Some Grand Prix drivers are blessed with Formula 1 careers that span over a decade – just think of the likes of Rubens Barrichello, who made his debut in F1 in 1993 and continues racing in F1 to this day, almost approaching the 300-start mark.
However, many Grand Prix drivers aren’t so lucky. By dint of a host of circumstances – talent, budget, injuries, plain bad luck – many aren’t afforded the luxury of such a long time on the world’s greatest sporting stage.
One such man – coincidentally, who made his debut as Barrichello’s team-mate, in the Brazilian’s rookie F1 year – is Marco Apicella.
Apicella’s career in F1 is statistically the shortest of any driver: just 800 metres in anger at the start of the Italian Grand Prix for Jordan before he was taken out at the first corner.
It marked the end of his career, for at the next race, the merry-go-round that was the second race seat at Jordan in 1993 went to Emanuele Naspetti, and later to Eddie Irvine just a round after that.
While Irvine was able to use his Jordan debut as a platform to launch a race-winning F1 career, for Marco, his career in F1 ended then and there
Marco’s talent was clear for all to see in his early years, and it certainly looked like he would graduate to F1 based on his early form. A success in karting, he leaped straight into Formula 3 in 1984, and competed there for three seasons against the likes of Stefano Modena, Fabrizio Barbazza, Gabriele Tarquini, Alex Caffi and Nicola Larini – to whom he would finish runner-up in 1986.
In 1987, he graduated to Formula 3000 with the Euroventurini outfit, but it was not a success – although he had his first taste of F1 machinery with a test for Minardi at Estoril.
In 1988, he moved in with the FIRST team, staying there for two seasons and finishing fourth overall in 1989 – behind Jean Alesi, Erik Comas and Eric Bernard despite not winning a race. He jumped ship to Paul Stewart Racing – figuring its race-winning pedigree would surely propel him into F1 – but they were saddled with the Lola chassis just when Reynard started to come good.
A move to the Japanese F3000 scene in 1992 proved a great move, and he was back in the winners’ circle, which ensured the Jordan opportunity would come his way in 1993.
He stayed in Japan for 1994 and took the Japanese crown with some impressive wins and podium finishes. He stayed on in the championship in 1995 and 1996, but couldn’t replicate the same success.
But it was his lengthy association with DOME that saw him drafted in to test their F1 prototype, but sadly it came to nought.
By now, Marco had switched to GT racing – debuting at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1995 – and his involvement in motorsport tailed off in the late 1990s, although he returned to his homeland and won races in the Italian F3000 championship in 1999.
He returned to Japan in 2000, where he has largely remained ever since in their domestic GT series, driving for the likes of Porsche, Lamborghini and Toyota.
Marco thoroughly enjoys GT racing and the success his career has afforded him, in spite of the embarrassing Formula 1 statistic that followed him everywhere. Marco graciously accepted our interview request and chatted about his motorsport career and that opening lap at Monza. We offer our sincerest thanks to Marco for his time and support in making this interview possible.
|Full Name:||Marco Apicella|
|Born:||7 October 1965, Bologna (ITA)|
|First GP:||1993 Italian Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||1993 Italian Grand Prix|
|Wins:||0||Best Finish:||DNF||Best Qualifying:||23rd|
|1983||Karting (125C1 Class), 3rd overall in Italian and World Championships|
|1985||Italian Formula 3 Championship, Coperchini Ralt RT3 / Reynard 853, 2 wins|
|1986||Italian Formula 3 Championship, Coloni Dallara, 2nd overall|
|1987||International F3000, EuroVenturini, 10 races, 1 point, 19th overall|
|1988||International F3000, FIRST Racing March Judd 88B, 11 races, 1 podium, 9 points, 11th overall|
|Formula 1, Minardi Ford M188, Test Driver|
|1989||International F3000, FIRST Racing March Judd 89B, 10 races, 4 podiums, 23 points, 4th overall|
|Formula 1, Minardi Ford M189, Test Driver|
|1990||International F3000, FIRST Racing Reynard Mugen 90D, 11 races, 3 podiums, 20 points, 6th overall|
|1991||International F3000, Paul Stewart Racing Lola Mugen T91/50, 10 races, 2 podiums, 18 points, 5th overall|
|Formula 1, Modena Lamborghini 291, Test Driver|
|1992||Japanese F3000, DOME Mugen F103, 1 win, 13 points, 10th overall|
|1993||Japanese F3000, DOME Mugen F103i, 1 win, 2 podiums, 23 points, 4th overall|
|Formula 1, Jordan Hart 193, 1 race, 1 DNF, Not Classified|
|1994||Japanese F3000, DOME Mugen F104, 3 wins, 6 podiums, 1st overall|
|1995||24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota Supra Bi Turbo GT, 14th overall with J. Krosnoff & M. Martini|
|1996||Formula Nippon, Stellar Reynard Mugen 95D, 8th overall|
|Formula 1, DOME Mugen-Honda F105 Prototype, Test Driver|
|1999||Italian F3000, Monaco Motorsport, 2 wins, 20 points, 3rd overall|
How did you become involved in motorsport? Was it always your ambition to compete in Formula 1?
One day when I was a child, my father came home with a go-kart and I started to race in it.
It was not until few years later that my desire to compete professional became serious.
From 1984-1986, you competed in Italian F3 against the likes of Alex Caffi, Nicola Larini, Gabriele Tarquini, and Fabrizio Barbazza – all of whom would graduate to Formula 1 in the coming years. How close was the competition between you during this time?
I competed against many impressive drivers during those years in Formula 3. That all of them went to Formula 1 reflects the high standard of the competition. The racing was very tough, and beating them was very satisfying.
You moved to Formula 3000 in 1987, and spent four seasons in the competition, showing excellent form but unluckily never managing to win during this time. Can you tell us about your time in Formula 3000?
I stayed in Formula 3000 for five years. I had a some beautiful races and many podiums and fastest laps. But I never had the luck or the momentum to win a championship. In some years, the car wasn’t the best. The standard of the drivers was very high and it made the competition tough.
You first sampled a Formula 1 car in a test session for Minardi in 1988. How did the opportunity come about and what were your impressions of the team and the car?
I first tested with Minardi in 1988 at Estoril, and then again in 1990 at Imola and Jerez (pictured).
Minardi was always on the lookout to break young drivers into Formula 1. The team was very much like a big family, but it had nowhere near the budget to be able to compete seriously at the front.
In F3000, you moved to Paul Stewart Racing for the 1991 season, but again no wins came. I already read that you tested for the Modena Lambo F1 team during the year as well. How much running did you have and what did you think of the team?
I switched to Paul Stewart Racing because they had the Lola chassis, which everyone believed was the best chassis to have in Formula 3000. True to my luck, Reynard came up with a better chassis that year and I wasn’t in the running for the championship!
I drove around four or five tests for the Modena Lambo team. The team had limited F1 experience and the car was not at all competitive.
You moved to Japanese F3000 in 1992 and competed with the DOME Team, finally breaking your win drought at Autopolis. How much did the win mean to you after such a long time trying to get there?
I always had the belief in my ability and potential, and it all came together that weekend. It remains one of my best memories in my motorsport career.
You took a further win in 1993 at Sugo before the Jordan F1 team appointed you to drive at the Italian Grand Prix. How did the opportunity come about?
I had a long relationship with Eddie Jordan, and my name came up when Thierry Boutsen retired and they needed a driver for the Italian Grand Prix.
Their regular test driver, Emanuele Naspetti, incredibly turned down the opportunity to race at Monza! So they called me when I was in Japan and we struck a deal.
You had a test session before the Grand Prix weekend and performed well. What were your impressions of the team and the car?
I tested the car at Imola. The car was good, but the Hart engine was not at all impressive. However, the team really professional and well organised in spite of it being a small operation on a limited budget.
For an Italian, racing at Monza – the temple of speed – must be an incredible experience. You were making your Formula 1 debut there! How did it feel?
I feel unpatriotic saying this, but I’ve never liked the Monza circuit! The weekend was no good to me at all, although it was a great feeling to finally be in F1. It was a very tough weekend: I had no time to understand what was going on, and there was an enormous amount of pressure and too little time.
Were you offered any advice from notable figures that weekend?
I remember Michele Alboreto (who was then driving for the hopeless Scuderia Italia Lola Ferrari team) came up to me that weekend and congratulated me for arriving on the Formula 1 stage.
Can you talk us through qualifying?
It was the first season where you were restricted with the number of laps you could run in qualifying – just twelve laps in total.
Eddie Jordan sent me out at the beginning of the session when the traffic was its least intense.
But the track was a little damp and I spun at the first Lesmo! I had to qualifying in the spare car and was 23rd-quickest, but only half a second slower than Barrichello.
Sadly, your race would go belly-up at the first corner, when JJ Lehto took you and Rubens Barrichello out at the first corner. What is your recollection of the accident?
It all happened so quickly, and when you start at the back of the grid, there is always going to be trouble at the first chicane in Monza. I just remember someone hitting me from the left-hand side. I spun and tried to continue, but my suspension was damaged and I was out on the spot.
Were there opportunities to represent Jordan again in 1993, or did your Japanese F3000 commitments take priority?
After that weekend, I had no further contact from anyone. Eddie took on Naspetti fror the next race at Portugal.
You succeeded in winning the 1994 Japanese F3000 championship with 6 podiums, including wins at Mine, Suzuka and Fuji. How satisfying was this success?
It’s my best success, after some two years of developing DOME’s F3000 chassis. I still recall the success fondly.
You contested your first Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1995 in a Toyota Supra GT, finishing 14th overall. What was the transition like to move to endurance racing from the shorter racing distances of F3000?
I’m a professional racing driver and any opportunity to compete must be looked at. Team Sard proposed that I drive for them in 1995 and I enjoyed it so much. Looking back, I should have made the switch to GT racing earlier in my career.
DOME started to test a prototype Formula 1 car in 1996 and you were given the opportunity to drive it. What did you think of the car, and how serious was the project?
The car was new and needed quite a bit of development, but DOME was a successful team in Japanese F3000 and certainly had the potential to make it successful. Mugen Honda was interested in the project, but it never got going beyond that.
You returned home to Italy and the national F3000 championship, taking two wins. What was it like to compete on home soil after many years’ racing full-time in Japan?
I have always enjoyed racing on home soil, even if my best motorsport memories are in Japan. Nowadays, racing in Italy or Europe is not as interesting to me anymore.
You hold the record for the shortest race distance covered in Formula 1, just 800 metres. It is a very unfortunate statistic – how do you look back on your time in Formula 1?
The race is something of a black hole in my career. I never watch video footage or look at pictures from the race. It wasn’t fun for me. That I’m better known for those 800 metres than the rest of my motorsport exploits is still a little crazy to me, although I can understand why.
What would you say were your best moments of your motorsport career?
Although I am contradicting myself in writing this, I enjoyed every single year of competition and took enjoyment from every race that I competed in.
What is your favourite racing circuit in the world?
Suzuka. I took some excellent wins there and it is a very demanding circuit. You know you’ve driven well when you achieve a good result at Suzuka.
Are you still following Formula 1 and if so, what is your opinion on the current state of Formula 1?
I sometimes read or watch Formula 1, but I follow almost any type of motorsport equally.
Images Marco Apicella’s official website and Corbis Images