Six-time Grand Prix driver Emanuele Naspetti will be celebrating his 44th birthday today.
One of a host of Italian drivers to have graced the Grand Prix scene in the 1990s, Naspetti won the 1988 Italian Formula 3 championship and made his F1 debut at the 1992 Belgian GP with March.
Having been drafted into the team mid-season and with no testing, little was expected of him on the daunting Spa circuit. But Naspetti surprised everyone with a faultless weekend, qualifying an impressive 21st in the wet and matching the pace of his more-experienced team-mate Karl Wendlinger to finish 12th. It prompted F1 commentator Murray Walker to describe his drive as “heroic”.
He saw out the rest of the season with the underfinanced team, but he was back in the F1 wilderness for the 1993 season until he was offered a test driver lifeline with Jordan. When Thierry Boutsen retired after that year’s Belgian GP, he was offered the gig for the rest of the season – although he would be required to cough up $50,000 for the privilege.
In spite of his sponsors being quite willing to fork out the dough, he incredibly turned down the gig for his home race in Italy, which instead went to Marco Apicella.
Having seen the error of his ways, Emanuele came up with the money for the Portuguese GP, but irked team boss Eddie Jordan by demanding paddock passes for his father and girlfriend – a considerable expense for the cash-strapped team.
Perhaps karma came around to bite him, because he retired from the race after eight laps when his Hart engine seized. Jordan did not exercise an option on his services for the Japanese Grand Prix, and drafted in Eddie Irvine with considerable success.
Emanuele would never grace the F1 stage again, but he did go on to win the 1997 Italian Touring Car Championship.