A few years ago I went for dinner at one of those trendy Italian restaurants where the tablecloth is a big sheet of paper and they give you a jar of crayons. Knowing one of the waiters was an F1 fan I scrawled “Forza Minardi” in fat letters on my side of the table. “Who is Minardi?” he demanded on his return.
His reply would make a fitting epitaph for the much-loved team that spent 21 years in the top echelon of motor sport without every reaching the podium.
And their relationship with Italy’s more famous F1 team – Ferrari – is one of the most intriguing parts of this colourful history of Minardi.
Minardi never scored more than seven points in a single season and their best ever finish in a Grand Prix was fourth. But the appeal of their underdog status (and, apparently, the quality of their Italian cooking) meant they were never short of admirers.
That didn’t earn them any favours from the other teams, including their neighbours – former team manager Jaime Manca-Graziadei told author Simon Vigar that Ferrari supplied them with engines that were three years old in 1991 – and nicked one of their sponsors as well. Former team boss Giancarlo Minardi denies the claim but Vigar suggests that part of the reason for the team’s failure to progress in F1 was that Minardi himself was not as cut-throat as his rivals.
The team often served as a nursery for some of F1’s top drivers – Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Anthony Davidson and Mark Webber all made their Formula 1 debuts with them, all bar Davidson courtesy of Flavio Briatore. Most of them leant Vigar some quotes about their time at the “University of Faenza” as well.
Minardi changed hands in 2001 with Australian entrepreneur Paul Stoddart taking over. Unfortunately most of the book is concerned with the final five years under Stoddart – the first 16 years of the teams existence getting fewer than half the pages.
This is annoying for a couple of reasons – first of all it’s the period of Minardi’s history about which I know least and was looking forward to reading about.
The controversial Stoddart is quoted at great length in the later chapters and his brash style wears thin very quickly – even, I imagine, if you agree with him. His lengthy whinges are no more interesting than they were four years ago, and it saps the joy out of a book which I hoped would be a celebration of a team few F1 fans would admit to disliking.
Photographs are a problem as well – the later pages have loads of them, the earlier ones not as many, and some of them are re-used three times in a single spread.
But I love the fact that someone has actually gone to the effort of putting together a history of Minardi. And it wouldn’t be right if I ran a website called F1 Fanatic and didn’t have this book on my shelf.
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