Arturo Merzario is a former Italian racer, best known for his Formula 1 career, but also for his participation in the mountain-climb events and sports car races.
He recorded 85 participations (57 starts) in the Formula One World Championship between 1972 and 1979. In the sports car racing, his greatest success was the second place overall at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1973, together with Carlos Pace in a Ferrari 312PB.
Good days with Ferrari
Arturo Francesco Merzario was born in Civenna, near the town of Como, on 11th of March 1943. Interestingly, his real name is Arturio but an error was made on name registration so he continued his life as Arturo, although throughout his career, he occasionally used name Arturio on his helmet.
Merzario started his racing career as a driver of Abarth sports cars in the second half of the 1960s. His driving skills were spotted by many and Ferrari hired him as a factory team driver in 1970. The famous Italian manufacturer struggled at that time to beat Porsche and its famous 917 model but soon, 312P was made, and its creation put Ferrari back on the winning track. Merzario raced alongside famous names like Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti. The most memorable moments of his life are the 1972 victory in legendary Targa Florio race in Sicily when he drove with the rally legend Sandro Munari and the victory at 1000 kilometres of Spa with Brian Redman.
Merzario driving Ferrari 312PB at 1973 Targa Florio
Merzario's talent had him drive for Abarth, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari early in his career
Arturo Merzario's success opened doors towards Formula One
Arturo Merzario had unexpected debut in Formula 1
That same year, 1972, Merzario circumstantially debuted in Formula 1. Mario Andretti was absent due to his racing commitments in the United States while Clay Regazzoni injured his arm while playing football. Merzario jumped into the seat of Ferrari and finished sixth at British Grand Prix. Team officials were happy with Merzario’s performances and decided to pair him with Jacky Ickx for 1973 Formula 1 campaign.
Merzario racing in Ferrari at Nurburgring 1972
Poor results with F1 Ferrari
Unfortunately, the timing was bad for the Italian as at that time Ferrari had one of their worst cars. Although blameless, Merzario paid the price and was fired before the end of the season, making way for Niki Lauda and Regazzoni. The highlight of Merzario’s career that year definitely was the second place at 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing a seat of Ferrari 312PB with the Brazilian Carlos Pace who was killed in aircraft accident four years later (famous Interlagos circuit was named after him).
Move to Williams and forming of his own team
In 1974, Merzario started driving for Williams, but in the same time, he sporadically competed in various racing series driving an Alfa Rome 33. Merzario spent two years with Williams but failed to impress, with his best result being 4th place at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Merzario was more successful in driving an Alfa as he helped the team to win two titles in the sports car racing in 1975 when he scored his second victory in Targa Florio.
Video - Arturo Merzario at Goodwood Festival of Speed driving Ferrari 156
After leaving Williams, ArturoMerzario spent the season of 1976 with March and Wolff-Williams teams but without any success, so he decided to form his own squad in 1977. Despite the great enthusiasm and a lot of effort, the results of the underfinanced team were really bad. During three years, the Italian managed to finish only one of 14 races, failing to qualify for the race 23 times.
Arturo Merzario at 1979 French Grand Prix
Somewhat disappointed, ’Little Art’, turned to Formula 2 series, fitting BMW engine into the back of Merzario chassis. The results were a bit better than in Formula 1, but still too far from the expectations. Finally, in 1984, Merzario disappeared from the racing main stage. He was active for a long time, even in his sixties, mainly driving in the Italian prototype series.
One brave cowboy
The moment that definitely marked Arturo’s career and probably the whole life certainly was saving Niki Lauda from the burning car during the 1976 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring. Together with Brett Lunger, Harald Ertl, and Guy Edwards, Merzario bravely jumped into the fire to pull out Lauda from the wreckage.
Arturo Merzario helped save the life of Niki Lauda
Merzario wearing his cowboy hat
Heavy smoker (in the pit area!?)
During his long career, Merzario was known as one of the most beloved drivers on the race course, apart from being popular because of his fun-loving nature. In the 70s, he was famous for wearing cowboy hats and always promoting his sponsor Marlboro as he was a heavy smoker.
Marlboro and Coca Cola are my fuels and without them, I cannot live
Even today, he holds the distinction of being one of the few people in the world who are allowed to smoke in the pit area.