- April 23, 1961
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Pierluigi Martini, nicknamed the Pocket Rocket, is a former racing driver from Italy who competed for more than ten years in the Formula 1 but his biggest success was a victory at 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Martini recorded 119 starts in Formula One World Championship between 1984 and 1995, spending the most of the time with Minardi. At Le Mans 24h, he raced five times, winning the race in 1999 in a BMW V12 LMR together with Joachim Winkelhock and Yannick Dalmas.
Martini was Formula 3 champion and had inglorious F1 debut
Pierluigi Martini was born in April 1961 in the town of Lugo, in Emilia-Romagna region. As a boy, he was influenced by his uncle who raced in Formula 1 non-championship races with Ferrari 312T owned by Giancarlo Minardi’s team Scuderia Everest. Later in his career he will become not only a driver of Minardi F1 Team but kind of legend of the small Italian team.
However, he had to pass a long way before becoming a regular in the most prominent championship. In 1983 the Lugo-born debuted in the Formula 2 with Minardi, making a one-off appearance in the round at Misano circuit. He impressed after finishing 2nd in the race, losing to Jonathan Palmer. The same year he won European Formula 3 title and also debuted in Le Mans 24h driving a Lancia LC2 but retired on lap 117.
In 1984 Martini had an opportunity to make a debut in the Formula 1 with Toleman but he failed to qualify for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Finally, in 1985 Martini got a chance to drive full-time in F1 with Minardi. The car with V6 Motori-Moderni engine was awful and combined with Pierluigi’s inexperience that season was really horrible. He was able to finish only 3 out of 16 races with the 8th place in Australia as the only bright moment of the campaign.
Picking experience in Formula 3000
In the following year, the Italian was dropped from the team and had to make a step backward. He raced in Formula 3000 and did pretty well. Martini won two races and twice was 2nd before taking the 3rd place overall, finishing behind Ivan Capelli and Emanuele Pirro. He stayed in the series in 1987 but the results worsened. The Italian driver dropped to the 11th place in the Championship.
In 1988 Martini left Pavesi Racing team to join the First Racing team. He won at Autodromo di Pergusa and had three more podiums before finishing 4th in the Formula 3000 Drivers’ Championship, behind Roberto Moreno, Olivier Grouillard, and Martin Donnelly.
Martini returned to Formula 1 in 1988
While competing in F3000, Martini was called by Minardi after the Canadian Grand Prix to replace Adrian Campos. That was a second chance for the Italian driver to make his name in the series. His first race was at the streets of Detroit and Pierluigi secured his place in the team’s history. He finished 6th what was the first point scored in the history of Minardi team. However, the rest of the season wasn’t as good. He failed to qualify for two races, had many retirements, and finally finished 17th overall.
The season of 1989 was a small step forward although the start of the campaign was awful, marked by six consecutive retirements. The bad stream was stopped in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone where he finished 5th. It was followed by another 5th place in Portugal, where he led for a short time at one point of the race. In the season-closing Grand Prix in Australia, Pierluigi finished 6th after starting from the 3rd place. At the end of the year, he was at the 15th position in the standings what was a kind of success.
The season of 1991 was the best in Martini’s career
After a disappointing season of 1990 when ’Pocket Rocket’ failed to score a single point. The Italian had a hard crash during qualifying at Imola and missed the rest of the weekend because of a cracked heel. He had other eight DNFs that year what was the crude reality of a team that always operated on a tight budget.
However, in 1991 Martini had the best year of his Formula 1 career. Even after he scored only twice, after taking the 4th place at Imola and then at Estoril, he finished the season with 6 points at the respectable 11th place in the Drivers’ Championship what was a great success for him but also for the Minardi team.
The following year was marked by 8 retirements what wasn’t unusual and unexpected considering the fact that Martini again was in a car of Scuderia Italia which was far from the rest of the grid. Despite all troubles, Pierluigi managed to score twice, at Catalunya Circuit and at Imola, finishing 6th in both races. With two points on his account, the Italian took the 16th position in the final classification.
Pierluigi cemented his place in the history of Minardi
Scuderia Italia dropped Martini from the team in 1993, so he missed the first half of the season. Before the German Grand Prix, he got a call from Minardi to replace Fabrizio Barbazza. He failed to score in the last 8 races of the season but stayed with the team in 1994 when again beat all the odds by finishing 5th on two occasions – in Spain and France.
The season of 1995 was his last in Formula 1. It was clear that Italian veteran lacked motivation and in the mid-season parted ways with Minardi. The Italian team suffered one of its cash crises and to keep the show on the road, pay driver Pedro Lamy was recruited to partner Luca Badoer, who had outperformed Martini.
Martini for a long time was a driver with most starts in Formula 1 without a podium finish. His record of 118 starts without a top 3 place was overtaken by Adrian Sutil in 2014.
1999 Le Mans 24h victory
However, that wasn’t the end of Martini’s racing career. In 1996 he returned to Circuit de la Sarthe, driving the Joest Racing’s Porsche alongside Michele Alboreto and Didier Theys but they retired on lap 300. In the following year, he shared seat of Scuderia Italia’s Porsche with Christian Pescatori and Antonio Hermann de Azevedo. They finished 4th in GT1 class and 8th overall.
In 1998 he joined ambitious BMW team who desperately wanted to conquer Le Mans. The first try, when Martini was driving alongside Johnny Cecotto and Joachim Winkelhock, wasn’t successful after they retired in the early phase of the race.
Finally, in 1999 Martini secured his place in the history of the world’s most prominent racing event, as well as in the history of BMW. Driving a legendary BMW V12 LMR alongside Joachim Winkelhock and Yannick Dalmas, they triumphed at Le Mans 24 Hours what was the biggest achievement in his career.
After that Martini turned down an opportunity to race sports cars in the US. In 2006 he made a brief return to racing, appearing in two rounds of Grand Prix Masters series for retired Formula 1 drivers.