Watching Markus Winkelhock lead his first ever Grand Prix having qualified his un-competitive Spyker at the back of the grid had me reminiscing about backmarker heroes Minardi.
The Italian team became cult heroes during their two decades in Formula 1. They were often the first to get lapped, but they also made some giant-killing performances and gave several top drivers their F1 breaks, including Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber.
Here are my ten favourite Minardi drivers.
Pierluigi Martini – Entered a whopping 103 races for Minardi between 1985 (when he was their first and only driver) and 1995. The highlight of which was surely his second on the grid at the United States round in 1990, thanks not only to Martini’s skill around the angular Pheonix track, but also judicious use of the team’s Pirelli tyres.
Also scored the team’s first point in 1988 at another American street track, Detroit.
Fernando Alonso – Anyone who paid attention to the Spaniard’s maiden season with Minardi in 2001 couldn’t fail to spot the talent in the man who would become a two-times champion. His scorching performance at Suzuka, beating the likes of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Olivier Panis in much faster cars, was one of the best of the season.
Luca Badoer – Drove for the team in 1995 and 1999 and came heartbreakingly close to grabbing a fat haul of points at the N?â??rburging. He was running fourth – as high as a Minardi ever finished – when his car stopped. Badoer sat down by his mount and cried.
Mark Webber - Australian Paul Stoddart was in his second year of running the team in 2002 and he put compatriot Webber in the car. When a first-lap crash decimated the field at the opening race at Melbourne the cool Webber fended off Mika Salo’s Toyota to bring the car home fifth. Bonza!
Christian Fittipaldi – Drove for the team in 1992 and 1993, scoring six points. But most impressively of all he finished the 1993 Italian race after tagging the back of team mate Martini’s car and somersaulting end over end:
Marc Gene – Drove for the team from 1999-2000, breaking a four-year points drought for them in his first season by finishing sixth at the Nurburgring after Badoer retired.
Justin Wilson – Minardi made their car longer than usual in 2003 to accommodate the six foot-plus Briton who paid for his seat through a share issue. He gained praise for his lightning starts, putting the Minardi abnormally high early in races before inevitably sinking backwards.
Alessandro Nannini – Made his Grand Prix debut with the team and stayed for two seasons in 1986-7 before moving to Benetton. Was tipped as the next top Italian driver until he lost his arm in a helicopter crash in 1990.
Fabrizio Barbazza – The under-rated Barbazza made eight starts for the team in 1993 and scored in two consecutive races at Donington park and Imola.
Michele Alboreto – Minardi was the final team of the late Alboreto, 1985 championship runner-up, who drove for them in 1994 before leaving the sport.
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