Grand Prix veteran Riccardo Patrese has urged Ferrari to put its money where its mouth is and consider signing a young Italian driver to its roster in order to turn around the dwindling stock of F1-ready Italian drivers.
Patrese – whose mammoth 256-race career spanned three decades at a time when Italians occupied nearly one-third of the total grid – is one of many of his countrymen to lament the disappearance of Italian drivers from the top-flight series.
The sport’s last two Italian drivers, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Jarno Trulli, were both dropped by HRT and Caterham, respectively, during the off-season, leaving the grid free of Italian drivers for the first time in over 40 years.
And this situation will only change, Patrese believes, if Ferrari takes the risk by supporting local drivers. The Maranello squad has not run an Italian driver full-time in its line-up since Ivan Capelli in 1992.
Previously considered a mainstay for Italian drivers, the last successful Italian to race in front of his home fans was Michele Alboreto, who claimed three wins for the team in 1984-5.
The Italian drivers who subsequently raced for Ferrari have never completed a full season for the team, with most playing stand-in roles to cover fired or injured drivers. Gianni Morbidelli had one race with the team in 1991 as the replacement for Alain Prost, before Ivan Capelli was hired for the 1992 season. A string of sub-par performances saw him fired before the end of the year, and he was replaced by Nicola Larini, who also contested a further two races (as Jean Alesi’s stand-in) in 1994.
More recently, Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella were brought in to compete in the final races of the 2009 season after Felipe Massa was injured, but both disappointed.
But Patrese believes that the team’s reluctance to run an Italian driver has got to stop.
“Why this has happened I don’t know,” he wrote on his official website. “I hope some young Italians can come into F1 in the future.
“We know how important the Ferrari team is [to the Italian fans]. I remember Imola in 1983 when the fans cheered when I crashed because a Ferrari, not an Italian driver, was going to win.”
Should Felipe Massa continue to underperform, Patrese argues that the team should look to blood an Italian as its second driver.
“Maybe Ferrari, if they wanted, could have an Italian driver as the second driver in the team – particular as Massa hasn’t looked particularly good in the last couple of seasons,” the 57-year-old added.
“Italian drivers don’t get help from a team. Ferrari have their driver academy where the Italian F3 champion gets an F1 test, but nothing seems to happen after that. I think there are good young Italian drivers but they need to be given the opportunity to prove their ability.”
Hear, hear, Riccardo!