There is no school for Formula 1 team principals. They just come along and are in the right time and the right place – with the right sort of skills (or not) to meet the challenges of the moment. Some inherit the job, some buy their way to it, others work for decades to get there, or convince industry magnates that they are one for the job. And some just get asked…
Franco Lini did not intend to become a racing journalist, it just happened. Born in the city of Mantua in 1925, he was inspired to go racing by the exploits of Tazio Nuvolari, who was not only Italy’s biggest star of they day, but also the father of one of Franco’s schoolmates. Going motor racing is not just about inspiration, of course, it’s also about money and in this respect Lini was fortunate as his family owned a successful machine tool business and so he was able to enjoy a life of motorcycle racing, fast cars and lots of exciting women. In order to help fund his motorcycle races he ran a small weekly motorcycle magazine and he did his first reports on automobile races by chance when a Milan newspaper asked him for a report on the San Remo Grand Prix on the Ospedaletti street circuit on the basis that he would be there racing his motorbike.
This went well and further reports followed until, two years later, Lini crashed badly, broke his neck and decided as he was recovering that perhaps he was better suited to writing than to racing. He thus became a full time journalist and was soon very popular and well known as one of the few F1 writers who travelled to all the races around the world. It was a time when Alfa Romeo and then Ferrari and Maserati were leading the way, before the rise of the British F1 teams, and Lini was the big name in motorsport journalism in Italy.
He became so knowledgeable, in fact, that one day in 1966, after Enzo Ferrari fell out with Eugenio Dragoni, and the Ferrari team was split by political battles, Ferrari complained about things Lini had written and the conversation ended up with Ferrari telling Lini he could have the job if he thought he could do better.
The dominant force at the time was the Brabham-Repco team and Lini knew that his first priority was to get a top driver to replace the departed Surtees. He picked Chris Amon to partner Lorenzo Bandini.
The 1967 season did not begin well, however, when Bandini crashed at Monaco and suffered terrible burns from which he died a few days later. Lini called in Mike Parkes as a replacement and he and Ludovico Scarfiotti shared victory in the non-championship Syracuse GP. The next race was Zandvoort, where the new Ford Cosworth engine appeared for the first time and Jim Clark won ahead of the two Brabhams with Ferrari 4-5-6.
At the time Ferrari was dividing the company’s efforts between F1 and sports cars and although Parkes and Scarfiotti finished second in the Le Mans 24 Hours, Parkes then crashed his F1 car badly at Spa and suffered leg injuries that would end his driving career. For the rest of the summer Ferrari ran only one car, although the team tried Jonathan Willians in a second car in Mexico at the end of the year.
Lini was behind the hiring of rising star Jacky Ickx to partner Amon in 1968 and the Belgian won the French GP that summer and Derek Bell was also given a chance towards the end of the year, but that summer Enzo Ferrari agreed terms to sell the production car business to Fiat for $11m and was not focussing on the racing. Lini battled with him to try to get him to concentrate on F1 but in the end he gave up and resigned. Ickx departed as well.
Franco went back to journalism and continued to be an enthusiastic member of the F1 media until his death from lung cancer in 1996, shortly before his 72nd birthday.