- May 12, 1963
- Not Active
Stefano Modena is a former racing driver from Italy who has competed in various series, including Formula 1. He recorded 81 participations (70 starts) in the Formula 1 World Championship between 1987 and 1992 with four teams, scoring two podiums.
Before entering Formula 1, Modena was the International Formula 3000 champion in 1987. In a post-F1 career, Modena participated in touring car competitions until 2000.
Early success in karting competitions
Stefano Modena was born in May 1963 in the city of Modena, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. This ancient town is also known for its automotive industry. The factories of the famous car makers Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, De Tomaso, and Pagani are, or were, located in the city area.
In such environment, it is logical for a boy to dream about becoming the race car driver. As a kid, Stefano began to race karting and over the years he won numerous titles, including 1978 Junior World Cup and 1983 European Intercontinental A title.
Formula 3000 champion in 1987
After graduating in karting, Modena switched to the open-wheelers, competing in the Italian Formula Ford and later in the Italian Formula 3 Championship. After finishing 15th overall in 1985, in the following year talented Italian moved up to the 4th place after he has scored three race wins.
In 1987, as a driver of Onyx March team, Modena won the International Formula 3000 title. He won three races en route to the title, beating some well-known names like Luis Perez-Sala, Yannick Dalmas, Mauricio Gugelmin, Gabriele Tarquini, etc.
Unexpected debut in F1
Modena’s talent was noticed by many, including some Formula 1 teams, and late in 1987, he got an unexpected chance to debut in the most popular racing championship in the world. Bernie Ecclestone put Modena in one of Brabham cars as a substitute for Riccardo Patrese for the season-closing event in Australia. However, he retired from the race, mainly because of his inexperience with the turbocharged BMW engine.
First full F1 season with EuroBrun, then two years with Brabham
Stefano raced full-time in 1988, as a member of the newly-formed EuroBrun Racing team. Driving an uncompetitive car, he was unable to achieve notable results and even failed to qualify for many races. His best result was 11th place at Hungaroring.
In 1989, Modena returned to Brabham, but that wasn’t the same team as on his F1 debut. The owner was new and the ambitions and possibilities weren’t at the highest level. Most of the season was poor but Italian driver surprised at Monaco Grand Prix. He finished 3rd in one of the most prestigious races, behind Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. That were his first points scored in Formula 1 and also the last podium finish for Brabham team.
The start of the following year was promising. Modena finished 5th in the US Grand Prix but that were the only points he and the teams scored that year. Brabham endured a difficult year with ownership problems and Stefano left the team at the end of the season.
The season with Tyrrell was the best in a career
Modena moved to the Tyrrell team before the start of 1991 campaign which was the best in his career. The start again was good after he finished 4th in the US Grand Prix at Phoenix street circuit. Later he qualified 2nd for the Monaco Grand Prix but retired from the race on lap 42 while running 2nd, due to an engine failure.
However, he finished 2nd in the next race in Canada, losing to Nelson Piquet. That was Modena’s last podium finish in the F1 career, while before the end of the season he was able to score another point after finishing 6th in the Japanese Grand Prix. At the end, he was 8th in the Drivers’ Championship with 10 points what was his best achievement but an opinion by many was that his performances were poor and his results were described as a disappointment.
The last F1 season with Jordan
In 1992 Modena joined the ambitious Jordan Grand Prix team. Unfortunately, that year Jordan’s car was uncompetitive because of underpowered and overweighted Yamaha V12 engine which was free. The results were disastrous and both team and Modena became nervous and unhappy. Italian driver even failed to qualify for four races and retired from eight.
Late in the season the results slightly improved and in the final race of the season in Australia, Stefano earned the only point for the team but that wasn’t enough to earn him a drive in the following season, so he left Formula 1 with a bitter taste.
Switch to touring car racing
It looked like Modena lost his enthusiasm for racing after departure from Formula 1. However, he continued a career competing in Italy and Germany, mostly driving Alfa Romeo. In 1994, he debuted in the German DTM and scored a double victory at the legendary AVUS circuit in Berlin. That success was followed by a double 2nd place at Alemannenring.
In 1995 and 1996 Modena competed in DTM and International Touring Car Championship with a considerable success but it was obvious that he lacks the ambition to be among the frontrunners. Finally, after having relatively poor season driving an Opel Astra Coupe V8 in 2000 DTM, Modena decided to retire from motorsport.
Raw talent wasn’t enough for good results
Modena once was considered to be the hottest prospect in Formula 1 but he never fulfilled expectations. He has some opportunities to show what he has but he lacked a bit of fortune, as well as motivation and confidence to achieve more notable results.
Unfortunately, he is remembered just as one of the many Italians who raced in Formula 1 during the 1980s and 1990s. He also was one of the most superstitious drivers in the series. He was always driving with one glove turned inside out and also forbid anyone to touch his race car once he was inside other than the team member who helped him with his safety belts