In racing, one must grab the opportunities when they come along because they may be the only chance to show one’s abilities. Very few get second chances.
One or two poor performances can blight a career, as we saw with Luca Badoer in 2009 when he replaced the injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari. Two poor races and he was gone, his career over.
In many ways, this is a similar story to that of Giancarlo Martini, an Italian, born near Ravenna, soon after the end of World War II. The family was not originally wealthy. His uncle Camillo was a pig farmer and in 1960 Giancarlo’s brother Luciano bought his uncle’s business and began expanding ambitiously, adding a delicatessen to the empire before deciding that there were better ways to make money. He began refining animal fats and then diversified into the manufacturing of vegetable oils, margarine, chocolate and chocolate substitutes. Further diversification led to ice cream and then a range of pastry products under the Master Martini brand – all on an industrial scale. Today the firm is known as Unigra and employs hundreds of people at a large plant in Conselice. It does business in 90 countries.
The success of Unigra would give the family financial stability, but much of it happened after Giancarlo needed money to go racing. He was not a passionate entrepreneur like his older brother. His dream was to be a racing driver and by the early 1970s, when he was in his mid-twenties, he had become a leading light in Formula Italia, the national championship before youngsters moved to the international scene.
In 1973 he was the title, driving for a two-year-old operation called Scuderia del Passatore, sponsored by the industrial rubber company Everest, and run by a young Giancarlo Minardi. Martini moved up to Formula 2 in 1974, driving a March-BMW for Pino Trivellato, but the following year Minardi arrived in F2 and so Martini rejoined him, using March-BMWs. They were not overly successful, but they were ambitious and that year Enzo Ferrari was talked into a plan to help develop young Italian talent by providing a 312T Formula 1 car for a customer team: Scuderia Everest.
Martini was then 28 and hardly a youngster, but this did not seem to matter that much. He was entered in two non-championship F1 races: the Daily Mail Race of Champions in March at Brands Hatch and the International Trophy at Silverstone in April. He qualified 15th out of 16 at Brands Hatch and then embarrassed himself by crashing in the warm-up, damaging the car beyond immediate repair. At Silverstone he qualified 10th out of 18, not far behind Mario Andretti’s Lotus and Carlos Pace’s Brabham, but then finished 10th in the race. It wasn’t a bad effort, but it wasn’t enough to create much excitement.
He disappeared back to Formula 2, where he finished seventh in the championship that year before switching to different machinery in 1977 when Minardi ran Martini in a Martini. By then younger Italian stars such as Riccardo Patrese and Elio de Angelis were rising. In 1978, Martini switched to the Aurora F1 series, a British-based series and driving an Ensign he finished fourth at Zandvoort and then won at Donington Park. After a couple more F2 races, he disappeared from the sport.
He would pop up again a few years later when his nephew, Luciano’s son Pierluigi, began racing. He would be rather more successful than his uncle, winning the European Formula 3 title in 1983, finishing third in Formula 3000 and then heading into Formula 1 with Minardi. He would compete in 119 races with the team – but never finished better than fourth. His lack of language skills held him back, but in 1999 Pierluigi would win the Le Mans 24 Hours for BMW Motorsport, partnered by Joachim Winkelhock and Yannick Dalmas.
Giancarlo Martini died of cancer at the age of 66 in March 2013.