- July 07, 1959
- Not Active
- Minardi,Benetton,Alfa Romeo
Alessandro Nannini is an Italian former racing driver, who participated in 78 Formula One Grand Prix races between 1986 and 1990, driving for two Italian teams Minardi and Benetton. He scored one victory (1989 Japanese Grand Prix) and nine podiums.
Prior to F1 career, Nannini was competing with Lancia in the World Sportscar Championship.
In 1990, Nannini survived a helicopter accident which ended his F1 career. He lost his right hand but fortunately, the surgeons sew the hand back and he returned to racing, becoming the successful touring car and GT car racer.
Racing career started in rallying
Alessandro Nannini was born on July 7, 1959, in Siena. His older sister Gianna became the famous pop star. Alessandro was interested in racing, so he started his career in rallying, driving the Lancia Stratos in some national events. In 1980, Sandro switched to single-seater racing, entering the Formula Fiat Abarth. In his second season, Nannini became the Formula Fiat Abarth champion.
Double program in the Formula 2 and World Endurance Championship
In 1982, Nannini joined Minardi in the Formula 2 European Championship. In 12 races, he reached one podium, to finish 10th in the final classification. In September 1982, Nannini joined Martini Racing to drive #40 Lancia LC1 Spider in the Mugello 1000-km race, the round of the World Endurance Championship. He and Corrado Fabi finished second, behind #51 sister car of Piercarlo Ghinzani and Michele Alboreto.
Two podiums with Lancia LC-83
In 1983, Nannini continued to drive for Minardi, finishing seventh in the Formula 2 championship, with one podium in 11 races. In the sports car racing, Alessandro expanded his activities with Martini Racing, participating in five races, including 24 hours of Le Mans. Nannini's best result was second place at Mugello and Kyalami, where he shared the #4 Lancia LC2-83 with Riccardo Patrese. At Le Mans, Nannini changed two cars, but both retired.
First sports car victory at Kyalami
In 1984, Nannini had a similar schedule, with a full season in the Formula 2 with Minardi and five races in the World Endurance Championship with Martini Racing. In Formula 2, Sandro again scored only one podium, to finish 10th in the standings. In the sports car racing, Nannini finally scored his first victory, together with Riccardo Patrese at Kyalami 1000-km race in South Africa.
Fastest at Le Mans, but the speed wasn't enough for win
At 1984 Le Mans, Alessandro Nannini and Bob Wollek had the fastest car. Wollek earned the pole position with a qualifying lap time 3.17.11, while Nannini set the fastest lap and new lap record (3.28.90) during the race. But, the speed wasn't enough for the victory at Le Mans, so the #4 Lancia LC2 finished only in the eighth place, 34 laps behind winning Porsche 936.
In 1985, Nannini focused to the World Endurance Championship only, participating in seven races with Lancia LC2-85. His co-driver was Riccardo Patrese. They finished in the third place two times, at Monza and Silverstone. Nannini also traveled to Japan, to join Henri Pescarolo in the 1000 km of Fuji and Lucio Cesario in the 500 miles of Fuji, but didn't finish any of those two races.
Sixth place at 1985 Le Mans race
At 1985 24 hours of Le Mans, Lucio Cesario was one of two Nannini's co-drivers, the other was Bob Wollek. The #4 Lancia LC2-85 was again among fastest car and they earned the third starting position. In the race, after 360 laps, the #4 crew finished sixth overall, behind five Porsches.
Formula 1 debut in 1986 with Minardi
Nannini was invited to joined Minardi in the 1985 Formula One Championship, but he didn't get a superlicense, so Pierluigi Martini took the seat. For 1986 season, the superlicense was in Sandro's pocket and he joined Minardi for his debut in the Formula One, alongside teammate Andrea de Cesaris.
With uncompetitive and unreliable Minardi M185B car, powered by V6 Motori Moderni engine, Nannini's results were disastrous. In sixteen races he was classified just once, finishing 14th at Mexican Grand Prix. In other races, he retired or even didn't start.
The only bright moment in the 1986 season was the Monza 360-km race in April. It was the first round of the World Sports-Prototype Championship. Nannini and De Cesaris joined Martini Racing to drive Lancia LC-85 and they finished in the second place. The duo participated in one more race, in May at Silverstone, but didn't reach the finish.
Parallel program in F1 and WTCC
The results in the 1987 Formula One season were slightly better because Nannini managed to finish three races. He was eleventh at Hungarian Grand Prix and Portuguese Grand Prix, while at the Italian Grand Prix he finished 16th.
Parallel to Formula One, Nannini participated in the World Touring Car Championship. He was driving the factory-entered Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo in four races, sharing the car with four different co-drivers: Michael Andretti, Jacques Laffite, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Giorgio Francia. His best result was ninth place at Dijon.
Nannini joined Benetton in 1988
Despite bad results with Minardi, Nannini remained in the Formula One, signing for Benetton. His teammate was Thierry Boutsen. In the second round of the championship, at San Marino Grand Prix, Nannini finished sixth and earned his first point. He repeated the sixth place at the French Grand Prix and then, at the British Grand Prix in July, Nannini scored his first F1 podium. He finished third, behind Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell.
Nannini finished third one more time, at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez. At the end of the season, he was 10th in the championship classification. Boutsen finished fourth and the team was third in the manufacturers' standings.
Maiden Formula One win at Japanese Grand Prix
In 1989, Boutsen left the team and Nannini was promoted to team leader. His new teammate was Johnny Herbert. Nannini had a strong season, with three podiums and one victory, his only in a career. He won the Japanese Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the championship. He was running third when two McLaren cars of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashed in front of him, giving him a lead. Senna rejoined the race and eventually retook the lead, but he was disqualified after the race, so Nannini was declared the winner.
In the last championship round, at Adelaide, Nannini finished second, behind Senna. It was Nannini's third podium in the season, after he finished third at Imola and Silverstone. He was classified sixth in the championship standings, which was his career-best result.
Three podiums in 1990 GP races
In the third season with Benetton, Nannini gets the third teammate. It was three-time world champion Nelson Piquet. Nannini finished third at San Marino Grand Prix and almost won at German Grand Prix, losing the lead in the closing laps from Ayrton Senna to finish second. In September, at Spanish Grand Prix, Nannini finished third, behind Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell.
Helicopter crash changed Sandro's life
It turned to be his last F1 race in a career because two weeks later he was involved in a helicopter crash while flying over his Siena vineyard. Nannini survived a crash but suffered severe injuries, which ended his Formula One career. He lost a right arm, but the groundbreaking microsurgery allowed doctors to sew Nannini’s right arm back on. With such an injury, he was lucky to be alive, but he was also impatient to return to the race track. He had a contract with Ferrari before an accident, but with new circumstances, he can only join Ferrari as a test driver in 1992.
Sensational comeback to the race tracks with Alfa
Recovered from injuries, with a capability of the partial use of the right hand, Nannini returned to the competitive driving in 1992, joining Alfa Martini team in the Italian Super Touring Championship. It was a sensational comeback, as he scored five wins in 20 races with Alfa Romeo 155 GTA, to finish third in the championship.
Three seasons and good results in the DTM
In 1993, Alfa Romeo entered DTM and Nicola Larini immediately won the title, driving the Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI. Nannini finished eighth, with two wins and five podiums. He won both races in the season-closing round at Hockenheimring. In 1994 DTM season, Nannini scored five wins, including non-points race at Donington Park, to finish fourth in the final classification, one place behind teammate Larini. In 1995 DTM season, Nannini had no wins, only two podiums, to finish 11th in the standings.
Third place in the 1996 ITCC season
Parallel to DTM, Nannini competed with Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI in the 1995 International Touring Car Championship, but without wins and podiums. He was much more successful in the 1996 ITCC season, winning seven of 26 races, to finish third in the championship, behind Mercedes' Bernd Schneider and Opel's Manuel Reuter.
A season with Mercedes before first retirement
Nannini joined AMG-Mercedes to driver CLK-GTR in the 1997 FIA GT Championship. In eleven races, Nannini scored one victory and five podiums, to finish fifth in the final classification. His co-driver for most of the season was Marcel Tiemann. They took the only victory at Suzuka 1000-km race, where they were joined by Bernd Schneider. At the end of the season, he retired from racing, at the age 38.
Return to the rally stages
Well, officially he retired, but he remained involved in motorsport and soon he was again in the competition. In 2000, Nannini entered two rally events, driving the Seat Ibiza TDI. Three years later, he was driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI in two events of the European Rally Championship - Rally San Marino and Rally Costa Smeralda. In 2004, Nannini returned to the race track in the one-off appearance in the Spanish GT Championship, at Circuit de Catalunya in November 2004. He and Nicola Larini competed in Gianni Giudici's Maserati but failed to finish the race.
A season in the International GT Open
In 2006, Nannini had a one-off appearance in the GT race at Circuit de Catalunya, which was the round of the Spanish GT Championship and International GT Open. He was driving Ferrari 360 Modena alongside Gianni Giudici. In 2007, Giudici and Nannini participated together in five races of the International GT Open, driving the #43 Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge. Nannini retired from racing once more at the end of 2007.
Still active at the age 53
But, he proved that retired drivers also can race, so he reappeared on the race track in 2012, participating in a couple of races of the Italian Ginetta G50 Cup for the Team Giudici. At the age of 53, he showed that his driving abilities are still good.
Nannini's fascinating life story, similar to one of Alex Zanardi, proved that the real heroes in the motorsport aren't just the drivers with record numbers of victories. The hero could be a driver with just one big victory, but much important is a victory in a fight of life against death.
Photos: autoweek.com, motorsportretro.com,