VittorioBrambilla was an Italian Formula 1 driver. The story of his career perfectly matches the romantic and brutal period of racing in the 1970s.
Italian motorcycling champion
He was born on 11th of November 1937 in Monza so it wasn’t a surprise that he was infected with cars, motorcycles, and racing since his childhood. In 1957, Vittorio started to race motorcycles and in the following year, Brambilla became the Italian champion in 175 cc class. He also raced sporadically in go-karts before becoming a mechanic for his brother Ernesto who also was a racing driver.
Brambilla driving a Moto Guzzi at Bol D'Or race, 1971
The Monza Gorilla
Ten years after becoming the Italian motorcycle champion, Brambilla returned to racing. He was driving in the Italian Formula 3 and eventually became the champion in 1972, driving a brother’s old car. At the same time, he was driving for March team in Formula 2 with a considerable success.
Vittorio Brambilla - The Monza Gorilla
The Italian driver obviously had raw talent but his driving style was aggressive, sometimes probably too aggressive, so he earned nickname – the Monza Gorilla. Unlike the most Italians, he lacked refinement and elegance. He was a strong macho man who liked to joke, but on the track, he was completely different.
Formula 1 debut with March
Thanks to the good results in lower formula racing categories, as well to the backing from Beta Tools he got an opportunity to enter the Formula 1 World Championship. It was with March team at 1974 South African Grand Prix in which he finished 10th. His first season in the series wasn’t brilliant as he picked only one point, finishing 6th place at Osterreichring.
As a driver of March Formula 1 team
Brambilla stayed with March team for another two years. March never was among the front runners. The brakes of the cars possessed little stopping power but that was just fine for Vittorio. The season of 1975 definitely was the best in his career. He had a lot of retirements over the year but earned points at Montjuic circuit and Silverstone. Many of his colleagues described Brambilla as a dangerous maniac behind the wheel but many fans were delighted with that kind of approach.
Sensational win in Austria
They were especially frenetic after Brambilla won the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix at Osterreichring. The race was shortened due to heavy rain but Monza Gorilla really enjoyed racing on the track as he could do even bigger escapades. Probably forever will be remembered the spin-off and the wrecking of the nose of his March when he took the chequered flag in that race. Brambilla finished 11th in the Drivers’ championship that year what was his best result in Formula 1.
Brambilla celebrates incredible win in Austria
In 1976, his last year with March, Italian driver picked only one point, finishing 6th in the Dutch Grand Prix. Just like in the previous years, he had too many accidents and retirements due to mechanical failures of his over pushed car. March’s chief designer Robin Herd sometimes was joking that he is not preparing cars for the races but repairing it, thanks to Brambilla.
Video - Brambilla wins 1975 Austrian Grand Prix
The Surtees car better endured agressive driving style
After he left March, Brambilla signed with Surtees team but nothing has changed in the terms of results and his mad driving style. In 1977, he reduced the number of retirements and scored points in three Grand Prix races, with 4th position in Belgium as the highlight of the year which he has finished in 16th place.
The following year wasn’t a good one at all. Vittorio picked only one point finishing 6th in Austria. In the following race in the Netherlands, he was disqualified while at Monza Brambilla almost was killed. In the carnage in which Ronnie Peterson was killed, the local crowd favorite was hit by a flying wheel and suffered serious head injuries and was left in a coma.
Last try with Alfa Romeo
Luckily, Monza Gorilla was strong enough to recover but it was a long and painful year for the Italian driver. After recovery, Brambilla drove for Alfa Romeo in the last three rounds of 1979 F1 championship. He already spent some time with Alfa Romeo two years earlier, but competing in the World Sports Car Championship and help the team to win the title.
Brambilla ended his career as a driver of Alfa Romeo
In 1980 Brambilla appeared in only two races, at Zandvoort and Imola, but retired from both what wasn’t an illustrious way to finish the career which probably wasn’t brilliant but Brambilla was happy that he was part of the most prominent championship and being popular among the fans and the drivers, but only out of the track.
Retirement and early death
Later he owned a Formula 1 memorabilia shop and had his own garage in Monza. Occasionally he drove the medical car during the Italian Grand Prix. Vitto Brambilla died on 26th of May 2001 of a heart attack at the age of 63 while working in his garden in the town of Lesmo near Monza.