Three former F1 drivers are celebrating their birthdays today: Ernesto Brambilla (77), Mauro Baldi (57) and JJ Lehto (45).
Elder brother of the late Vittorio Brambilla, Ernesto (or ‘Tino’) started out in motorcycle racing before moving into four-wheeled competition in the early 1960s.
A notoriously hard racer, ‘Tino’ raced in Formula 2 with some success, but his two F1 opportunities didn’t give him the opportunity to showcase what talent he had.
His first World Championship appearance came at the 1963 Italian Grand Prix with Scuderia Centro Sud, where he failed to qualify. He appeared one more time six years later with Ferrari, but he had to relinquish his seat to Pedro Rodriguez.
Italian-born Baldi started out in rallying in the early 1970s before he moved to touring car racing in 1975 by racing a Renault 5. He achieved strong results and moved into Formula 3, and by 1980 was widely acknowledged as a top F3 driver, winning the Monaco Grand Prix support race and the 1981 European title with a record 8 wins.
He made his F1 debut with Arrows in 1982, finishing with a pair of sixth-placed finishes at Holland and Austria, before joining the Alfa Romeo squad, earning two more points finishes.
But when Benetton (ironically an Italian company) became the team’s sponsor, Baldi lost his drive and moved to the underfunded Spirit outfit for two part-seasons before he left F1 and ventured into sports car racing, achieving considerable success with Lancia, Porsche, Sauber and Peugeot, which included the 1990 World Sportscar Championship crown.
His final F1 fling came as the test driver for the ill-fated Modena Lamborghini project in 1991, before he achieved his greatest success, winning the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Click here for Mauro Baldi’s complete F1 results.
A man who’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late,
Born Jyrki Jarvilehto, the Finn was a protege of 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, who suggested he use the easier-to-pronounce ‘JJ Lehto’ moniker for his racing career.
Lehto had originally wanted to go into rallying, but the loss of a prospective sponsor turned him towards circuit racing. He dominated the Scandinavian Formula Ford championship and then went on to win the British Formula 3 title in 1988.
Signed briefly to be Ferrari’s test driver, he was slotted in at the Onyx squad for the final four races in place of the out-of-favour Bertrand Gachot. He stayed on with the team into 1990 until it collapsed mid-season in a mountain of debt courtesy of its incompetent management, but was thrown a lifeline by Scuderia Italia for the 1991 season.
He peaked with a plucky podium in the wet-dry San Marino Grand Prix, and stayed on for 1992, but it was a disappointing year, despite having Ferrari engines at his disposal.
He joined the new Sauber team for 1993, helping it achieve points in its debut race, and his solid performances saw him called up to Benetton for the 1994 season as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate. But his season was blighted by a pre-season testing crash that left him with a broken vertebra in his neck, and it irreparably damaged his confidence. He qualified poorly when he did race, and the team tended to substitute him for the quicker (albeit more accident-prone) Jos Verstappen, and when he did drive alongside Verstappen, he proved slower…
Two outings with Sauber at the end of the season proved a limp swansong, and he disappeared to the DTM championship before going on to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1995 driving the all-conquering McLaren F1 GTR.
Click here for JJ Lehto’s complete F1 results.