Last weekend I had my first Italian motor racing experience: complete with drivers refusing to leave crashed cars, excessive discussion about every aspect of the weekend, and some absolutely stunning girls in and around the paddock.
It is often said that on the driving side Italian motorsport never delivers to its potential. Italy hasn’t produced a truly great F1 driver since the mid-1950s, and many of its most promising recent graduates to F1 – Ivan Capelli, Stefano Modena, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli – have never delivered on the potential they showed of the first couple of seasons.
However the past 20 years has seen a stunning Italian motorsport success, one which shows no sign of slowing down, and one which I stood across the road from last weekend – Dallara.
Who is the top Formula Three chassis manufacturer of the last 15 years? – Dallara
Who is the GP2 and World Series by Renault chassis manufacturer? – Dallara
Who is the Indy Car chassis manufacturer? – Dallara
Put simply, the single-seater world away from F1 is dominated by this Italian marque. With the exception of a handful of Formula Ford and F3 marques, and some old Lola F3000 cars, pretty much every single seater of note currently racing in Europe has passed through the gates of the Dallara factory, just outside Varano in Italy.
Although Dallara had some moderate success with its F1 chassis in the early 1990s, I would trace Dallara’s rise and rise to the arrival of their F3 car in the UK midway through 1993.
Pre-’93 British F3 had been a multi-marque formula largely dominated by Ralt and Reynard. By midway through 1994, the entire field raced Dallaras exept for a pair of recalcitrant Ralts. For the F3 world the wholesale defection to Dallara was simply seismic.
Last weekend at Snetterton, when the Michael Devaney took a pair of wins in his Mygale, was by my reckoning the first time a non-Dallara chassis had won an F3 race in four years. Pretty damn impressive. (Devaney, incidentally, was entered by Ultimate, who’ve been linked to the purchase of Toro Rosso.)
Appropriately for an Italian marque it also makes cars that are attractive – not ust its neat and devastating F3 machine, but also its GP2 chassis and World Series by Renault car. Only the IndyCar looks awkward and bulky but that is largely to prevent drivers being squished following 200mph car/wall interfaces.
The Italian marque’s dominance over single seaters has to an extent been assisted by the single-chassis rules that have been enforced, to my dismay, by many formulae. Yes, if you’re not in a top chassis your season is effectively ruined, but at the same time developing a new chassis is key to driver development. Only A1GP has strayed away from the Dallara stable, and the first generation cars were both ugly and fiddly.
I don’t know the exact number of chassis’ which pass through the factory doors each year but I would be willing to guess at 50+ F3 chassis, 25 for IndyCar, 30 for World Series by Renault and a similar number for GP2. Contrast that to Mygale who are currently wiping the floor in UK Formula Ford and the chassis manufacturer for Formula BMW, who probably produce 50 or so top level single-seater cars a year.
The dominance of Dallara has come at a cost. The once mighty British marques – Ralt, Reynard, Lola and Van Dieman have almost faded into insignificance, as have the French Martini marque who made some of the most beautiful F3 and FRenault cars of the 1980s.
Over the next few years chassis development in the junior formulas will be fascinating. The success of Ligier and Mygale in F3 is forcing the tectonic plates of the single-chassis formula apart, and surely it can only be a matter of time before other marques attempt to enter cars into GP2 or WSR.
While in Italy Ben also won his first Super Vee race – congratulations Ben!