production until 1963.
There are still a few tickets left for my annual pre-season chat with F1 fans in London on Friday, this week – in the wake of the McLaren and Ferrari car launches. We won’t know much about the relative performance of the 2017 cars, but there will still be plenty to discuss before the teams go off to test in Spain.
It’s been a winter of change in F1 so there are likely to be loads of questions that need answering – and insider stories to be told, including the departure of Nico Rosberg, the exit of Bernie Ecclestone and a whole lot more…
The Audience with Joe will take place at One Knightsbridge Green, SW1X 7NW, next door to the Knightsbridge underground station. This is the home of Prism, F1’s pioneering sports marketing agency, part of the WPP empire.
The event will be by ticket only so there is no possibility of walk-in tickets on the night, so please book now if you want to be sure to get a ticket, as these are limited in number.
Joe not missed a single Grand Prix since the autumn of 1988 and keeps up with what’s going on in F1 circles so its a great opportunity for you to learn some of the stories behind the headlines, in a convivial atmosphere, with other fans of the sport.
The Audience will run from 7pm-10.30pm and there will be a food served mid-way through the evening.
Drinks will be available at normal bar rates.
It’s a bargain at £39.00 per head.
Click here for more information.
The Force India team unveiled its new Mercedes-powered VJM10, which has been produced by design team led by Technical Director Andrew Green. It is the work of chief designers Akio Haga and Ian Hall, with the aerodynamics being overseen by Simon Phillips. Green says that the car has very little carry over from the VJM09. The wind tunnel work was done in the Toyota windtunnel in Cologne. The biggest change for the team was that it was able to build its chassis in-house rather than having to rely on suppliers, which meant that the team had complete control of scheduling and quality. The team continues to have backing from Diageo, but the Smirnoff branding has been replaced by Johnnie Walker.
While racing drivers are often fairly wild individuals, with a very different appreciation of danger compared to normal people, there were many others in F1 who were buccaneers by nature, be they team bosses, engineers, officials or media. BBC Formula 1 commentator Raymond Baxter may have appeared to be a fairly conventional individual – but he had adventurous genes.
Expelled from school for smoking, Baxter had a decidedly unglamorous job with the London Water Board when war broke out in 1940. The conflict would transform his life. He joined the Royal Air Force and was sent off to learn to fly at a civilian flying school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, starting out with an open-cockpit Fairchild PT-19 trainer before moving on to the North American Harvard. He was sent back to Britain, did 17 hours with a Miles Master and then found himself in charge of a Hurricane. A few days later he was posted to 65 Squadron to fly Spitfires…
He was sent to Scotland, although by then the Battle of Britain was over. He would eventually be posted to join 93 Squadron in Sicily and took part in the Italian campaigns, being mentioned in despatches once, before returning to Britain for a spell as an instructor. Flying Officer Baxter returned to active service in September 1944 with 602 Squadron, which had an unusual role, using the Spitfire as a fighter-bomber, trying to stop V-2 rocket attacks. This mainly involved attacking launch sites.
In March 1945 Baxter was one of six pilots who took part in a daring daylight raid on the Shell-Mex building in The Hague, the command centre for V2 rockets. This was conducted flying at 400mph, at 100 ft. The bombs were released 50 yards from the target – when the planes were flying below rooftop level! Two of the six were hit by flak, while Baxter took a metal cockerel off the top of a church spire, next to the target. The raid earned him a second mention in despatches…
When the war ended, he joined the British Forces Broadcasting organisation in Cairo and later in Germany, becoming the deputy director of what had by then become the British Forces Network. In 1950 he was offered a job with the BBC and quickly gained a reputation as a frontman who could not be ruffled. He became the BBC’s motoring correspondent, a job he held for 16 years and he commentated on F1 for the BBC for many years, although the coverage was not consistent, usually consisting of only a few races each year. He also did circuit commentary and became an accomplished rally driver, competing on the Monte Carlo Rally no fewer than 12 times, six of them as a member of the BMC factory team. He also took part in a number of other international rallies.
He became director of publicity at BMC for a short time in the mid-1960s, while still presenting for the BBC, but the company was then taken over by Leyland and the role disappeared. He returned to full time employment at the BBC.
In the course of his career he covered all manners of events, including the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in 1960, the funeral of King George VI, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and later the funeral of Winston Churchill.
His first science show called Eye on Research ran from 1959 to 1963 and then he become the first host of a new programme called Tomorrow’s World from 1965 until 1977. His audience was often up to 10 million viewers each week. He also presented the BBC’s coverage of Farnborough Airshows from 1950 until 1986 and reported on the first flight of Concorde.
After Tomorrow’s World he faded from the limelight, his style being rather out of place in the 1980s, but he lived to the ripe old age of 84 – a good score for an adventurer…
The Renault RS17 has been launched at an event in London. The car will be driven in 2017
by Nico Hülkenberg and Jolyon Palmer as Kevin Magnussen decided to switch to Haas F1. The team will have Sergey Sirotkin as its reserve driver, who will drive some of the Friday sessions. Alain Prost will join the team as a senior advisor of the Renault Sport Racing team. He will not have a day-to-day role but will advise to help them develop the best strategy for the future.
In the course of the launch Thierry Koskas, the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing of the Renault Group, spoke of the importance of F1 to Renault in terms of its innovation, heritage, inspiration and technology.
The team’s chairman Jerome Stoll said that he expects the team to finish fifth in the Constructors’ World Championship, compared to last year’s ninth place. This will be a big step forward but CEO Cyril Abiteboul said that Renault has been investing more money in the team than all of its rivals and has been working hard to recruit new people, some of whom will not join the team until 2018. The technical team at Enstone is hedaed by Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell, with Technical Director Nick Chester.
The team has partnerships this year with Infiniti, Micosoft Dynamics, Castrol and the Spanish insurance company Mapfre.
It would be a trick question to ask how many three-wheeled cars have made it on to a Formula 1 podium, but at the same time, it is almost true that this happened.
No F1 car was designed to have three wheels, the Reliant Robin never having had much impact in F1 circles, but drivers have been known to knock wheels off their cars, now and then. Philippe Streiff crossed the finish line at the very first Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in 1985, on the streets of Adelaide, with all four wheels just about attached, but the front left was not in any regular contact with the road, being dragged along, held on to the car by the remaining suspension links that had not been broken when he collided with his own Ligier-Renault team-mate Jacques Laffite at the hairpin on the penultimate lap.
The race was held in early November and the South Australia city was sweltering in 95-degree F temperatures. This meant that a lot of cars retired but Keke Rosberg, driving a Williams-Honda, somehow managed to get to the chequered flag without overheating, while most of the field disappeared because of the heat. There were engine failures, fires, electrical problems, broken transmissions and overheating brakes and after 81 laps only Rosberg and the two Ligier-Renaults were on the same lap. Laffite, Keke’s former Williams team-mate, was being chased by Streiff, with the Tyrrell-Renault of Ivan Capelli, another lap behind, but nonetheless ahead of the delayed Ferrari of Stefan Johansson and an Arrows-BMW driven by Gerhard Berger.
Rosberg was already on his final lap when the two Ligiers collided and, with Capelli taking the chequered flag just behind Rosberg, there was no pressure on Streiff, who limped around the track, hoping that the wheel would stay attached to the car. He made it, to score what would be the best result of his career, although Guy Ligier was unimpressed that Streiff had risked wiping out both cars with his move. In the end, Ligier decided not to offer him a drive for 1986, taking the veteran René Arnoux and leaving Streiff to drive a Tyrrell, thanks to backing from Elf.
* In Germany in 1987 Stefan Johansson finished with four wheels, but only three tyres. Does that make it a three-wheeler?