Italy left without an F1 driver in 2012

2012 F1 season

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault, Sepang International Circuit, 2006

Giancarlo Fisichella scored the last win for an Italian driver in the 2006 Malaysian Grand Prix

As Jarno Trulli has lost his seat to Vitaly Petrov, F1 finds itself in the rare position of having no Italian drivers at the start of a new season.

Only once in F1 history has a season passed without an Italian driver starting a race. That was in 1969, when Ernesto Brambilla was the only Italian driver to appear at a race, and he failed to start it.

The situation contrasts with that of France, another country with great motor racing heritage. France has been without an F1 driver for the last two years but boasts three in 2012.

Italy’s roster of F1 talent has been dwindling for some time. For many years Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella were its only representatives in the sport’s top flight. Vitantonio Liuzzi has also lost his seat this year.

Italian drivers in F1, 1950-2012

This graph shows how many Italian drivers started F1 races in each season since the world championship began:

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Italian drivers 12 8 8 8 7 9 10 6 5 2 4 9 3 3 3 6 4 3 2 0 2 2 3 3 2 4 5 5 5 5 5 9 8 8 8 9 9 11 11 13 13 13 11 10 7 8 4 4 2 4 2 2 2 2 4 3 3 3 2 4 2 2 0

At the dawn of the world championship, Italian involvement in F1 reached a peak in terms of both drivers and teams – the latter including Alfa Romeo and, of course, Ferrari.

During the first four seasons the championship went to an Italian on three occasions – first Giuseppe Farina, then Alberto Ascari in 1952 and 1953. But there have been no Italian drivers’ champions since then (though Mario Andretti, who was born in Italy, won the championship as an American in 1978).

The number of Italian drivers in F1 boomed again in the late eighties and early nineties. This was partly because the number of places in F1 had swelled, with a record 39 drivers entered at some rounds in 1989. Of these around a third were Italian.

Similarly in the following two seasons 13 Italian drivers started races. Once again, a rise in Italian constructors helped bolster their numbers: in addition to Ferrari the grid at this time featured the likes of Minardi, Dallara, Osella and others.

Of course, this is not to say that places at Italian teams exclusively went to Italian drivers, or vice-versa. But it provided more opportunities for local talent to progress through the junior ranks into F1.

Today the upper limit on entrants is much lower – the sport’s governing body grants space for just 13 two-car teams, and one of those slots is currently vacant. Of the Italian constructors, Ferrari remains, and Minardi has been transformed into Red Bull’s young talent hothouse Toro Rosso. The rest are gone.

Giorgio Pantano, GP2, 2008

Giorgio Pantano is the only GP2 champion not to have been promoted to F1

We shouldn’t assume that any country automatically deserves to have a driver in F1 – regardless of whether it’s Italy or India, Britain or Brazil. There are only 24 places available and it can hardly be argued that the quality is not very high – one-quarter of this year’s drivers are world champions.

And it’s hard to make the case that any of the Italian drivers who’ve lost their seats recently have been hard done by. Both Fisichella and Trulli have long careers behind them. Liuzzi made a comeback after being dropped by Toro Rosso, but was comprehensively beaten by Adrian Sutil in 2010 – a driver who has also failed to find a place on the grid in 2012.

“Nobody did anything about it, probably nobody cares”

The problem appears to be that the ascent of young Italian talent through the junior categories has slowed to a complete stop. It’s notable that every GP2 champion and runner-up since the series was inaugurated in 2005 has progressed to F1 with just two exceptions: both Italians.

They are Giorgio Pantano, GP2 champion in 2008 (and previously an F1 driver with Jordan in 2004), and last year’s runner-up Luca Filippi.

Filippi bemoaned the state of Italian racing talent in F1 after the news of Trulli’s departure broke on Friday. “Sad day for the Italian motorsport,” wrote Filippi on Twitter. “From being the most represented country in F1 to this year that we are just going to be spectators.

“We all knew this day was going to come. Nobody did anything about it, probably nobody cares about it. Sad, sad day.”

Former F1 driver Max Papis was even more vocal in his criticism: “With Trulli out F1 has no Italian driver for first time shame on CSAI [Italian Motor Sport Commision] and the Italian federation to make this happen,” he wrote, adding: “Fire the president.”

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali came to the the CSAI’s defence, saying: “For a few years now, Ferrari, through its Driver Academy, has established a long-term plan to create a new generation of young drivers, which works also in collaboration with the CSAI, and I am pleased to see that just now, we can announce that two talented youngsters, Raffaele [Marciello] and Brandon [Maisano], will be given a great opportunity to progress in the sport.?σΤιΌ?Ψ

“Among the group of drivers available to the Scuderia for racing and promotional activity, there are three Italians born and bred, in the shape of Andrea Bertolini, Giancarlo Fisichella and Davide Rigon, while Jules Bianchi has obvious Italian roots and will be able to make himself known this year in his role as reserve driver for Force India, as well as by racing in the World Series by Renault.”

Mirko Bortolotti, Ferrari F2008, 2010

Mirko Bortolotti tested for Ferrari in 2010

Not all the upcoming Italian racing talent share Filippi’s view. Take last year’s Formula Two champion Mirko Bortolotti, who has tested for Ferrari and Wiliams: “So F1 without Italians this year,” he wrote.

“OK it’s a shame but not a defeat though, because F1 isn’t the top of motorsport any more.” Tellingly, he signed off using a hashtag “JustMoney”.

Sponsorship is hard to come by for many drivers at the moment and the economic situation in Italy is particularly difficult.

Inevitably, attention will turn to the role of Ferrari in developing young driver talent. Only a select few Italian drivers have won races for the Prancing Horse.

The team have increased their driver development activity in recent years as Domenicali describes above. But as one of the leading teams in F1 they can hardly be expected to give one of their seats to unproven talent. Lewis Hamilton’s appointment at McLaren in 2007 is a rare example of this happening with a front-running team.

Nor should Ferrari be expected to focus solely on the talent they find in their backyard. Hence the leading drivers in their development programme are a Mexican and a Frenchman.

Ultimately, Ferrari’s priority is making great Italian racing cars – not great Italian racing drivers.

Do you think there are any Italian drivers missing from the 2012 grid who should be there? Have your say in the comments.

2012 F1 season

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Images ?ι?® Renault/LAT, Alastair Staley/GP2, Ferrari spa

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113 comments on Italy left without an F1 driver in 2012

  1. morningview66 (@morningview66) said on 19th February 2012, 13:51

    Someone needs to get Edoardo Mortara in an F1 car, 2010 F3 Euroseries champion, 3 times Macau winner (2x F3, 1x GT) and hes just come off of a pretty stellar rookie season in DTM.

    Admittedly he did struggle somewhat in GP2 2009 but maybe graduated to soon?

    Hopefully if VW enter F1 he could be an option as second driver, he is affiliated with them to an extent and could take the Paul Di Resta DTM-F1 route. Hopefully it wont be to late by then.

  2. peru-kowalsky said on 19th February 2012, 14:22

    investing money from the base is what brings drivers to the pinnacle. In this case f1.
    In some rare cases, some very talented drivers come out of the blue, like kubica or alonso that had to move to italy to climb the ladder.
    France and italy are now in the doldrums, but is not going to take long until the come back strong.

  3. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 19th February 2012, 14:35

    To me it’s not a big deal not to have any Italian driver because as the FIVE RED LIGHTS goes we don’t count which driver is from which nation!

  4. UKFan (@) said on 19th February 2012, 16:41

    What about Felipe Massa ?
    His family has Italian Roots.
    I know he ain’t Italian still he has strong italian roots.

    Having european roots is very common on America and its responsible for the worst social problems in the world millions of people have been killed by that problem since the colonizations of the respective american countrys.

    Since its discovery the american continent has been populated by europeans, many searching for new opportunities, in the XIX century thousands of italians, irish and german jews went to America, most of them work on precarious jobs, those people are now proud Americans still in this XXI century people cant forget their roots, still the indigenous populations were exterminated.

    In South America, particulary in Brazil after the Portuguese granted freedom to the Brazilian in the XVII century, Brazil has been flooded by emigrants that instead of getting precarious jobs and work their way out they took over Brazil and thats the reason for the enormous social issues natural born brazilians werent introduced to the society therefore the now called brazilians are the emigrants that never mixed with the natural brazillians, pale skin German and Italian last name and huge bank accounts.
    I know that this isnt the place to talk about world social problems but whats been happening in Brazil is far worse than whats been happening in Bahrain, Egipt, Lybia etc mainly because those countrys despite being inexperient they have a good social core and they’ll become part of the world soon.

    There is data to back up what I have just said above about the present status of Brazil. Brazil is ranked below Bahrain, Egypt and Lybia according to the Human Development Index

    HDI is compounded by 3 indexs life, education and income
    Brazil is ranked 84 and all of this because Brazil has been incapable of providing their people with basic rights, Brazil has the biggest disparity between rich and poor something that Ayrton often fought against, Brazil has the money but it continues to separate the rich and poor briefly reminding the Apartheid.
    I highlighted Brazil because like China, both should have the capabilty of becaming great nations but both are failing just because they can, one because of capitalism and other because of racism.

  5. il Leone said on 19th February 2012, 17:17

    As a person with Italian roots, I am saddened. But my hope is that a young Italian will burst onto the F1 scene and make an instant impact.

  6. jonchuckle (@jonchuckle) said on 19th February 2012, 20:46

    There may be no driver with an Italian passport, but F1’s still full of (at least partly) ethnic Italians. Di Resta, Massa, Ricciardo, Bianchi…

  7. Infected Crayons said on 19th February 2012, 22:43

    Ferrari is the worst. For the so called best team in F1, its embarrassing that they don’t even have a proper driver program. I am sure there is a huge talent in Italy, but if Ferrari and Torro Rosso have their way…, I feel sorry for the talented Italians.
    @Ferrari: Instead of doing a “Massa” please support some Italian driver.
    @Torro Rosso: Dazed and Confused.

  8. Did Enzo Ferrari not like having Italian drivers in his team after a number of deaths culminating in the loss of bandini in 67, he was sensitive to how this reflected on his team in their home country as it took years to repair the damage from the 50’s millie miglia crash.

  9. Aditya (@) said on 20th February 2012, 7:04

    I think drivers like a certain Robert Wickens are better than the likes of Vergne, Karthikeyan and Petrov.

  10. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 21st February 2012, 13:47

    Well, first off, Max Papis strikes me as an enormous idiot. Since when did nationality actually matter that much? Pretty pathetic argument he has if you ask me. Everyone has to earn their place and I’m sure he did too.

    I’m not really bothered about having no Italians grid, just as I wouldn’t be bothered if we didn’t have any Brits there either. I’m not in the slightest bit patriotic so it really doesn’t bother me.

    As long as drivers are there on merit i’m not bothered. Hell, i’m not even bothered if they’re pay drivers if it’s for the benefit of the team.

  11. Denis 68 said on 24th February 2012, 1:48

    Surely a couple of Italian company’s could put a budget together and sponsor Mirko Bortolotti who is young, experienced, fast and has a habit of winning titles, which is what F1 teams look for.

    Stefano Domenicalli states that Ferrari are trying to help and develop young Italian driver’s, if this is the case then why have they retained Massa when Bortolotti would be a far better option (and Italain).

    Let’s face it Bortolotti could not have been any slower in the Ferrari last year than Massa was (my God Massa was painfully slow to watch).

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