- June 09, 1903
- November 21, 1953
- Not Active
Felice Bonetto (1903-1953), nicknamed Il Pirata (The Pirate), was an Italian racing driver and one of the pioneers of Grand Prix racing from the 1930s to the 1950s. He recorded fifteen starts in the early days of Formula One World Championship from 1950 to 1953, scoring two podiums.
He was pretty successful at some famous road races of that time, winning the Targa Florio in 1952 and finishing second at Mille Miglia in 1949. Unfortunately, one of those races took his life. He was killed in a crash at Carrera Panamericana in November 1953.
Starting to race on motorbikes, switching to cars at the age 28
Felice Bonetto was born in November 1903 in Manerbio near Brescia, a town that became a home of the famous Mille Miglia race in 1927. However, he started his racing career on motorbikes, switching to car racing relatively late, at the age of 28.
In 1933, he gained some good results in the international races on the Italian ground, finishing second at Coppa Principessa di Piemonte and third in the Monza Grand Prix, the race remembered by a death of three drivers. He was driving an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300.
In 1934, Bonetto recorded the first attempt in his home race Mille Miglia, finishing 12th in an Alfa Romeo. He also participated in the Tripoli Grand Prix in 1934 and 1935, driving an Alfa Romeo Monza.
Resuming with racing in 1946 in a Cisitalia-Fiat
The World War II stopped all racing activities. Bonetto resumed with racing in 1946, driving a small Cisitalia-Fiat D46 in many races all over Italy.
In 1947, he raced in a Cisitalia, Delage and Maserati, scoring several wins. In 1948, he returned to Mille Miglia in a Cisitalia, not finishing the race, but won several minor races that year.
Second place at 1949 Mille Miglia
In 1949, Bonetto joined Scuderia Ferrari recording several great results. the highlight of the season was the second place at Mille Miglia in the #641 Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta Touring. The race winner was his teammate Clemente Biondetti in the same car.
Some other notable results in 1949 were second-place finishes at Monza Grand Prix and Napoli Grand Prix, and the third place at Bari Grand Prix, also with Ferrari race cars.
Two starts with Maserati in the inaugural F1 World Championship
In 1950, the Formula 1 World Championship was established. Bonetto participated in two championship races, driving a Maserati 4CLT for Scuderia Milano. He finished fifth and earned two championship points in the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten, two laps behind race winner Nino Farina (Alfa Romeo). A month later, Bonetto raced in the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux, not finishing the race because of a broken engine.
Outside Formula 1, he won Grand Premio di Oporto in an Alfa Romeo 412 and Circuito di Senigallia in an Osca MT4 1100. At Mille Miglia and Targa Florio, he retired in an Alfa Romeo 412 Spider Touring.
In May 1950, Bonetto raced for the first time at Carrera Panamericana, finishing 8th in the #103 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500.
Maiden F1 podium at 1951 Italian Grand Prix
In 1951, Bonetto expanded his Formula 1 Championship schedule to four races with Alfa Romeo, driving an Alfa Romeo 159. He picked up new points with a fourth-place finish in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He then retired at Nürburgring Nordschleife but reached his maiden F1 Championship podium in the next race, the Italian Grand Prix.
He finished third at Monza in the #40 Alfa Romeo 159A which he was sharing with Nino Farina. Bonetto was driving for 29 laps, then Farina took over because his car was broken. Bonetto earned two more championship points by finishing fifth in the season-closing Spanish Grand Prix at Pedralbes. He was eighth in the championship points at the end of the season.
Outside Formula 1, Bonetto raced with Alfa Romeo in road races and other events, finishing sixth at Mille Miglia and recording DNF at Carrera Panamericana.
Victory at Targa Florio and podium at Le Mans in 1952
In 1952, Bonetto continued to combine Grand Prix events and road races, also combining different Italian manufacturers. The highlight of the season was a victory at Targa Florio in the #34 Lancia Aurelia B20. With the same car, he made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 1952, sharing a car with Enrico Anselmi and finishing 8th overall and second in S2.0 class. In two other great races, Mille Miglia and Carrera Panamericana, Bonetto recorded DNFs.
In Grand Prix races, Bonetto was driving a Maserati A6GCM, recording two starts in the F1 Championship and several non-championship starts. He was disqualified at German Grand Prix because he received a push start after a spin. In the Italian Grand Prix, he finished fifth, one lap behind race winner Alberto Ascari (Ferrari).
The full season in the 1953 Formula One Championship
In 1953, Bonetto was one of three main drivers for Maserati in Formula 1, alongside Argentineans Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Frolian Gonzalez. Bonetto participated in seven of nine championship events, skipping only Indianapolis 500 and Belgian Grand Prix.
His best result was the third place in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. He was driving the #16 Maserati A6GCM for 25 laps and then Jose Froilan Gonzalez took over the car, beating Mike Hawthorn in a fight for the final podium spot. Bonetto finished the season ninth in the championship standings after scoring points two more times, in Germany and Switzerland.
High-speed death at 1953 Carrera Panamericana
Outside Formula 1, Bonetto raced with Lancia in sport car races. He was third at Mille Miglia, recorded DNFs at Targa Florio, Le Mans and Nurburgring 1000, finished second at Monza Grand Prix and won a race at Monsanto.
Then, in November 1953, in his fourth attempt at Carrera Panamericana, he became one of the numerous fatal victims of Mexican road race. He died at the wheel of the #34 Lancia D24 after hitting a balcony of the house and a pole at high speed.
After Bonetto's death, team owner Gianni Lancia wanted to withdraw his cars from the race, but the surviving drivers Juan Manuel Fangio, Piero Taruffi and Eugenio Castellotti decided to keep on racing in honour of their teammate, taking the 1-2-3 victory for Lancia.
Photos: LAT Photo;