Luigi Fagioli was one of the racing heroes before the World War 2 but he is also the oldest pilot who won the Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix.
An accountant who became 'The Abruzzi Robber'
He was born on 9th of June 1898 in Osimo, near the city of Ancona in Marche region by the Adriatic sea. As a boy Luigi was fascinated by the cars, technical miracle of that time. He trained as an accountant but at the age of 26 he began to compete in hill climbing events and road races across Italy, driving an old French Salmson voiturette.
Luigi Fagioli - The Abruzzi Robber
His natural talent soon was spotted by the Maserati brothers and in 1930 Fagioli became the Maserati factory driver. The success was imminent as Fagioli won the Coppa Ciano that year. That was followed by a triumph at Monza Grand Prix in 1931 and Rome Grand Prix in the following year. Luigi became quite popular and earned a nickname ’The Abruzzi Robber’ because of his wild temperament and unpredictable behavior.
A turbulant period in Mercedes and rivalry with Caracciola
However, his racing skills were unquestionable and Fagioli signed with Ferrari in 1933, replacing Tazio Nuvolari. He triumphed in the Italian Grand Prix in 1933 and 1934 and some smaller races. Luigi caught the eyes of Mercedes-Benz team and joined the team to drive alongside Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola. Although the start with the German team wasn’t perfect due to Luigi’s temperament and inability to settle with team orders, the results soon after became very good.
Luigi Fagioli, the winner of 1935 Monaco Grand Prix
In 1935, Fagioli was a runner-up to Rudi Caracciola in the European Grand Prix Championship. He triumphed in the season-opening Monaco Grand Prix and finished 3rd thrice. Fagioli also won many non-championship races that year, establishing himself as one of the leading drivers of that time. Unfortunately, Fagioli left Mercedes-Benz at the end of 1936 after his relationship with teammates worsened. His relation with Caracciola became extremely bad and Luigi physically attacked his rival after the 1937 Tripoli Grand Prix when Luigi was a driver of the Auto Union team, Mercedes’ biggest rival.
Many were thinking that Fagioli's career was over
Fagioli’s health worsened over the years and he barely could walk but after the World War the situation became somewhat better and Luigi returned to racing at the age of 52. In 1950 Fagioli became a driver of the Alfa Romeo team and raced in the newly-formed Formula 1 World Championship.
Luigi Fagioli finished 2nd at the first modern F1 race, the 1950 British Grand Prix
Although being a veteran that didn’t race for more than a decade, Fagioli confirmed that he still has plenty to offer. He finished 2nd in four races that year and once was 3rd before finishing 3rd in the Drivers’ Championship, behind his teammates Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio.
Luigi Fagioli is the oldest winner of the Formula 1 race
In the following year Fagioli stayed with Alfa Romeo but appeared in only one race. It was the French Grand Prix and, a bit surprisingly, ’The Abruzzi Robber’ won the race driving alongside Fangio. It was the first of three occasions where two drivers would be credited with a Grand Prix win after sharing a car. At the same time, Fagioli became the oldest person to ever win a Formula 1 race.
Luigi Fagioli, the oldest Grand Prix winner in the F1 history
Although being in relatively poor health state and 54 years old, Fagioli continued to race. He left Formula 1 in 1952 and signed with Lancia to race sports cars. He finished in the famous Mille Miglia event that year, ahead of his arch-rival Caracciola, and that was his last race.
Crash that proved to be fatal
Whilst practicing for the touring cars race in Monaco, Fagioli crashed and even after that at the first glance looked like a minor accident, he suffered serious internal injuries, as well as broken hand and leg. He was hospitalized but lost the battle after three weeks and died on 20th of June 1952 in Monte Carlo.
Lancia Aurelia of Luigi Fagioli and Vincenzo Borghi, 1952 Mille Miglia
It was the sad end of a vivid character who was looking more like a boxer than a race car driver. Maybe he wasn’t as famous as some of his compatriots like Nuvolari or Achille Varzi, but Fagioli is still considered as one of the greatest Italian racers.