Why Italy is still waiting, 40 years on 08 Sep 2006
Rain is forecast for Monza this weekend, and many fans at the circuit will be hoping it can wash away one very specific dry spell. It has been 40 years since an Italian driver won his home Grand Prix and although local team Ferrari have done their bit, racking up an unsurpassed 16 wins, it has been a long and restless wait.
Since the championship started in 1950, 82 Italians have competed in Formula One races, but Giuseppe Farina, Alberto Ascari and Ludovico Scarfiotti remain the only Italians to triumph in their home event. By way of comparison, over the same period 11 Britons, four Brazilians, and two Americans have won at Monza. This, despite the fact that things began so well for the Italians.
The countrys inaugural Grand Prix at Monza in 1950 was an Italian whitewash, both in terms of driver and car. Farina won the event, the Turin native driving a blistering race in his Alfa Romeo to beat the Ferrari of Alberto Ascari, with Alfa team mate Luigi Fagioli third. Not only that, Farinas victory also ensured he beat Argentinas Juan Manuel Fangio to the drivers title, claiming the sports first world championship for Italy.
A year later and Italys run continued at the track. This time it was Ascari who took victory for Ferrari, whilst Alfa Romeo team mates Felice Bonetto and Nino Farina shared their drive to third place. The interloper in second was Jose Froilan Gonzalez, but as the Argentinean was at the wheel of a Ferrari, the podium remained a primarily Italian affair.
Ascari would win again for Ferrari in 1952, the sixth victory of his championship-winning season and the third successive home success for Italy. The following year he crashed out of the lead on the penultimate lap of the race, handing victory to the Maserati of Fangio. But despite Ascaris demise, it wasnt all bad news for the Italian fans, who saved their cheers for the Ferraris of Farina and Luigi Villoresi in second and third places respectively.
Fangio reigned supreme in 1954 and 1955 and, although Italy remained in the running with a third place for Ferraris Umberto Maglioli in 54 and a second place for Mercedes driver Piero Taruffi in 55, there was a notable lull in home success. Farinas retirement from the sport and Ascaris fatal accident, both in 1955, then robbed Italy of two of its legends and never again would the country dominate the Monza podium in quite the same fashion.
Indeed, Italian fans had to wait until 1964 before another Italian, Lorenzo Bandini, graced the podium after finishing third behind his race-winning Ferrari team mate John Surtees. But just two years later, in 1966, Ludovico Scarfiotti, a relative unknown, won an unexpected victory for Ferrari in front of an adoring - if slightly surprised - home crowd.
Four decades on and Italy is still awaiting its next winner. In that time only three men have come close to matching Scarfiottis achievement. Michele Alboreto finished second for Ferrari in both 1984 and 1988, whilst Riccardo Patrese, despite competing in 15 Italian Grands Prix, appeared on the podium just once with a third place for Alfa Romeo in 1984. Even Renaults Giancarlo Fisichella, a native of Rome and the most successful Italian currently driving, has had limited luck at his home Grand Prix. His third place in last years race was his best result to date.
Fisichella will be racing again this weekend alongside fellow countrymen Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Two of the three are proven race winners, but given the 40-year lull and Ferraris recent form, a Maranello victory will surely be the most likely cause for the Inno di Mameli to be heard around Monzas historic grandstands on Sunday.