Former F1 driver turned Italian TV commentator Ivan Capelli is celebrating his 47th birthday today!
A former Italian and European F3 champion, Ivan competed in 98 Grands Prix, making his debut at the 1985 European Grand Prix for Tyrrell, and later finishing an incredibly impressive fourth at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix.
Incredibly, no full-time F1 offer was forthcoming for the 1986 season, but he made two appearances late in the season at the Italian and Portuguese Grands Prix for the AGS team, which was making its F1 debut.
The March team re-formed for 1987, and Capelli figured in their single-car entry plans to compete with a normally-aspirated powered car. He picked up a precious point at Monaco, and built on this in 1988 when the team expanded to a two-car operation with Mauricio Gugelmin at the wheel of the sister car.
The Adrian Newey designed 881 turned out to be the revelation of a season dominated by the all-conquering McLarens. As the red and white cars often disappeared into the distance, the Judd-powered acqua-coloured March cars were often found to be mixing it with the works cars. Capelli scored an outstanding third-placed finish at Spa behind Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and he made history in Suzuka by leading a race in a naturally-aspirated car – an incredibly feat in the last year of the turbo era.
Despite the future looking bright for Capelli and Gugelmin in 1989, it went pear-shaped – indeed, the predecessor of the 1989 car proved to be better than its successor.
The following season saw March continue to regroup with Capelli and Gugelmin, and the drivers led in a surprise 1-2 at the French Grand Prix, with the billiard-table smooth Paul Ricard circuit suiting the bump-intolerant CG901 chassis to perfection. Sadly, Ivan would be passed late in the race by Alain Prost to be denied an incredible victory.
A fifth season with the Leyton House March was thin in terms of results, with just a 6th place in Hungary to show for his efforts in a year where he made the chequered flag just three times.
Somehow it was enough to see him become the latest Italian driver to drive for Ferrari. Despite high expectations, the twin-floor F92A was a dog and poor Ivan stood no chance grappling with its penchant for terminal understeer and its generally lurid handling. He integrated poorly into the more political environment at Maranello, and quickly fell out of favour in comparison with the heroic displays from his team-mate Jean Alesi. With a tally of just two points’ finishes and several race-ending accidents, he was sacked before the end of the season.
His connections from the March days landed him a role at Jordan for the 1993 season, but after a retirement and a DNQ in the opening two rounds, he left the team by mutual consent and the curtain on what should have been an illustrious and successful F1 career was brought down.
[Original image via The Cahier Archive]