Lapped legends: Piercarlo Ghinzani

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It is one thing to spend a season or two in a bad car or under-performing team.

But it’s quite another to pass an entire decade in this fashion, scoring only two points in 111 Grands Prix.

This is the story of Piercarlo Ghinzani.

Before F1

Ghinzani?s career started in Italian Formula Ford in 1970 and he spent the following decade winding his way through the junior formulas, spending several seasons in F3 culminating in European Title success in 1977.

However an abortive season of Formula Two in 1978 saw the Italian classified 16th and losing the momentum from the previous year. So 1979 saw a retreat to the Italian Formula Three Championship where winning was the only option. This was duly done, Ghinzani narrowly seeing off Michele Alboreto.

With his single seater-career going nowhere the only viable option was a move on to sports cars landing the works Lancia drive. In 1981 Ghinzani was an impressive 262nd overall in the points following a solitary 4th place at the Nurburgring.


It was during 1981 that Ghinzani got his F1 breakthrough with the Osella team following the injury to Miguel Guerra in the San Marino GP. When other candidates proved not to have the appropriate paperwork Ghinzani got the nod for the Belgian and Monaco rounds. He got on the grid in Zolder and finished 13th several laps down, before missing out at Monaco.

After a year out of F1 Ghinzani was offered a full time ride by Osella for 1983. Arguably this was something of a poisoned chalice as the cars by this stage were renowned neither for their pace (plodding) or strength (flimsy).

It was not until round seven in Detroit by the time Ghinzani made his second GP start. Two DNQs followed in Canada and Holland but the rest of the time Ghinzani was on the grid ?ǣ albeit no higher than 23rd, his only finish 11th at the Osterreichring.

For 1984 Osella decided two cars was too much work and slimmed to a one-car entry for Ghinzani. This proved an astute decision as the performance was a step up from the previous year with only one DNQ. Furthermore in the race of severe attrition in Dallas, Ghinzani hung on to claim a miraculous 5th place. This was something of a career highlight – but he also suffered burns in a high-speed crash at Kyalami.

Roster of backmarkers

In 1985 Ghinzani struggled to make the underdeveloped Osella competitive and suffered a string of DNQs. This lack of development was directly proportional to wads of the folding stuff, which was something Ghinzani didn?t have, and he was reluctantly let go to be replaced by Huub Rottengatter mid-season.

By this stage the Toleman team was in its dying throes and Ghinzani got something of a lifeline with the opportunity to see out the season with them. Toleman were an altogether more competitive proposition and Ghinzani found himself racing in the mid-teens.

Back to Osella

With Benetton buying out Toleman at the end of the season Ghinzani was quite replaced by Gerhard Berger. So for 1986 it was back, once again, to Osella where funds were now perilously low. Despite a DNQ at Monaco Ghinzani was on the grid most times out but only finished once due to car and driver unreliability.

1987 saw what promised to be something of a career boost for Ghinzani, now 35 years old, when he was signed to partner Rene Arnoux at Ligier, complete with Alfa Romeo engines.

Unfortunately the engines only lasted until pre-season testing when Arnoux slagged them off in public and the Italian company withdrew from the project. This was the start of something of a nightmare season where the only reliable aspect of the Ligier was its unreliability. That said when the car was running Ghinzani was a comfortable qualifier often racing in the lower teens.

1988 saw another team that was not a the cutting edge of the grid ?ǣ this time Zakspeed. The car was something of an enigma, reasonably competitive at some venues, hopelessly off the pace at others, which meant that Ghinzani clocked up a fair number of DNQ?s and was involved in a rather bizarre incident at Hockenheim where he and team mate Bernd Schneider managed to collide in pre-qualifying, although luckily by this stage he had done enough to make the cut.

1989 was to be Ghinzani?s final F1 fling and appropriately enough he would return to Osella.

The year started poorly with nine straight failures to pre-qualify, before an uplift in performance towards the end of the season. By this stage Ghanzani had decided enough was enough and announced his retirement.

He went out with style hustling the Osella to an unreasonably high 21st on the grid at Adelaide, surely one of the team’s greatest moments. The race itself was farcical held on a near-flooded circuit. Ghinzani was eliminated from the race when Nelson Piquet’s Lotus drove straight into the back of his car, the Osella coming terrifyingly close to decapitating the Brazilian.

So it was that Ghinzani ended his Formula One Career have never driven, let alone raced, anything comparable to a competitive car. Ghinzani has subsequently gone on to be a highly successful junior-formulae team manager and owner and remains heavily involved in the sport.

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Ben Evans
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9 comments on “Lapped legends: Piercarlo Ghinzani”

  1. 262nd overall, that’s a feat in itself.

    To be fair to the guy, from the article I get the impression he wasn’t a total flop, he just never managed to get a break and a halfway decent team.

    Good article though :-D

  2. I agree, although he was never going to set the world on fire, Ghinzani was not a total no hoper either and managed to keep his head up in the face of some rubbish machinery – I’m glad this has come across in the article

  3. How on earth does a series get 262 competitors in the first place? Seriously though, if an F1 team (even one as low-ranking as Osella) was happy to have Piercarlo Ghinzani on three separate occasions, he must have been good. Like Robert said, though, the only real problem he had was that he never got a good chance.

    And I too think this series is going well.

  4. I remember watching that Piquet hit up the back on TV when I was a kid. Ghinzani’s car just came up out of nowhere. Terrifying.

  5. Here’s a link to the points table for the 1981 World Sports Car Championship drivers’ standings with Ghinzani in equal 262nd (with 16 other drivers):

    1981 World Sports Car Championship drivers’ standings (external)

  6. He was joint 262nd with a guy called Bonky Fernandez its a shame he never made it to F1 :)

  7. That was even more amazing – 361 competitors between 15 rounds of sportscar races. This means there were an average of just over 24 new drivers in each race that season. Could you imagine what would happen if F1 ever kicked up such a statistic?

  8. I read with interest what was written about Ghinzani. The article in question says half the truth. There is no mention that Ghinzani won the 1000km of Fuji (Group C) together with Paolo Barilla in 1985. 1986 was a very difficult year for Ghinzani and Osella. Cesare Fiorio has once described Ghinzani, perhaps unkindly, as a driver who could have become a Group C champion if he were not to be distracted by f1. I followed his career closely from 1985 onwards. An unflustered, determined and resilient driver, whom us mortals have a lot to learn from. He got his 2 points for Osella (Detroit ’84) in a Grand Prix where the driver counted much more than the machine. A more balanced approach would have been greatly appreciated. Ghinzani had his lows, but he was surely much better then some mediocre drivers we have seen in the mid and late eighties.

  9. Yes, Ghinzani wasn’t all that bad. But I have to say a word for Osella too. They were Minardi before Minardi ever came along and they lasted for ten years in F1, never with decent funding. Even so, in their Kelemata years, their car was probably the prettiest on the grid (a tradition that Minardi picked up on). When a small Italian team lasts for a decade, they must have something – and in their case, it was just that they loved F1 racing.

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