Giovanna Amati – the last woman to attempt to qualify for a Grand Prix – turns 50 years old today!
While Amati is well-remembered among F1 circles for her attempts to get on the grid over twenty years ago, she was also the subject of some interesting tabloid gossip.
Being born into a wealthy family made her a target of envy in her childhood, and she was once kidnapped during her teenage years. The ransom was paid, but Giovanna incredibly fell in love with her kidnapper. She also once had an affair with Niki Lauda…
It was some healthy sponsorship, rather than strong results in the junior categories, that helped pave the way for her passage into Formula 1, and she found herself a last-minute signing with the Brabham outfit for the start of the 1992 season.
By now the team was at death’s door and an embarrassment to its former self. With her gender providing the best publicity Brabham would have all season, she arrived for her debut outing at Kyalami – a race I attended as a child! – having never even sat in the car.
Her unfamiliarity with carbon brakes and an F1 gearshift meant led to countless spins, and she failed to qualify after posting a best time some nine seconds slower than pole-sitter Nigel Mansell and four seconds slower than team-mate Eric van de Poele.
The story repeated itself at the next rounds in Mexico and Brazil, and by then the team figured that it was to have a pay-driver on board, they’d at least better be able to turn a wheel and stand a chance of getting on the grid.
Enter Damon Hill – the man who would go on to win the 1996 World Championship, no less – for the Spanish Grand Prix onwards. He failed to qualify, too, and only made the grid twice all season before the team collapsed after the Hungarian Grand Prix.
[Images via Flickr, F1 Rejects, The Cahier Archive]