Minardi - Favorite outsider of Formula 1
Minardi team earned a legendary status in the history of Formula 1 championship because it didn’t score a single podium finish in 20 years.
Beginning in Formula 2
The team was founded in 1979 in Faenza, an Italian city, by Minardi family that has a long history in motorsport. Giancarlo Minardi competed in the Formula 2 in the 1970s driving customer cars under the name Scuderia Everest. In 1979, with a financial backing of a businessman Piero Mancini, Minardi was formed and began to compete in Formula 2 championship.
From 1980 to 1984 Minardi competed in Formula 2 with a moderate success. This team has always been a good place for the young talents. Johnny Cecotto, Alessandro Nannini, and Michele Alboreto were the drivers of Minardi in early days of their careers. Alboreto achieved the biggest success when he won the race at Misano in 1981.
Minardi debuted in Formula 1 in 1985
During the season of 1984 Giancarlo Minardi and his partners decided to try their luck in the most prominent racing competition. The new M184 car was designed around the Motori Moderni’s V6 engine but it wasn’t ready for the beginning of the season and the team had to change chassis to fit a Cosworth DFV engine. With only one car on the grid in its debut season, Minardi struggled to achieve notable results. That kind of struggling and suffering will mark the history of the team which, despite always being an outsider, never lacked the passion and a huge amount of enthusiasm.
Pierluigi Martini was the first driver of Minardi and he managed to finish only 3 out of 16 races in 1985, and the 8th place in the Australian Grand Prix, the final round of the season, was the highlight of the year.
Learning through mistakes
The team expanded to two cars in 1986, but still the results haven’t changed. The cars based around the Motori Moderni V6 engine were unreliable and uncompetitive and during 1986 and 1987, (when the drivers were Nannini, Andrea de Cesaris, and Adrian Campos) Minardi cars finished only six races, while they retired from 53!
The 8th place scored by de Cesaris in Mexico was Minardi’s best result in that period. Interestingly, that was the only race he managed to finish in 1986. That ’achievement’ was repeated by Campos in 1987 and he finished only the Spanish Grand Prix, taking the 14th place.
The first point for Sauber
The switch to Cosworth engines in 1988 proved to be a good decision, just as the return of Pierluigi Martini who replaced Campos after the fifth race of the season. In his first race, Martini scored a maiden point for Minardi in Formula 1 after finishing 6th in Detroit Grand Prix. The cars that Martini and Luis Perez-Sala drove were faster and more reliable which was a solid foundation for the years to come.
The driver’s line-up remained unchanged and Minardi M189 car looked quite well. The team collected a total of six points that year and finished 11th in the championship. Martini finished 5th in the British Grand Prix and the Portuguese Grand Prix. The team finished 6th in the Australian Grand Prix, while Sala added a point after taking the 6th position in the British GP. It was the first out of only two races in which both Minardi drivers finished in points.
The season of 1990 wasn’t as good as the previous one and Minardi was at the bottom of the standings, without a single point. Martini was teamed with another Italian driver, Paolo Barilla, who failed to qualify for five races that year and was dropped from the team before the end of the year. He was replaced by another promising Italian – Gianni Morbidelli.
Pierluigi Martini is Minardi’s true legend
For the 1991 campaign, Minardi switched to Ferrari engine, becoming the Ferrari’s first customer team in the modern history of sports. The results were better and again Martini was the one who impressed. While Morbidelli failed to score points despite having a couple of strong performances, his more experienced compatriot picked a total of six points, finishing 4th at Imola and Estoril. Minardi finished 7th in the Constructors’ Championship which is the best result this team has ever achieved.
Martini left the team in 1992, so Morbidelli was teamed with a promising Brazilian – Christian Fittipaldi. The new car with Lamborghini V12 engine did not prove to be competitive enough, so Minardi finished the season in 12th place, with only one point on the account, scored by Fittipaldi in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Another interesting fact is that Alex Zanardi spent a part of the season with Minardi, replacing Fittipaldi in three races.
The record number of points scored in 1993
Minardi returned to Ford-Cosworth engines in 1993 and again it was a good decision. The team scored a record number of points (7) which was repeated in 2005, but in the Constructors’ championship, the team was 8th. Four drivers were in action for Minardi that year. Fittipaldi was replaced with Jean-Marc Gounon for the last two races of the year, while in the mid-season Fabrizio Barbazza was replaced with Martini in the team’s second car. Fittipaldi finished 4th in the South African Grand Prix and 5th in Monaco, while Barbazza was 6th at Imola and Donington Park.
The following season was probably the last in which Minardi was in the middle of the pack. The enthusiasm and passion of the 1980s in Formula 1 disappeared and smaller teams weren’t able to find a proper financial backing. Formula 1 has become a playground for the big guns and those who relied on their enthusiasm could hardly find their peace of heaven.
However, Minardi continued its battle joining forces with BMS Scuderia Italia. It was a desperate but necessary move which helped the team to survive. Martini and Alboreto were the drivers that year and the results were pretty solid. Martini finished 5th in Spain and France, while Alboreto was 6th in Monaco and with five points he was 10th in the standings.
Patching the holes in the budget
Minardi has always been on a very tight budget but the situation became worse over the years. The costs grew more and more, while the revenues were declining. With a help of Flavio Briatore who bought shares of the team in 1995, Minardi survived another year. The drivers were Luca Badoer and Martini who was replaced with Pedro Lamy at the half-point of the season. The Portuguese driver scored the team’s only point finishing 6th in the Australian Grand Prix, the last race of the season.
Lamy was kept as the first driver for 1996 while the seat of another car was shared between Tarso Marques, Giovanni Lavaggi, and the new rising star Giancarlo Fisichella. A glimmer of hope for the team was the sponsorship of the Italian Gabriele Rumi who was the owner of Fondmetal company and soon he became the co-owner and chairman of Minardi. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for some notable achievements and Minardi finished the season without a point.
In 1997 and 1998 Minardi team was at the bottom of the Constructors’ championship, finishing both years without points. The experiments with Hart engine, and later with outdated Ford-Zetec V10 engine were a complete failure. A good thing was that Minardi again promoted some young lions like Ukyo Katayama, Jarno Trulli, and Esteban Tuero, but they couldn’t achieve anything driving uncompetitive cars. Rumi’s decision to withdraw sponsorship at the end of 1998 made everything worse.
After three years without a point, Minardi broke a negative streak in 1999. Marc Gene finished 6th in the European Grand Prix at Nurburgring and earned only one point for the team that year. Unfortunately, that point won by the Spanish driver wasn’t the initiator of positive changes.
Changes were inevitable
Over the years, Minardi never hired drivers who were paying for the place in the team. However, the financial situation was extremely bad and the team was near collapse. That’s why Minardi was forced to break its tradition and hired Argentinian driver Gaston Mazzacane who brought a sponsor to the team. He was teamed with Gene but the results were poor and again team ended the season with blank books.
Financial situation slightly improved in 2001 when Minardi was bought by the Australian businessman Paul Stoddart. The budget was still small but it looked like the new enthusiasm could improve the situation. Talented Spaniard Fernando Alonso debuted in Formula 1 with Minardi while Tarso Marques and Alex Yoong were the drivers of the second car. Unfortunately, the results were again poor and for the second consecutive year, Minardi ended the season without a point.
The end was near
When Mark Webber finished 5th in the 2002 season-opening event in Australia, many were thinking that Minardi is on the way to the better future. But they were wrong. Those two points were the only ones scored by Webber and Yoong. However, after many years Minardi was able to go above the 10th place in the Constructors’ championship.
In 2003, Minardi’s drivers were Jos Verstappen, Justin Wilson, and Nicolas Kiesa. Vestrappen was relatively close to winning the race at the Brazilian Grand Prix, unfortunately, he didn’t and the team missed a historic chance to win its first race. At the end, it was another painful year as Minardi was without a point.
Minardi has become Toro Rosso
Team owner Stoddart tried to save Minardi by playing some mind games with the FIA and other teams, but his influence was almost trivial and all efforts were bootless. In 2004, Minardi earned a point after Zsolt Baumgartner finished 8th in the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while in 2005, Minardi ended with 7 points, all scored in the famous and controversial US Grand Prix after Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher finished 5th and 6th which wasn’t an impressive achievement knowing that only six cars entered that race.
During the season, Stoddart announced that he is ready to sell the team if the right opportunity arise. One of the conditions was that the headqurters must stay in Faenza. Red Bull declared an interest to have another team in Formula 1 and in September it was announced that the deal is done. The team was named Scuderia Toro Rosso and that was the end of Minardi’s long adventure in the elite racing category.
Minardi is not dead!
The fans all around the world signed a petition to save at least the name in Formula 1 but their attempt was unsuccessful. However, Gian Carlo Minardi formed a new team which has competed in Formula 3 and GP2 Series while Stoddart formed Minardi Team USA which has competed in the Champ Car Series with a moderate success. Paul Stoddart still has a right to use Minardi name but it is almost definite that we’ll never hear it in motorsport.