Minardi’s most successful driver and one of my all-time heroes, Pierluigi Martini, is celebrating his 49th birthday today!

Martini participated in 124 Grands Prix, making his F1 debut for Toleman at the 1984 Italian GP as a substitute for the suspended Ayrton Senna, but would fail to qualify.

His F1 career was synonymous with Minardi – indeed, aside from his single outing with Toleman and a 1992 season spent with Scuderia Italia Dallara, the rest of his career was spent with the little Faenza team.

Pierluigi Martini

He scored 18 of the team’s tally of 38 points during its 21-season stint in F1.

Pierluigi Martini

Representing the team in three separate stints, he represented the team on its debut at the 1985 Brazilian GP, scored the team’s first point at the 1988 Detroit GP, the team’s sole lap leading a Grand Prix at the 1989 Portuguese GP, and the team’s only front-row start at the 1990 United States GP.

In addition to this, he has twice recorded the team’s best-ever finish in a Grand Prix, picking up excellent 4th place results in the 1991 San Marino (pictured) and Portuguese Grands Prix.

After being dropped midway through 1995, Martini concentrated on sports car racing and contested the Le Mans 24 Hour race on several occasions, and won the 1999 race for BMW driving alongside Yannick Dalmas and Joachim Winkelhock.

After a hiatus from motorsport in the 2000’s, Martini returned to the motorsports fold in 2006 by competing in the Grand Prix Masters series alongside many of his retired F1 contemporaries. Proving he had plenty of speed – but rarely the right equipment in which to harness it – he finished sixth in his maiden outing at Qatar, less than 6 seconds behind race-winner Nigel Mansell.

Last year, Martini contested in the Italian Superstars Championship in a Chrysler 300C, finishing fifth in the championship with storming wins at Imola, Adria and Magione. His win in appalling conditions at Imola was astounding, moving from fourth to the lead on the last lap. I’ve included a video of this feat with onboard footage of the final lap – listen to the incredible wheelspin he’s having to contend with and look out for the celebration as he crosses the finish line!

Martini still retains an active role at Minardi functions and get-togethers, and recently appeared at a 30th anniversary function with Alessandro Nannini to commemorate the inception of the Minardi team into open-wheeler competition.

As the most successful driver of one of the true underdog teams, Martini embodies much about what I admire in Formula 1 and I’m sure you’ll appreciate how much of a hero he is to me. Of all the drivers whose interviews I would covet, he would be right up there as the interview I would most like to conduct. However, contacting him has proved elusive so far…

[Images via The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.