The ever-versatile Gianni Morbidelli is celebrating his 44th birthday today! Gianni holds a special place in the hearts of RichardsF1.com, as the man who gave us our very first exclusive interview!
Born into a family with a racing background – his father, Giancarlo, made world championship-winning motorcycles – Gianni raced in karts in his native Italy between 1981-6, before he graduated to the Italian Formula 3 championship.
Blindingly quick, albeit rather accident-prone, he deservedly claimed the 1989 crown driving for Forti-Corse, and earned himself a Ferrari contract as its test driver at the tender age of 21.
The 1990 season saw him make his Grand Prix debut for Scuderia Italia Dallara (pictured left, replacing the unwell Emanuele Pirrio), before he embarked on his planned attack on the Formula 3000 championship with Forti. The season started slowly, but he scored an excellent win at Enna.
With Paolo Barilla dumped by Minardi before the year was out, he made two appearances with the Italian squad at the season-ending Japanese and Australian Grands Prix, which translated into a full season with the team in 1991, assisted with the Faenza outfit securing Ferrari customer engines that year.
His first full-time season didn’t deliver on the expectations many had held, but his Ferrari ties saw him switch to Ferrari for the season-ending Australian Grand Prix (the shortest-ever race in the sport’s history), where he replaced the sacked Alain Prost. He was up to third in teeming conditions when the race was halted on the sixteenth lap, but he was bumped down to sixth – earning a half-point – when the timesheets were readjusted.
He remained with Minardi in 1992 (pictured right) – now armed with Lamborghini power – but he spent his year mired at the back of the grid as the squad struggled to come to terms with its new package.
He was out of a drive for 1993, and so he raced in the Italian Touring Car Championship with Alfa Romeo, claiming two wins.
He returned to F1 action once again in 1994, this time driving for Jackie Oliver’s Footwork concern. The team’s FA15 was, in Gianni’s opinion, the best F1 car he’d ever driven, and he claimed three precious points (when he car held itself together) to keep the pay-drivers waiting in the wings at bay.
With the well-heeled (but not very quick) Taki Inoue was brought on to the team for 1995, Oliver could afford to keep Gianni on board. He scored a sixth place at Canada, but the team’s perilous finances meant that he was sidelined after just one more race in order for Max Papis to bring such much-needed funds to the team.
But Gianni was back for the final three races, and peaked with a popular third place in the attrition-hit Australian Grand Prix – the team’s best finish since 1989.
Out of F1 in 1996, he was called up again in mid-1997 – this time with Sauber – but it was a deeply unhappy time, repeatedly clashing with team boss Peter Sauber and suffering injuries in separate testing accidents that led to his retirement from F1.
Gianni has since forged a successful career in touring cars, competing in the British, European and World Touring Car Championship before moving into the Italian Superstars Championship, where he won a hat-trick of titles between 2007-9 in a BMW M3. He still competes in the championship to this day, although he has dovetailed this with yearly visits to Australia to contest the ArmorAll Gold Coast 600 round of the V8 Supercars Championship.
[Original images via DayLife, Gianni Morbidelli, LAT, The Cahier Archive]
READ OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH GIANNI – CLICK HERE!