The son of an Italian club racer, Alex Caffi grew up racing in motocross and then graduated quickly through the junior Italian formulae into the national Formula 3 series, while at the same time continuing his accountancy studies. He finished runner-up twice in the Italian F3 series in 1984 and again in 1985. In the second year he switched chassis three times to maintain competitiveness and won with both Martini and Dallara cars.
In 1986, his final year in F3, he competed for the title against a talented bunch, which included future F1 graduates such as Nicola Larini, Stefano Modena and Marco Apicella. That same year he completed his military service at Rome’s Cecchignola Sports Centre.
Caffi made his F1 debut later that year in a one-off drive at his home Grand Prix in Monza, driving the back-of-the-grid Osella-Alfa Romeo, finishing an impressive 11th. He signed full-time with the team in 1987 and did enough to win respect for his determination in very uncompetitive machinery.
That led to the chance to drive for Scuderia Italia Dallara in 1988 and he finished an impressive fourth place for the team at Monaco in 1989. That year he was teamed with Andrea de Cesaris and was running an hugely impressive second in Phoenix when he was taken out by his team mate as he attempted to lap him.
After that things were understandably strained between the two, but Alex remained a hot property and moved to the Footwork/Arrows team for the 1990 season to be part of the much-vaunted Porsche V12 engine programme set to start the following year. That was a complete disaster and the 1991 season effectively killed Caffi’s long-term F1 ambitions.
For 1992, he was listed as one of the drivers for the Andrea Moda team, but walked out of the team after two events when it became clear that the team was not up to scratch.
After F1, Alex raced on-and-off in sports and touring cars, mainly in the United States, where in 1998 he had an IRL test at Pike’s Peak Raceway.
In recent years he has concentrated on endurance races, notably the Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours, Spa 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours. Alex has even successfully tried his hand at rallying.
Alex very kindly accepted an interview request from RichardsF1.com, and he has given us a great insight into the highs and lows of his motorsport career. I offer my sincerest thanks to Alex for his time and support with this interview.
|Full Name:||Alessandro ‘Alex’ Giuseppe Caffi|
|Born:||18 March 1964, Rovato (ITA)|
|First GP:||1986 Italian Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||1991 Australian Grand Prix|
|Wins:||0||Best Finish:||4th||Best Qualifying:||3rd|
|1985||European Formula 3 Cup, Gulf-Coloni Dallara Alfa Romeo F385, 1st overall|
|1986||Formula 1, Osella Alfa Romeo FA1G, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1987||Formula 1, Osella Alfa Romeo FA1G/FA1I, 14 races, 2 DNQ, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1988||Formula 1, Scuderia Italia Dallara Cosworth 3087/188, 14 races, 2 DNPQ, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1989||Formula 1, Scuderia Italia Dallara Judd 189, 14 races, 2 DNPQ, 4 points, 19th overall|
|1990||Formula 1, Footwork Arrows Cosworth A11B, 12 races, 2 DNQ, 2 points, 16th overall|
|1991||Formula 1, Footwork Porsche A11C/FA12, 4 DNQ Formula 1, Footwork Ford FA12C, 2 races, 6 DNPQ, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1992||Formula 1, Andrea Moda Judd C4B/S921, 2 entries|
|1999||24 Hours of Le Mans, Courage C52, 6th overall with A. Montermini & D. Schiatarella|
|2002||French GT Championship, LKR Ferrari 360 Modena, 5 wins, 1st overall|
|2003||12 Hours of Sebring, Seikel Porsche GT3-R, 3rd in class with G. Rosa & A. Chiesa|
|2006||Italian GT Championship (GT2), Ferrari F430, 6 wins, 1st overall|
How did you come to be involved in motorsport? Did you always harbour ambitions of making it to Formula 1?
My father and my uncles were racing drivers, and it was always my dream as a child to become a Formula 1 driver.
Growing up, did you have any motorsport idols?
I admired Alan Jones for what he was able to achieve in the lead up to, and during, his Formula 1 career.
The competition you faced during your Italian F3 days was fierce, competing against the likes of Nicola Larini, Stefano Modena and Marco Apicella, who would all graduate to F1…
The competition was tough, and I did this at the same time as completing my accountancy studies and my national service! I was young, but very motivated to succeed.
After three very successful seasons in the Italian and European F3 series, your F1 debut came with a one-off drive at the 1986 Italian Grand Prix with Osella. You managed to finish 11th at your first race. Do you remember much of the weekend?
Not much at all, I was so nervous that I barely slept at night!
Were you offered any advice from any notable figures in the pit lane during your debut?
Ayrton Senna came to say hello and he gave me a welcome to the F1 world!
You secured a drive with Osella for the full 1987 season, but the car was very unreliable and you only saw the chequered flag once all year, with 12th place at San Marino. What was the car like to drive? It must have been difficult to make an impression in a back-of-the grid car…
In spite of it having a turbo engine, it was difficult. We never had enough of a budget to develop the car, and I was lucky to see out the season. Nonetheless, I am grateful to Osella for giving me the chance to show my skills and to get noticed by others.
You clearly did enough to be noticed in the F1 paddock and joined Scuderia Italia for the 1988 season. How much of a difference was it to join a larger team like Scuderia Italia? What were your impressions of the team?
My time with Scuderia Italia was the best time I had in Formula 1. All of the mechanics were from my home town, and we were like one big family. I had a huge amount of fun with them.
The 1989 season saw more improvement in your competitiveness, and you qualified in the top-ten on six occasions. You finished in the points for the first time with an excellent drive to 4th place in Monaco. How satisfying was it to prove your talent with some good results in Formula 1?
It was very gratifying for me. At the race in Hungary, I qualified third behind Riccardo Patrese and Ayrton Senna in a car with 70BHP less power at its disposal.
Unfortunately the dark moment of the season happened in Phoenix, when you were taken out by Andrea de Cesaris – your team-mate – while running in 2nd place. That must have been devastating. I can’t imagine your relationship with him was very good for the remainder of the season?
Andrea was a good guy, with a little bit of brain problem. But a good guy nonetheless! I saw him a few years ago during the GP Masters series, and he still the same!!!
You moved to Footwork for the 1990 season, What was the atmosphere like at Footwork?
It was a step up for me, even though we didn’t achieve the same results like I had managed last year with Scuderia Italia. I felt like I had arrived: I was in a great team with more than 100 people working in it to look after just a couple of cars. I maybe didn’t have as much of a fun relationship with team as I did with Scuderia Italia, but it was still very good. I took eight top-ten finishes and finished in the points again (5th this time) at Monaco.
The 1991 season saw the return of Porsche to Formula 1, with a V12 engine in the back of the Footwork. But it was overweight, underdeveloped and horribly unreliable. How quickly did you realise that this was going to be a difficult year?
I knew this was going to be a bad year after just 3 laps around Silverstone during the car’s first pre-season test!
You failed to make the grid in the opening rounds and suffered a massive accident during practice at the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. Do you remember much of the crash?
No, I don’t remember anything of it. Sometimes I watch it on YouTube.
You then had another accident after the Monaco GP, this time you broke your jaw and would be replaced by Stefan Johansson while you recovered.
Yes, that’s true. By the time I’d recovered, the team didn’t want to release Stefan and I had to take the team to court to be able to return. I won the battle and managed to finish the season.
By this time, the team had dumped Porsche and switched to Ford engines, but the performance was no better and I only qualified for the last two races in Japan and Australia. It was upsetting for me and my team-mate (Michele Alboreto) to have had such an uncompetitive car.
With no other drives available in 1992, you signed with the new Andrea Moda team, which had bought the Coloni team at the end of 1991. You managed a handful of practice laps in what was an old Coloni C4 chassis in South Africa before the team was excluded, and when you arrived in Mexico, the new car was not ready to drive. How frustrating was this for you?
I want to cancel this experience from my mind entirely!
Since Formula 1, what have you been up to?
I found a new home in sports and touring cars. I have competed successfully in prototypes, GT, rallying and Le Mans, but my favourite discipline is prototype racing.
You dominated the 2006 Italian GT2 Championship, taking 6 wins and 15 podium finishes. How satisfying was it to take the title?
It was very satisfying for me, particularly at the age of 42!
You were reunited with many of your fellow F1 drivers at the 2006 Grand Prix Masters race at Silverstone (above). You finished an excellent fifth in very wet conditions. What was it like to race against them again, and achieve a good result in equal equipment?
It was a great experience for me. I think it’s a terrible shame that the series finished up, it was great for the fans.
What would you say were your best and worst moments of your motorsport career?
My best moment in motorsport was the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix, where I was so competitive.
My worst moment would be the 1989 US Grand Prix at Phoenix – you know why…!
What is your favourite racing circuit in the world?
Without a doubt, it is Monte Carlo. Monaco is a great track; even you didn’t have a good engine, the driver could make up for it.
Do you still follow F1 today? If so, what is your opinion on the current state of F1?
It’s still going? I thought it finished in 1992!
Images via Bandeiraverde, Corbis Images and Tumblr