Today we celebrate the birthday of former Grand Prix driver and ten-gallon hat wearer Arturo Merzario, who turns 69 years old!
The son of a building contractor, the diminutive Italian made a name for himself in the 1960s courtesy of his exploits racing works Fiat Abarths in both GT racing and hillclimb events.
Signed to drive for Ferrari’s factory sports car team in 1970, it kicked off a three-year association with the Scuderia ‘s sports car team that would take him all the way to Formula 1.
It was his final year that was undoubtedly his best. He won the Spa 1000Km, the Targa Florio and the Rand 9 Hours in the team’s 312P, and also made his Grand Prix debut, finishing sixth at Brands Hatch.
Signed full-time to Ferrari’s F1 roster in 1973, he took the difficult 312B model to two fourth-placed finishes and continued to plug away, while team-mate Jacky Ickx just threw in the towel.
His ‘never say die’ approach appealed to Frank Williams, who signed him on to his Grand Prix team for the 1974 season. Despite two points-scoring drives that year, it was a hit-and-miss affair. He stayed on for the 1975 season, but quit mid-year when the offer of a sports car drive with Alfa Romeo came up – he duly claimed four wins.
He returned full-time to F1 with the March team for the 1976 season, but the outfit was overstretched trying to run four cars, and so Arturo quit the team mid-season and joined Walter Wolf’s outfit, replacing (ironically) Ickx to drive the team’s Williams FW05 chassis.
Unable to land a paying drive but still desperate to remain in F1, Arturo used his Marlboro backing to help fund a privately-entered March for the 1977 season, but this quickly collapsed. He sought solace again in sports cars, where he again proved sensational with Alfa Romeo.
Throwing his lot back into F1 once more, Arturo made the completely foolish decision to enter F1 with a bespoke F1 chassis. The Merzario A1 and A2 models were truly awful, and somehow he plugged away for two seasons, rarely able to make the grid and never having the reliability to see the chequered flag on the occasions when he did scrape onto the grid.
The experience almost completely bankrupted him, but undeterred, he dropped back to Formula 2 in 1980, where his Merzario M1-BMW proved equally hopeless.
Today, despite his experiences and his complete lack of cash, the still chain-smoking Merzario is a welcome and friendly visitor to the Italian Grand Prix paddock every year, and he still sports (a now very battered and stained) Marlboro cowboy hat that advertises his cancer stick of choice.
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